Burial Rites

Burial Rites

4.2 37
by Hannah Kent
     
 

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A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

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

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Overview

A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

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?

Editorial Reviews

Geraldine Brooks
"Here is an original new voice, with a deep and lovely grasp of language and story. Hannah Kent's first novel, BURIAL RITES, is an accomplished gem, its prose as crisp and sparkling as its northern setting."
Megan Abbott
"Hannah Kent's BURIAL RITES shows how a seemingly simple tale-a murder, a family, a remote landscape-can prove mythic in scale in the right hands. Spell-binding and moving, it's the kind of novel that gets under your skin, moves your blood, your heart. A bravura debut."
Shelf Awareness
"Deeply emotional [and] gripping.... A cross between the grim, moorish atmosphere of Wuthering Heights and the cold, religiously-infested repression of a Bergman film, Kent's novel emerges alive, triumphant and sublimely poetic."
Joanne Wilkinson
"Rarely has a country's starkness and extreme weather been rendered so exquisitely. The harshness of the landscape and the lifestyle of nineteenth-century Iceland, with its dank turf houses and meager food supply, is as finely detailed as the heartbreak and tragedy of Agnes' life.... [A]haunting reading from a bright new talent."
Steph Opitz
"If you read nothing else this fall, read BURIAL RITES: The pages turn themselves."
Charlotte Rogan
"Hannah Kent's gorgeous and haunting BURIAL RITES will touch your heart."
Madeline Miller
"So gripping I wanted to rush through the pages, but so beautifully written I wanted to linger over every sentence. Hannah Kent's debut novel is outstanding."
Anne Berry
"A compelling read, heart-breaking and uplifting in equal measure."
Barbara Love
"In the company of works by Hilary Mantel, Susan Vreeland, and Rose Tremain, this compulsively readable novel entertains while illuminating a significant but little-known true story. Highly recommended."
Karin Slaughter
"Debut author Hannah Kent has crafted a gorgeous, literary novel that peppers in just the right amount of suspense. I loved this story not just because of its intricate character studies, but for its evocation of a cold and formidable landscape that is just as stark as the people who inhabit it. This compelling, ripped-from-real-life tale reminds me of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace with a dash of Lizzie Borden thrown in. BURIAL RITES is the sort of novel that stays in your head long after you've finished reading the last words."
Lucy Scholes
"BURIAL RITES is a debut of rare sophistication and beauty - a simple but moving story, meticulously researched and hauntingly told."
Entertainment Weekly
"A brooding, atmospheric debut."
SheKnows.com
"Offers lovers of historical fiction a stunning new setting in which to become immersed.... Kent's powerful and beautiful prose along with Agnes' fascinating story will hook readers and not let them go."
The New Yorker
"Gorgeously atmospheric.... [with] memorable, complex characters."
Nicholas Mancusi
"Kent displays a talent beyond her years, not only in her restrained and often beautiful prose...but also in matters of structure and pacing."
Jenni Herrick
"Beautiful and compelling.... Hannah Kent brings Agnes vividly to life.... This meticulously researched novel is a multidimensional saga spanning many months and told through the eyes of numerous narrators. It paints an extremely descriptive picture of the harsh, desolate Icelandic countryside and the isolated lives of a rural family living in the distant 19th century."
Thomas Chatterton Williams
"A gripping narrative of love and murder that inhabits a landscape and time frame as bleak and unforgiving as the crime and punishment that occurred there."
Claire Luchette
"The story of Agnes' execution is the spark that sets Kent's novel beautifully ablaze.... It's a difficult task to evoke empathy for a convicted murderer from Iceland, but Kent succeeds through her beautiful, lyrical language and incredibly skilled narrative.... In this, her first novel, she proves her gift as a sculptor of narrative and a wielder of words."
Susannah Meadows
"An excellent premise.... [and] a gripping tale about what Agnes was actually guilty of."
Yvonne Zipp
"A haunting portrait of the woman beheaded in Iceland's final execution.... with echoes of Booker Prize-winner Margaret Atwood's 1997 novel, Alias Grace...."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Atmospheric, stark and beautiful."
Kacy Muir
"Kent adds such vivid and creative depth to authentic figures that readers seemingly feel the plot becoming a part of the true history."
Carolyn Mason
"Meticulously researched, this chilling account is set in a starkly beautiful part of Iceland that's as remote and heartbreaking as the haunting page-turner itself."
San Diego Union Tribune
"A spectacular literary debut. Beautifully written with a great sense of place..."
Steve Donoghue
"Bleak and beautiful.... Kent handles her starkly austere story with uncanny precision and an utter lack of sentiment."
Sam Sacks
"Enticing.... Kent...convincingly animates Agnes...showing her headstrong humanity and heart-wrenching thirst for life."
Rory O'Connor
"Stunning.... [Kent] manages to balance darkness and light as carefully as it balances life and death."
Randy Dotinga
"A sensation among book reviewers drawn to its depiction of the struggles of a gritty people and a doomed woman amid a harsh landscape."
From the Publisher
"Stunning.... [Kent] manages to balance darkness and light as carefully as it balances life and death."—Rory O'Connor, Examiner"

Atmospheric, stark and beautiful."—San Francisco Chronicle"

A sensation among book reviewers drawn to its depiction of the struggles of a gritty people and a doomed woman amid a harsh landscape."Randy Dotinga, Christian Science Monitor"

Kent brings a bleak beauty to this grim tale, her prose illuminating the stark landscape of the far north and the deepest recesses of a woman's soul."—Donna Marchetti, Cleveland Plain Dealer"

A cool, atmospheric, historical thriller.... This page-turner will transport you to another place and time, and Agnes's fate will consume you to the very last page."—Deborah Harkness for Parade

Publishers Weekly
Kent’s debut delves deep into Scandinavian history, not to mention matters of storytelling, guilt, and silence. Based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the novel is set in rural Iceland in 1829. Agnes is awaiting execution for the murder of her former employer and his friend, not in a prison—there are none in the area—but at a local family’s farm. Jón Jónsson, the father, grudgingly accepts this thankless task as part of his responsibility as a regional official, but his wife and daughters’ reactions range from silent resentment to outright fear. After settling in to the household, Agnes requests the company of a young priest, to whom she confesses parts of her story, while narrating the full tale only to the reader, who, like the priest, “provide her with a final audience to her life’s lonely narrative.” The multilayered story paints sympathetic and complex portraits of Agnes, the Jónssons, and the young priest, whose motives for helping the convict are complicated. Kent smoothly incorporates her impressive research— for example, she opens many of the chapters with documents that come directly from archival sources—while giving life to these historical figures and suspense to their tales. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Australian writer Kent marks her literary debut with a retelling of real-life events from 1828, Iceland, when Agnes Magnusdottir and two others are convicted and sentenced to death in a brutal double murder thought to have been motivated by greed and jealousy. The murderers were servants, assistants, and sometime lovers to one of the victims, wealthy and well-known herbalist and healer Natan Ketilsson. As Iceland's primitive prison system is ill equipped to house death row inmates, a local farm family is prevailed upon to board Agnes until the date of her execution. They are also expected to extend hospitality to the Assistant Reverend Thorvardur (Toti) Jonsson, whom Agnes chooses as a spiritual adviser. Over many chilly months, with Agnes working alongside the farmer's wife and daughters in their fields and close living quarters, her version of events emerges. As her story unfolds, her hosts' fear and loathing turn to empathy and understanding. VERDICT In the company of works by Hilary Mantel, Susan Vreeland, and Rose Tremain, this compulsively readable novel entertains while illuminating a significant but little-known true story. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 3/18/13.]—Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
Kirkus Reviews
With language flickering, sparkling and flashing like the northern lights, Kent debuts with a study of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, an Icelandic servant convicted of an 1828 murder. The murder was horrific: two men bludgeoned, stabbed and burnt. Agnes and two others were convicted, but sentences--Agnes was to be beheaded--require confirmation by Denmark's royal government. Kent opens her powerful narrative with Agnes, underfed and unwashed, being moved from district capital imprisonment to Kornsá, a valley farmstead. Stoic, dutiful Jón and his tubercular wife, Margrét, are forced by circumstance to accept her charge. Reflecting intimate research, the story unfolds against the fearsome backdrop of 19th-century Icelandic life. It's a primitive world where subsistence farmers live in crofts--dirt-floored, turf-roofed hovels--and life unfolds in badstofa, communal living/sleeping rooms. Beautiful are Kent's descriptions of the interminable summer light, the ever-present snow and ice and cold of winter's gloomy darkness, the mountains, sea and valleys where sustenance is blood-rung from sheep. Assistant Rev. Thorvardur has been assigned to "direct this murderess to the way of truth and repentance," but he is more callow youth than counselor. His sessions with Agnes come and go, and he becomes enamored of Agnes and obsessed by her life's struggles. Kent deftly reveals the mysterious relationship between Agnes, a servant girl whom valley folk believe a "[b]astard pauper with a conniving spirit," and now-dead Natan Ketilsson, a healer, some say a sorcerer, for whom she worked as a housekeeper. Kent writes movingly of Natan's seduction of the emotionally stunted Agnes--"When the smell of him, of sulphur and crushed herbs, and horse-sweat and the smoke from his forge, made me dizzy with pleasure"--his heartless manipulation and his cruel rejection. The narrative is revealed in third person, interspersed with Agnes' compelling first-person accounts. The saga plays out in a community sometimes revenge-minded and sometimes sympathetic, with Margrét moving from angry rejection to near love, Agnes ever stoic and fearful, before the novel reaches an inevitable, realistic and demanding culmination. A magical exercise in artful literary fiction.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316243926
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
04/01/2014
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
72,213
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. As a teenager she travelled to Iceland on a Rotary Exchange, where she first heard the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir. Hannah is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. BURIAL RITES is her first novel.

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