Tag: Pig’s Foot

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

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

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.