“They will see the whore, the madwoman, the murderess, the female dripping blood into the grass and laughing with her mouth choked with dirt. They will say “Agnes” and see the spider, the witch caught in the webbing of her own fateful weaving. They might see the lamb circled by ravens, bleating for a lost mother. But they will not see me. I will not be there.”

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★★★★
Author: Hannah Kent
Release Date: September 10th, 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction, Crime-Mystery

“Blíndur er bóklaus ma∂ur. Blind is a man without a book.”

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

Inspired by the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman executed in Iceland, Burial Rites is a dark, moving and haunting story littered with historical pieces agnes-magnusdottir– from  letters of correspondence to legal reports translated from Icelandic – that attest to it and make the whole story the more interesting and believable (which is a dumb thing to say, seeing that it’s based on a true story, but sometimes stories based on real life events are the hardest to believe).

At the end of the novel there is a chapter that explains all the research involved ( years, people! the woman researched the facts for this novel for years!) and you see just how closely the author follows what is known (which is actually very little) and how much she was committed to this story.

Definitely a prime example of how fiction can be successfully combined with historical fact.

Sitting out in the Atlantic almost aloof from the rest of the continent at the northerly tip of Europe, is the island of Iceland. Despite what the name suggests, Ice is scarce compared to it’s neighbour Greenland.  Another rarity in Iceland is Crime, according to a report by a global study on homicide published 2011 by the UN, Iceland’s homicide rate never went above 1.8 per 100,000 head  of population annually over a  ten year period between 1999-2009. Thus it took an Antipodean, to delve into the annals of Icelandic history to find a crime with an interesting tale.
– Hannah Kent –

The writing is simply stunning, without any unnecessary embellishments.
I really put my metaphorical (I listened to an audiobook) bright yellow marker to work. And at that, I really really recommend you listen to the version read by Morven Christie: it has just the right slow-paced, almost sad atmosfere and the Icelandic pronunciation is top notch (it brought me back to UZH, when I used to listen to my collegue Frida converse with someone who spoke her language or when I attended my Old Norse course).

“They said I must die.
They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine.”

“To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things.”

Told from shifting prospectives of various people and alternating between now and then, we discover Agnes’ truth and are left to ask ourselves, who was Agnes Magnúsdóttir? Did she really committ the crime she’s been accused of? And if so, did she really deserve to die?
What is the truth?!

Burial Rites is a justly lauded novel and I highly recommend it to just about anyone.

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