Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Burial Rites

Burial Rites

4.2 40
by Hannah Kent

See All Formats & Editions

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


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."
"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.

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
Sales rank:
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.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Burial Rites: A Novel 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
Burial Rites is the first novel by Australian author, Hannah Kent. In 2003, during an exchange year in Iceland, Hannah Kent became interested with events leading up to the last execution to occur in that country. Thus began ten years of research into Agnes Magnusdottir, beheaded by axe in 1829 for her role in the murder of two sleeping men. Eventually Kent produced a novel in which she aimed to show another side to this condemned woman. This novel won the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award, and deservedly so. Kent takes the many facts she has uncovered in her extensive research and, along with fictional likelihoods,weaves them into a fascinating tale of love, cruelty, passion and betrayal. Kent fills out the real and fictional characters, giving them a depth that cannot be gleaned from recorded data. A great wealth of interesting facts about early 19th century Iceland is incorporated into the story, giving it a wonderful authenticity. With sparkling prose, Kent evokes both the feel of northern Iceland and emotions of her characters. Gems like “I staggered in the light of the world and took deep gulps of fresh sea air. It was late in the day: the wet mouth of the afternoon was full on my face. My soul blossomed in that brief moment….” and “I had no friends. I didn’t understand the landscape. Only the outlying tongues of rock scarred the perfect kiss of sea and sky – there was no one and nothing else. There was nowhere else to go.” abound. Kent’s mentor for this masterpiece was, very appropriately, Geraldine Brooks: this genre is right up her alley. This is a powerful and moving first novel, and readers will eagerly await Hannah Kent’s next work. 
nfmgirl More than 1 year ago
The year is 1828 and Agnes Magnusdottir, along with two others, has been condemned to die by beheading for the murders of two men. But the government has spent too much money on the axe to be used for the beheadings, and they can't afford the upkeep of the prisoners until their execution. So Agnes is sent from the prison to the home of Jon Jonsson of Kornsa, the District Officer of Vatnsdalur, and his wife Margret. They are ordered, as part of his duty as District Officer, to take charge of Agnes until the date of her execution. The family is not happy about these orders, but feel they have no choice but to perform their duty. This novel is a fictional story based on actual events. As the author explains in her Author's Notes: "Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be executed in Iceland, convicted for her role in the murders of Natan Ketilsson and Petur Jonsson on the night between the 13th and 14th of March 1828, at Illugastadir, on the Vatnsnes Peninsula, North Iceland." Many of the events int he book are drawn from local history and lore. Little by little, the life of Agnes is laid bare to the reader, and as heartbreaking as it is, you realize that it is nothing uncommon. This is the life of orphans and paupers. However this novel is uncommon. It's a modest story, slowly pulling you in, absorbing you bit by bit. It is heart-wrenching at moments, and you yearn for Agnes to find some relief from her fear, and to find love and affection. Agnes is returned to Kornsa, where she had a family for awhile in her childhood, and gains a family again before her death. She was fostered as a young girl by Inga and Bjorn until Inga died. Agnes requests as her spiritual attendant Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jonsson, otherwise known as Toti. He is unclear why Agnes has requested him, and is uncomfortable with the assignment. He is still in training, and nervous about attending to a murderess. But he, like the Kornsa family, performs his duty as ordered. Toti and Agnes form a bond as he permits her to pour out her soul and rehash her past. One of my few complaints is that I would have liked to have seen more development in the relationships between Agnes and the family members. I would have liked to have felt warmth between them growing, and her opening up to them. Her relationship with them remained rather stilted. My final word: This was one of those gentle reads, at times so entrancing it is almost hypnotic, like being rocked to sleep. Affective and sensitive, it moved me and it is beautifully lyrical. I would consider this novel to be rare and extraordinary, and it will carry you along to the bitter end, if you allow it, with tears streaming down your face as you take those final steps. But you aren't alone. Agnes is with you.
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
Burial Rites is based on the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last person execution in Iceland. From the very first pages of the book, Agnes never claims innocence or guilt. We can tell there's more to her story, but are left unsure... is she actually guilty? Is she innocent? Maybe it's more complicated than that, somewhere in between. Or is Agnes simply mourning that one decision will forever define her? We just can't tell, and that makes for a gripping read. Much of the narrative is in third person; we are spectators. But Agnes's story is revealed to us through her eyes. Everything Agnes hears, sees, and feels is keenly felt. Hannah Kent's writing is phenomenal in this way. And the last thirteen pages or so were altogether intense, utterly terrifying, sickening, and beautifully handled. My stomach was in knots! And you know, I knew what was going to happen at the end of this book. Yet I turned page after page, feeling like maybe, just maybe, it would end differently. I held on to that irrational sliver of hope all the way to the end. Hannah Kent's powerful novel swept me away had me fully invested in the main character. Incredible read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Based on a historical incident, this novel is riviting. An unusual setting, filled with facts about the lifestyle of the 1830's in Iceland, and fascinating male and female characters make this story a must real for lovers of great historical fiction or just great stories. Another great historical novel on the Nook is "The Partisan" by William Jarvis. This novel is also based on a true villian during World War II. Both are excellent. Both deserve A+++++++
AngieJG More than 1 year ago
I was not sure if I would like this book. It sounded a bit depressing, and indeed it was. But it was so well-written, and such an interesting story, that I really liked it. Amazing the stories that history holds. I never heard of this case, nor thought much about Iceland. Now I am inspired to look further into the case and learn more about the country and history. Strongly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author does an excellent job of taking the reader into the period as well as the hearts and minds of the characters. Her ability to portray their emotional development throughout the story progression is especially impressive as she is working from actual events -- but also shows herself an empathetic author. Looking forward to this author's next work. Historical fiction is my favorite genre.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down, great book for book club discussions.
merobertsonhoon More than 1 year ago
As a mystery writer myself I found Burial Rites to be quite riveting. It certainly had me thinking twice about my impending trip to Iceland next year.
Hubbell More than 1 year ago
Great read. Names get confusing but such a good story. Sad and very interesting. Great insight as to the injustice of long ago times ....... Especially for women. Would be a great movie!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A really well-written, engrossing novel. 'Burial Rites' is a thrilling read, and Kent's writing brings Iceland to life. The writing is sparse, much like the land and people it depicts, and completely immerses the reader in the landscape and plot. This heartbreaking story is one of 2013's best novels ... and reads likone written by an author much more along in years than Kent actually is. She writes with confidence, care and reverence for her characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It took about 10pages for me to get the rythm of Ms Kents style, but once i did i couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading this book give the chills,glue to it can not let go. It's getting by page by page?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
CoolLibrarian More than 1 year ago
The more I read the harder it became to put this book down. I was drawn in deeper and deeper, not wanting to reach the inevitable end.  I was hoping , at every turn of the page, the end would be different than my heart  felt.
Anonymous 6 months ago
This was an incredibly touching story that most people could relate to unless they were immature.
LisaDunckley More than 1 year ago
A lyrically written fictionalized telling of the story of the last person executed in Iceland, in 1830. Author Hannah Kent did quite a bit of research on this and in her words, attempted an “ambiguous portrayal” of convicted murderess Agnes Magnusdottir. Hannah states she became intrigued with this tale and much of the available published works (none of which seem to be published in English, lol) seemed to contradict each other with their conclusions. Her many years' worth of research into church records, censuses, local histories and publications, and interviews with descendants of main characters enabled her to publish what she felt to be the most probable actual version of this sad and compelling tale. The book mixes translations from actual letters and official documents into the fictionalized parts that Hannah's research supports, and starts with Agnes, who has been condemned to die for some time now, being sent to a family for them to hold until her execution. They are horrified at having to take a murderess into their very home, yet they need another pair of hands as the mother is not well. Agnes is allowed to speak to a priest in order to learn repentence and has selected the young Toti who helped her once as a girl. As he (and we) learn what happened through Agnes' words and Toti's own investigations, the story unfolds.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KateUnger More than 1 year ago
I would never have picked up Burial Rites if it hadn’t been a book club selection. I don’t usually gravitate towards historical fiction. But I am so glad I read this book because I really enjoyed it. In 19th century Iceland, three people stand trial and are convicted of murder. Their punishment is to be death by hanging. There isn’t a prison system to house them until their execution can be arranged, so they are boarded with the families of some rural agents of the government. Iceland is under Danish rule at the time (which was a surprise to me). Agnes Magnusdottir is placed with a family in the very cottage where she had once lived. The family, especially the wife and the younger daughter, were none too pleased to have her there. Margret is sure she will murder her daughters in her sleep. I enjoyed learning how Agnes grows on the family. The slow build relationships in this book were delightful. I was sympathetic to Agnes right away. I don’t even know why exactly. The story is told in alternating first person accounts of Agnes’ current condition along with memories of her past (including the night of the murders) and some letters and official government documents woven throughout. The Reverend Toti is also featured in this story. Agnes requests him to be her pre-death counsel, and she opens up to him in a way she does not do with anyone else. This allows the reader to learn the horrors and truths of Agnes’ past. This story was just fascinating to me. There are some gruesome parts, and I was naively hoping for a happy ending. The description states what happens to Agnes, but I never actually read it since this was a book club pick. Oh well. I still thoroughly enjoyed this book. http://opinionatedbooklover.com/review-burial-rites-hannah-kent/
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago