ON THE SAME PAGE: BURIAL RITES by HANNAH KENT
A new kind of historical fiction for me
I’m not usually a big historical fiction reader, but after hearing so many good things about BURIAL RITES and still having copies of the book from BEA last year, Alyssa, Amy, and I decided to make it one of our designated group reads for On the Same Page.
I think the thing that was the most different for me is that it was a totally different type of historical fiction than I usually read. Most of the historical fiction I’ve read and enjoyed has been a completely fictional story with completely fictional characters taking place during a real time and place. I think the deepest I’ve gotten into historical fiction with some accuracy has been the His Fair Assassin novels by Robin LaFevers with the set of three books taking place during a specific time period and even involving some actual historical figures. I’m not sure why but I just don’t always connect to historical fiction when true facts are involved — possibly because it feels too much like school? I really can’t pinpoint why — and I’ve found I’m fairly picky about what time periods I’ll connect to.
What fascinated me the most about BURIAL RITES was that I wasn’t 100% aware when I started exactly how historically accurate this book was. Hannah Kent details the story of Agnes Magnusdottir and the time right after she was found guilty of murder. I’m so used to reading fiction that I was assuming the book was more like the historical fiction I’ve read in the past — a historical time period and real place, but fictional characters and plot — but BURIAL RITES is a real story. All of the major plot points that occur in this book really did happen and Agnes Magnusdottir — along with most of the characters in the book — were actual people. Hannah Kent did a lot of research to put this book together and of course the fictional part involves the dialogue and minor plot points of the book, sort of filling in the gaps where no information was available (and a bit of embellishment as well). I don’t think I really realized all of this until the very end of the book when things were finally wrapping up and the impending finality of the book was near. All of the emotions just hit me knowing that this all really happened and Agnes was real and the ending was just a very emotional part of the book for me.
I also loved that with all of this being entirely based off of true events, I was able to go see everything after I finished. There’s a fantastic post on Picador that’s a photo essay from Hannah Kent herself, sharing various spots where the book takes place (of course as well as where the events in the book actually happened) and I almost wish I had seen this before I started because they’re such great visuals, and not even just inspiration. These are the actual places and you can picture the entire book taking place here (although I have to say, Hannah Kent does a great job with the setting so my own visuals weren’t too far off).
This is a book I feel like I need to go back and flip through again or re-read in the future. I had a bit of trouble connecting with it in the beginning because it took me a while to connect to the characters and really ground myself in the setting since I’m not used to historical fiction as much, but having the knowledge that I do now, I really want to revisit this book at some point in time. I suppose there IS an adaptation in the works with Jennifer Lawrence already locked in to play Agnes and I’m sure the movie will solidify this story for me even more. (She’s actually a little YOUNG for the part — isn’t it usually the other way around?? — but I think she’ll do a fantastic job.)