They said I must die. They said that I stole the breaths from men, and now they must steal mine. I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind, and in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, awful coming footsteps, coming to blow me out and send my life up away from me in a grey wreath of smoke.
In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover. Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district office Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’ spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’ story begins to emerge and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed.
Based on actual events, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, in which every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?
“Beautifully written, this is a novel that will draw you in and touch your heart. Agnes will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.” ( Daily Express)
”This is a tormented tale of love and betrayal and divided loyalties recounted with heartfelt honesty… An exceptional debut.” ( Sunday Express)
”The true story at the heart of Hannah Kent’s acclaimed debut couldn’t fail to be compelling, but what impresses most about this novel is the skill and power with which Kent conveys the bite of poverty, hunger and loneliness and the oppressive, sinister weight of the portents and nightmares that convincingly plague those who dwell in the harsh Icelandic landscape. Startling and disconcerting details abound… bringing the past vividly to life even while underscoring its distance from the present. Resurfacing once the last page is turned is an effort.” ( Daily Mail)
”This is a truly powerful novel, beautifully written, which proves the phrase that ‘life is nasty, brutish and short.’ Desolate but brilliant.” (Book of the Week, The Lady)
“This is a golden age both of historical fiction and of crime writing. A rare novel that combines both, this is one of the most gripping, intriguing and unique books that I’ve read this year.” (Kate Mosse, Metro)
"an announcement of a writer to watch" ( Guardian)
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Kaggy on 27-06-14
Agnes - understanding the human being
If Agnes were alive today she probably would have graduated from university and be pursuing a professional and fulfilling career. Instead she had the misfortune of being born into abject poverty two centuries ago and into a community of subsistence farmers forced to scratch a meager living from one of the bleakest environments on earth. The story begins when she is made to live with a family of farmers while awaiting execution for the murder of her lover, Natan.
This is a true story and anybody who knows the history will know the outcome of the tale. This novel however, kept me on the edge of my seat because as we all know, what actually happened rarely equates with the conclusions of the court. The author spins a credible tale of a woman who falls desparately in love with a charismatic but flawed man. Natan is intelligent and gifted and capable of doing great good in his community, but he is also manipulative and fond of toying with people to ultimately dangerous levels. This all develops into a heady story of passion and greed and the inevitable ending is truly shocking.
There are some dreadful characters in this tale but there are also people capable of great understanding and humanity despite their knowledge of the murders. This meant that there were aspects of the story that were uplifting despite the tragic subject matter. I had never heard of Agnes before and so am grateful to the author for bringing her fascinating story to life. I recommend this book to anybody who wants to read an intelligent dramatisation of an important piece of Icelandic history.
Morven Christie reads this beautifully. I could listen to her rendition of Icelandic poetry in the original language for hours.
29 of 29 people found this review helpful
By Milly on 03-03-14
If you could sum up Burial Rites in three words, what would they be?
Haunting, gripping, tragic
What other book might you compare Burial Rites to, and why?
I don't think this is quite like anything else I've come across. It's gripping, you want to know what has happened but there's a sense of doom hanging over it. The landscape is described so beautifully you can really imagine what it might have been like to be there, which makes it all the more unbearable at points.
Which character – as performed by Morven Christie – was your favourite?
Agnes, although they are all performed beautifully.
Any additional comments?
This book is incredibly powerful and very moving, if you are looking for something light or cheerful then this really isn't for you right now.
19 of 19 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Leah on 25-01-14
Worth stepping out of your comfort zone
Would you listen to Burial Rites again? Why?
Yes, I'd like to listen again to pick up on some of the smaller details/descriptions
Who was your favorite character and why?
Agnes, the character really drew me in.
Which character – as performed by Morven Christie – was your favorite?
Agnes. Morven Christie is an amazing performer. As Agnes her often breathy tone really brought across the feeling of despair. All of the characters are done well. You hardly notice a change in her voice yet it sounds like different people are reading.
If you could rename Burial Rites, what would you call it?
Hmm not sure.
Any additional comments?
I bought this book purely based on the fact that Morven Christie was the narrator. I hadn't heard of it before and probably wouldn't have given it a second glance otherwise. I was not at all familiar with the real life event and found this work to be quite surprising and very interesting. I'm now off to google it to learn more :)
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
By Monna on 30-04-15
This is such a great story...Used a box of tissues. Couldn't stop listening! Loved the characters! Could feel the harshness of the environment. Will listen again...
5 of 5 people found this review helpful