Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Burial Rites is historical fiction at its best. The way the author intermingled historical documents, real people and places with the fictional story was masterful and spellbinding. The characters Kent imagined were perfectly imperfect people, multidimensional people who struggled with their situations, trying to do what was best for them and others. As Margret stated, “no one is all bad.”
Kent’s knowledge of Iceland and its history was evident throughout the book, her painstaking research into Iceland during the early 1800s was very much appreciated and I enjoyed the bits of everyday life, lamb slaughter, meat preservation, haymaking etc. This gave the novel a depth and realism it would have lacked without such detail.
Agnes is the most fully realized and central character of the novel, she was the last person executed in Iceland during the early 1800s, despite her conviction of murder, she is a sympathetic character. I often found myself hoping she would get an appeal, or that her story would end differently. You can’t help but root for her! Agnes grew up as a pauper, shuffling from foster family to foster family, enduing great hardship, loss, cruelty and loneliness. When she meets Natan, she thinks she has finally found someone who sees her and loves her. I wanted Agnes to see Natan for who he was before it was too late, but her infatuation blinds her to the truth.
This book is close to flawless. A few characters are stereotypical, such as Bjorn Blondal and to some degree Reverend Toti, but the character of Agnes was so well done I was able to overlook these characters. And, I really liked Reverend Toti and his approach to Agnes, sure it helped drive the story but he care and compassion for her was so real and so necessary.
I did struggle with the start of the novel, learning the Icelandic names and placing characters, but once I overcame those initial struggles I could not put the book down. The ending was very poignant; I finished it with tears streaming down my face.
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