Publisher: Picador

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Posted July 27, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 6 Comments

The Savage Detectives by Roberto BolañoTitle: The Savage Detectives (Goodreads)
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
Published: Picador, 2007
Pages: 577
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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Chilean author Roberto Bolaño may have only gained traction in the English-speaking world shortly after his death in 2003 but he quickly cemented his legacy as a great South American author. In fact, Chris Andrews’ translation of By Night in Chile was the first English translation of Bolaño and it was released in December 2003. Between Chris Andrews and Natasha Wimmer, all but two of his novels were translated into English, not to mention his short story collections, poetry and essays. That is twelve novels translated in which two Roberto Bolaño novels get the most attention, The Savage Detectives and 2666.

The first Roberto Bolaño novel I read was By Night in Chile, a novella that managed to make a big impression on me. The book saw Jesuit priest Father Urrutia reflect on his life while in a feverish daze and open with the brilliant line “I am dying now, but I still have many things to say”. The fever seems to allow Bolaño to explore an idea of the reliability of memory because you could help wondering if it was an unreliable narrator or he just lived an unorthodox life. By Night in Chile is a novel that I still think about and even though I feel like I read it recently, I am keen to return to it.

Because of this novella, I was keen to pick up more Roberto Bolaño and I recently joined in with a group of people to read The Savage Detectives. My experience was different than what I initially expected. First, it is difficult to compare The Savage Detectives with By Night in Chile, they are very different in style and themes. Also, out of the eight-people reading this, five of them never finished, while I think I was the only one that really enjoyed it. At times it was struggle to read, but I think getting to the end gave me a real sense of accomplishment and the novel will stick in my head for a very long time.

To get an idea of what Roberto Bolaño is trying to achieve in this novel you really need to understand a little about his life. He was born in Chile but his family moved to Mexico while he was a teenager. He never finished school because he dropped out to work as a journalist. He left Mexico to return to Chile to help the socialist regime of Salvador Allende but was thrown in prison after Augusto Pinochet’s coup. On his return to Mexico, he started living as a bohemian poet and saw himself as an enfant terrible of literature, his own editor Jorge Herralde recalls him saying that he was “a professional provocateur feared at all the publishing houses even though he was a nobody”. He was a young ambitious poet, what was he to do? Naturally he tried to start a literary movement which was called Infrarrealismo.

What makes The Savage Detectives so interesting is that it is a parody of Roberto Bolaño’s own life. His alter ego is one of the principal characters, and every other character is based off someone in his life. While By Night in Chile reflects on life from the deathbed, The Savage Detectives takes a similar but drastically different approach. It was like Bolaño wanted to reflect on his ambitious ideals and just how cocky he was. It felt like he was never afraid to poke fun of himself and I think if I knew more about his life, I would have gotten a lot more out of this novel.

I do not know enough of Mexican literature (especially the poetry) but I found The Savage Detectives to be a very approachable novel. You get a sense right away that the Visceral Realist are a parody, the name itself conjures up an image of trying hard and failing. I was so glad I finally got to this novel and I know that I will have to pick up more Roberto Bolaño in the future. In fact, I think he is an author that deserves to be read completely (well everything translated into English at least). I will admit that my knowledge in South American authors is lacking but the more I read, the more I appreciate their style. Next up… Jorge Luis Borges.


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Posted September 29, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

A Little Life by Hanya YanagiharaTitle: A Little Life (Goodreads)
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Published: Picador, 2015
Pages: 720
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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A Little Life is a novel about the lifelong friendship of four classmates from a Massachusetts liberal arts college. After college, Willem (an actor), JB (an artist), Malcolm (an architect) and Jude (a lawyer) move to New York to begin their lives. The novel begins by following the friends through their lives and careers and the shifting dynamics of the group. However, Jude becomes the primary focus as we learn about his horrifying backstory.

I am of two minds with this novel; first of all, there are some very important issues explored within A Little Life. I am sure many people have been told about the high amount of trigger warnings that come with this book, dealing with depression, abuse, self-mutilation and so much more. It was nice to explore friendship that are not just a group of heterosexual men. The book itself explore so many issues and I got to a point where I wanted to yell at the friends of Jude, telling them to get mental health first aid certificate, and learn how to handle the situation better.

This brings me to all the problems I had with A Little Life; for starters, I felt like Hanya Yanagihara was just piling all the worst situations onto the character of Jude to a point where it was just getting ridiculous. I understand that some people have suffered a lot but in proportion to everyone else in the book, Jude just has to suffer through it all. I began to hate this aspect of the book to the point where if this was not a library book I would have thrown the novel across the room. Everyone focuses on how wonderful this book was for dealing with so many issues, and I agree, but if we dealt with these issues more regularly in fiction and the media then this book would not get the same amount of attention. I found the writing very flat and boring, it was dull. It became a real chore to read through the novel but I was determined to finish A Little Life for the themes.

Congratulations on Hanya Yanagihara for writing a novel that is dealing with so many important issues. A Little Life is great for this and I hope it paves the way for literature in the future. I hope this will begin a shift from the norm where we are constantly reading about white heterosexual males where there only problem is their own self destructive nature (even if I enjoy that in fiction). A Little Life is the crowd favourite to win the Man Booker prize but I really hope it does not win. There is better literature in the short-list, and I do not think A Little Life is a good representation of what they consider ‘good’ fiction.


All That Is by James Salter

Posted February 22, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

All That Is by James SalterTitle: All That Is (Goodreads)
Author: James Salter
Published: Picador, 2013
Pages: 304
Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

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After 30 years James Slater returns to the literary world with a new novel, All That Is. With 88 years of life experience under his belt, Salter offers a unique perspective of life, passion and regret. All That Is explores fragment of Philip Bowman’s life, as a naval officer in World War II, attending Harvard University and going on to be an editor of a small publishing house. While this doesn’t cover Bowman’s life in the way a memoir would, we get little snippets of his life and what is important to him.

James Salter has been often dubbed as a writer’s writer, a title he wished to shed when writing All That Is, but does he pull that off? For me, this title means that he is a writer than other writers and serious readers love, but that the casual reader often won’t enjoy. The reasoning is that the beauty in Salter’s books is in the proses and not the plot. He feels like an old fashion writer; he writes proses so  elegant that it is often intimidating. He doesn’t try to write the perfect sentence that will blow the reader away every time; he does not want to lavish the reader, but you’ll still find a style that I think is graceful from page to page.

Something that I think goes against what is often taught to writers is that Salter is really good at ‘telling not showing’. He knows what he is doing and he executes this method in a precise way that just works for him. There are times when his similes and metaphors do come across as weird but for the most part everything flows and I found myself being swept away in the cleverness of his writing.

When exploring Philip Bowman’s life, we really get a sense of him as a person and the people he meets along the way. Some people we only meet for a few paragraphs but the style of Salter is enough to give the reader a good sense of who they are in such a short amount of time. This is a real talent and I really loved the little snap shots of people along the way. He manages to explore the little details and while we don’t know everything, he has painted a magnificent portrait of Bowman’s life.

As if it was a refrain to the novel we are often taken to a cocktail party and often we read about Philip Bowman making a move on a woman (often a married one) and inviting them to lunch. This often leads to sex and I think we are constantly reading about these conquests because they are important to Bowman. While this does feel a little repetitive at times, I think it is interesting to show the behavioural pattern of Bowman and his tried and true method of picking up woman.

I want to talk about the sex within All That Is (and Salter novels in general), while there isn’t as much as there was in A Sport and a Pastime (which I consider an erotic novel) there was still a lot in this one. The sex scenes in his novels might be considered crude and offensive to some, but they do play an important part, in All That Is we explore the passion and regrets of Philip Bowman’s life, a man that likes sex and though he can be a bit of a dick at times when trying to get laid, it felt honest and real. Salter doesn’t play around with euphemisms when he writes sex scenes, they are non-ludicrous and sometimes over descriptive. The thing I like about his sex scenes is that he doesn’t always try to be erotic, sometimes they are awkward or unintentionally funny, this just makes it feel more real; sometimes there is passion and it’s erotic, sometimes things go wrong. Often better than the sex itself is the events that follow, they may just be lying in bed making small talk, but it is here we get some real unseen insights into these characters.

I think I’m becoming a fan of James Salter, while I would recommend A Sport and a Pastime over this novel, there is a real joy in reading proses like this. James Salter does give a huge nod to the book industry and his love of books, but for me this was about life, love, passion and regret. Exploring the life of Philip Bowman was an interesting endeavour; sure, he is fictional but the book says a lot about life in general. Salter is not for everyone but if you like beautiful language and not afraid of some graphic depictions of sex then he is an author worth checking out.


How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Bottom

Posted December 4, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 6 Comments

How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de BottomTitle: How Proust Can Change Your Life (Goodreads)
Author: Alain de Bottom
Published: Picador, 1997
Pages: 215
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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À la recherche du temps perdu or In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust is probably the one book all bookish people are afraid to tackle. It is only a few pretentious people that have actually read it, and I plan to be one of them. Alain de Bottom has put together a collection of essays on what Proust can offer to today’s readers.

In my reading slump, which I’m debating whether it was real or not, I only felt like reading non-fiction. I picked this book because I felt like this would be a quick read and I was interested to know more about Proust and the book In Search of Lost Time. This book doesn’t really offer any good insights  to   these two topics. I think this is a book designed to try and convince people into reading In Search of Lost Time but I feel that anyone reading this one would have or are planning to read it anyway.

There is a little about the life of Marcel Proust, but only enough to give you a small taste. This left me more intrigued by the man and wanting to read a biography. De Bottom left me confused about the life of Proust and I had too many questions left unanswered. This really didn’t help this book at all, especially since Proust is an enigma (to me) and the tiny parts he shared about his life didn’t explain anything.

When it came to talking about À la recherche du temps perdu I was left thinking about the Monty Python skit about the “Summarise Proust Competition” where each contestant is given 15 seconds to try and summarise In Search of Lost Time (all seven volumes). In fact this skit was mentioned in this book as well, but trying to condense 4,000+ pages in 200 pages is not effective. My understanding of In Search for Lost Time, is that it is incredibly complex, intricate and descriptive, not a book you can summarise.

I feel like this was almost pointless, it left me with too many unanswered thoughts and no real answers. I’m none the wiser about Proust or In Search of Lost Time. There were some antidotes that were interesting but all in all, I feel like I wasted my time. I want to work my way through the seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time but I’m not sure if I can manage it. I wonder if anyone has any tips; reading this book wasn’t the answer.


Harvest by Jim Crave

Posted November 20, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Harvest by Jim CraveTitle: Harvest (Goodreads)
Author: Jim Crave
Published: Picador, 2013
Pages: 272
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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A group of strangers arrive in the woodland borders and put up a make-shift camp. That same night a manor house is set on fire. Following that the harvest is blackened by smoke, the strangers are cruelly punished and there is suspicion of witchcraft afoot. Harvest tells the story of the economic progress following the Enclosure Acts that disrupted the pastoral paradise of a small remote English village.

Jim Crave uses the tragedies, pillaging and other disruptions in an effort to evoke the effects of England’s fields being irrevocably enclosed. I never really knew when this book was set but upon researching the Enclosure Acts I’ve since found that this novel is most likely set sometime between 1750 and 1860. This Act basically removed the existing rights the locals had to carry out activities like cultivation, cutting hay, grazing animals, using other resources such as small timber, fish, and turf.

While some people saw these acts as the building blocks to a capitalist future, others thought of this as an attack on the peasantry. You know the old complaint, parliament are only looking after the major landowners; the rich get richer. Sometimes the enclosures were carried out with force and extreme measures were used.

In Harvest we read about a pastoral idyll as it starts to unravel with the major changes in land rights. Jim Crave’s look on the subject is done in an interesting way; I didn’t read this book as a depiction of changes in land rights. I read this as a community so cut off from the rest of the world that it started imploding as soon as outsiders were introduced. Sure, the whole point of the book was the Enclosure Acts; my brain just took a different direction.

While this book felt a little dark, like life was harsh and cruel; all the things I enjoy in a novel, it just didn’t feel right. I felt the grittiness and yet I felt a little bored and disappointed by Harvest. I’m not sure if it was a problem with the novel, I felt like I was in a reading slump and I was forcing myself to complete the book before I needed to return it to the library.

Then again, the first impression is often the correct one. I spent a lot of time thinking if this was a problem with the novel or a problem with me at the time. In any case, it doesn’t matter, I didn’t enjoy it and I’m not sure revisiting it later will change my mind. Well written with the normal historical fiction tropes, but I felt like the novel dragged on. This should have been catnip for me but I just couldn’t find a connection.


The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

Posted September 22, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

The Testament of Mary by Colm TóibínTitle: The Testament of Mary (Goodreads)
Author: Colm Tóibín
Published: Picador, 2013
Pages: 104
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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In the town of Ephesus, Mary lived alone. She had no interest in collaborating with the authors of the gospels. For her, the crucifixion of her son years ago has left her indifferent to the rest of the world. Whether or not she believes that his death was worth it, he was still her son and witnessing the events that lead to him dying have been very emotional. This is The Testament of Mary.

I read this book on the Nativity of Mary (September 8th); while I’m not Catholic it felt like the perfect day to read this novella. The book is both bitter sweet and full of rage; not for or against Catholicism. While the author Colm Tóibín is born Irish Catholic but now identifies as an atheist. While this book isn’t theologically sound, it was an interesting look into what it might have been like to watch Jesus’s journey on earth.

I never really thought about what it might have been like to witness miracles, resurrections and the crucifixion of Jesus. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be the mother of Jesus, let alone experiencing all these unexpected events involving her son. The rage, the compassion, the isolation and pride that Mary must of experience all comes into play in this novella.

The Testament of Mary is a tender and heart breaking book, not really religious or anti religious. The balance is just right. The only problem I have is the theology but I have to let this go and remind myself that this was a work a fiction. Being raised as a Pentecostal, I never really cared too much about the life of Mary apart from her giving birth to Jesus but then going onto marry a Catholic my views have changed a little. My views towards Mary may not be in line with my wife’s but that is beside the point.

A quick and interesting work of fiction into the life of Mary; I loved the way this book was written. It really had a way of sweeping me into a story and expressing the emotions she faced in an affectionate and sour way. We have no idea what Mary would have felt but I can only imagine the fixed emotions that went through her mind. While this novella is haunting and stubborn in it’s approach, it is a compassionate and provocative read; this doesn’t work to counteract each other but only highlights the beauty of the mixed emotions.


Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

Posted September 16, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Kiss Me First by Lottie MoggachTitle: Kiss Me First (Goodreads)
Author: Lottie Moggach
Narrator: Imogen Church
Published: Picador, 2013
Pages: 352
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: Audiobook

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Leila spends most of her life on the Internet, one day she finds a forum called Red Pill, which discusses philosophical ideas. She feels at home on this site and becomes a regular contributor. One day the creator of the site approaches her with a secret project. Tess is looking for a way to end her life without hurting her friends and family. She asks Leila to continue her online life for her so she can slip away from the world unnoticed.

This will be a hard book to review and I will try not to give away any spoilers that aren’t in the book blurb. Written in the style of an online journal, the reader will slowly explore the motivations behind Tess wanting to kill herself, why Leila decides to help and the aftermath that follows. This was a real page-turner and it made me miss forums, but not online journals (I never was good at that) because I have a book blog and it is pretty much an online journal of my reading life.

I love the concept of this book, in a world where we spend most of the time communicating online, what is to say that we are truly communicating with the intended person. Their identity could have been stolen, it could be someone pretending to be someone they are not or someone has taken over their life after they completed suicide. There is no real way to tell that is really happening in the online world.

The Internet is a tricky thing to portray in a novel, with changing technology and new trends, how do you stay relevant. Also do you write the book in text/IM language and use memes and current trends to tell the story? Kiss Me First is not trying to say the Internet and social networking is bad but just using it as a tool to tell this mystery.

I’m always interested in how the Internet is portrayed in a novel and Kiss Me First has managed to get the balance right. A mixture of nostalgia towards dying sites like the online journal or forums, relevance when talking about social networking, and tongue in cheek when talking about never understanding what text/IM language is all about. For some, the narrative might not be the easiest to read but if you have spent time reading online journals at any point of time, you will pick it up pretty easily.

I really enjoyed this novel, the mystery was pretty ordinary but there were some surprises. I preferred the philosophical questions and the way Lottie Moggach explored the online life with such ease. I was surprised to learn that this was a debut novel; it was executed well and offered some interesting thoughts on social networking. Also credit where credit is due, the approach to the internet was handled well; I think it will stand the test of time for a while and not age as fast as some novels. Kiss Me First has been getting a lot of attention lately and it really was a thrilling novel and is sure to entertain the readers, especially if you spend most of your day online.


The Unknowns by Gabriel Roth

Posted September 2, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

The Unknowns by Gabriel RothTitle: The Unknowns (Goodreads)
Author: Gabriel Roth
Published: Picador, 2013
Pages: 227
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Eric survived high school in the mid 80’s; the nerd that spent way too much time with computers and never really having any friends. Now he has millions from selling his dot com and lives in a beautiful apartment and living the life everyone dreams of. Except he never quite found love, that was until the glamorous Maya came into his life. It’s not easy trying to get the most alluring woman in the world to pay any attention to you at all.

When I was in high school I really wanted to be a writer, this is the type of story I tried to write. Not as well as Gabriel Roth, I don’t know how to be a writer. they always ended up too short and descriptive, I never knew how to write long form and tended to rush to the end. Don’t get me wrong, The Unknowns is not a typical nerdy love story; Roth showed me just what can be done with this type of novel.

If you think this is not the type of novel I would normally pick up and enjoy then let me tell you why I picked this book up. I consider Megan Abbott the queen of contempory noir and when she blurbs and tweets about a novel, I tend to pay attention. The Unknowns starts out as a nerd falling in love but then deals with the complexity of a relationship, in a slight noirish manner.

Maya may be the most beautiful woman Eric has ever seen but she comes with her own issues she has to deal with. Humans can be fragile creatures and sometimes it is hard to know just how deep the pain runs. When Eric learns about his lover and her emotional scars he is left wondering about the truth. Life is more complex than computer code.

I really enjoyed the way this book tackled relationships; from the start you have a geeky romance and then by the end you are reading about the complex human beings. Roth blends wit with a unique view of the world and human interactions and nails home a magnificent exploration into relationships. I like the way this book is a budding romance/coming of age novel but you look a little deeper and there is so much more to discover.

While Eric isn’t too similar to me, I remember life as an outsider (I still feel that way) and the feeling of trying to navigate the social waters. As you get older, it doesn’t get any easier and you are bound to make mistakes. I’m lucky to have found my own Maya and had to learn about relationships and trying to understand all the pain from their past can be a lot to deal with when you are socially awkward. I really identified with this novel and felt inspired to write again but then I realise I can’t write anything like this and never end up trying.

The Unknowns is a witty humorous contemporary novel full of so many human truths, when Megan Abbott tweeted me to tell me that this novel won’t disappoint she wasn’t lying. I’m not trying to name drop, Abbott is fantastic on Twitter and will happily answer any questions you might have and proves Twitter is the place to be. If you are socially awkward or are interested in the exploration of relationships then this book is for you.


Breath by Tim Winton

Posted June 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

Breath by Tim WintonTitle: Breath (Goodreads)
Author: Tim Winton
Published: Picador, 2008
Pages: 224
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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In a small logging town near the fictional town of Angelus, on the wild coasts of Western Australia, two teenage boys find themselves taking up surfing with a former professional. Bruce “Pikelet” Pike and Ivan “Loonie” Loon find themselves being challenged into risky surfs in reef and shark-infested waters by Bill “Sando” Sanderson. Breath is the coming of age story that pushes these boys beyond their limits in a regimen of risk and reward.

Narrated by Bruce, now a divorced middle aged paramedic, the novel starts off with him on the scene to save teenagers life. This leads Pikelet to recount his teenager years in the 1970’s with his boyhood friend Loonie and their reckless lifestyle. The two teens pushed the limits of their courage, endurance and even sanity all for the approval from Sando. As they venture beyond the known in the relationships, in physical challenges, and in sexual behaviour.

While this is a typical Australian coming of age story, the influences of Bill Sando and his wife Eva who are both American really play a big role in the novel as well. The Australian and American culture clashing is either an excuse for the peculiar behaviour or just a look at the Americanisation of our country. While this is a novel about surfing, this also looks at how dangerous picking the wrong role model can be while venturing into exploring teenage life and the sexual awakening of a fifteen year old boy.

Now while I won’t go into the sexual relationship of Bill and Eva too much I’m a little surprised at how many books I’ve read recently that seem to look at the dangers of sexual relationships between an adult and a minor. In my ignorance I thought Lolita was the only one but recently What was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal], Tampa and, in Australian literature, Me and Mr Booker and The Yearning all look at this same issue. Now I never intended to read so many books on this disturbing topic but it is funny how you sometimes pick up novel and find similar themes throughout your book choices.

I have no interest in sports; unless you count WWE as a sport, I have been known to watch basketball and American football but as a general rule I would rather be doing something else. So when I read a book about surfing I don’t really care about surfing and how dangerous it is, I just think to myself, why not stay home and read instead. So half this book really felt like it dragged out, I get that they were buying for the approval of Sando by trying to pull off the risky waves but I just wasn’t interested.

I did however like what Tim Winton did with using Sando as a role model/idol for the boys and then proceeded to show just how dangerous that can be. The risks they take without thinking, all for the nod from Sando, was insane and it affected their friendship and sanity. You have the whole sexual desire idolisation happening with Bruce towards Eva as well but as I said before, I didn’t want to go into that. This book primarily looks at the recklessness of the risks we take and how we need to find a balance between being extraordinary and ordinary. Push the limits too many times and sooner or later your luck will run out.

This is my first Tim Winton book and while there were parts I was impressed with I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend this book. This is probably one of his lesser known works and maybe I should try something like Cloudstreet before making my mind up about this author. I do enjoy the lyrical prose for this book and the way he packed a lot of emotions into a book about extreme sports. I’ll be interested to see what he does in some of his other novels as he is known as one of the greatest Australian writers alive today.

For me, I didn’t connect with this book; I see and like what he did with this novel but I just don’t care enough about sports to care what risks the characters take. It felt a little too American for what should be a primarily Australian coming of age story but that is probably the point. I’m sure this is a book that people mainly love or hate but I just didn’t care enough to invest any emotion into this book. So for me it just felt like an average read with nothing worth getting excited about, but on the other end of the scale I can’t really criticise it either.


Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Posted May 3, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Burial Rites by Hannah KentTitle: Burial Rites (Goodreads)
Author: Hannah Kent
Published: Picador, 2013
Pages: 352
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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In a small town in northern Iceland 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is waiting her execution for her part in the brutal murder of two men. District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and two daughters have been appointed to act as Agnes jailors leading up to her death. Horrified to have a convicted killer living with them leads to the drama that is Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites.

I remember hearing about this book when Waterstones released their Waterstones Eleven list for 2013. This list is their picks for the most promising Fiction debuts of the year. While I’ve never really known of this list till this year I was very interested to discover some books that I thought I would need to get my hands on. Books that I immediately added to my list included Idiopathy by Sam Byers, The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence, Pig’s Foot by Carlos Acosta and of course Burial Rites. Hannah Kent is an Australian author and Deputy Editor for Kill Your Darlings, an independent literary publication. I was surprised how much buzz this book got leading up to its release and the fact that she sold the manuscript to so many countries before people had a chance to read it and talk about it.

Burial Rites is told from multiple perspectives.  There is a first person narrative from Agnes which appears to be unreliable as she doesn’t seem to have a clue about some of the things going on around her. Then there are all the other perspectives which are told in third person, I thought I would get annoyed with the switching perspective and the reliable third person verse the unreliable first but really it didn’t bother me at all. The way the story progresses you don’t really notice too much in the change and it really helps the reader to understand what is happening in this little town even if Agnes is unaware.

The differing opinions towards Agnes were really fascinating, in this sense I found myself being reminded of Crime and Punishment. The psychology of each character gets explored, from Agnes’ acceptance and waiting for her fate to Jon’s fear of corruption to the compassion, understanding and a whole range of issues. As the novel progresses and people learn more about Agnes and/or the crime, you can see the way they change in behaviour. I was so drawn to the way Hannah Kent really explored her characters and the way they behave towards Agnes as they learn more about the whole situation.

This is based on real events; Agnes Magnusdottir was the last application of capital punishment in Iceland and while I didn’t find much about the crime and the execution, I did feel like Kent has researched enough for this novel. Using historical events to write fiction is a trick thing to do, sometimes you can get it right, like in the case of this novel and Wolf Hall, but sometimes you just mess too much with the personalities of who you want to portray and it doesn’t feel authentic, A Treacherous Likeness is a good example of this. I’m sure it helps that a quick search of Agnes Magnusdottir doesn’t give you much information apart from being convicted for the murders of Nathan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson so it is hard to tell just how accurate this novel is. Though I feel like I know a little more about the last execution in Iceland than originally (which was nothing); even if it was learnt from a historical novel.

Burial Rites was a great read, I found myself being sucked into the world and enjoying the way each character was explored. Trying to pronounce the Icelandic names is always hard but I’m pleased to see there is a little guide at the start of the book to help with pronunciation. A brilliant debut novel from Hannah Kent and she will be one Australian author I will be watch in the future. This psychological novel really is worth reading, but then again I do enjoy a novel that explores the psychological elements of murder.