Publishing Info: September 10, 2013 by Little, Brown
Source: BEA 2013
Genres: Adult, Historical Fiction
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Date Completed: September 11, 2014
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?
Alyssa, Amy, and I chose BURIAL RITES as one of our selections for our group read with On the Same Page because of so many rave reviews and what an interesting story it appeared to be. Without a doubt, this was a powerful book but it was also a challenging book for me. BURIAL RITES is historical fiction, which is something I’m not well-versed in and am very picky about, but I trusted the reviews that I’d seen and all the high praise it’s received and really did want to read it in earnest.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, BURIAL RITES is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir and her time on a remote farm before she is to be executed for the murder of her former employer. I grabbed the ARC from BEA last year because it sounded incredibly interesting and my interest was piqued whether or not Agnes was really guilty of the murder and maybe that was what the story was about. What I didn’t realize until I was already reading it is that BURIAL RITES is historical fiction but it’s actually in large a true story. Agnes Magnusdottir was a real person and this is her real story. She was one of the last people to be sentenced to execution by beheading in Iceland and what Hannah Kent found out about her during her time in Iceland had her so interested that she ended up writing an entire book about Agnes and her last days before the date of her execution.
I think the book was very tricky for me because as much as I’m not a historical fiction person, I’m really not a non-fiction person. It’s not that I’m fundamentally against either one but that I haven’t found a book I’ve really connected to very much in either genre. Usually the historical fiction I read is a largely fictional story (fictional characters and fictional plot in a real, historical setting) and I’ve been very picky about exactly what time periods I’ve really connected with. It’s just such a delicate balance for me as a reader and my personal tastes that it’s rare for everything to really ALL click into place, and unfortunately I had a bit of a hard time with BURIAL RITES. It was a really interesting story, but things were just not clicking for me. I was interested in Agnes and her story, but hard a hard time feeling that emotional connection to her as well as the other characters. Hannah Kent does an amazing job of painting the scenery, but I was also so unfamiliar with it that it was hard to feel grounded in it.
Unfortunately I had a bit of a hard time with the pacing and overall feel as well. I knew going in that this would be a heavy book, but sometimes it’s hard to read such a weighty plot and I was never quite in the right mood to really absorb the book the way I wanted to. I had a bit of a hard time getting into it because I wasn’t in the right mindset and then when I was, I felt like I kept hitting lulls in the action. It took me a long time to really get to know these characters and I felt like I didn’t really get there until the VERY end of the book. Finally at the end, I felt the connection to Agnes and to Toti. I actually felt really emotional about the ending, I think in part because I know that this really was a true story and really did happen so I kept picturing it as something REAL and not just book characters. It really made me want to go back and re-read parts to feel that connection where I should have earlier in the book… But we all know that I won’t go back and re-read because everything happened just a bit too late.
The writing was just beautiful as far as descriptions and narration went but I think I just wasn’t meant to click with this book. I’m not sure if it was timing or content or subject, but BURIAL RITES wasn’t as good for me as I had hoped it would be. I did still enjoy quite a bit of it but my lack of connection and motivation really just brought down my reading experience when I had a higher anticipation and expectation of what I might find in this book.
Agnes // Character Obsessions: Death, working, companionship, degrees of innocence.
I really wish I had been able to connect with Agnes earlier on in the book. I finally connected with her towards the end and at that point I really wanted to spend more time with her character but it was too late and the book was over. I think maybe it’s just the impossibility of imagining and awaiting your own death that sort of makes everything seem distant, and that may be what I was picking up from Agnes. There’s a sort of hopelessness there and she does what she can, but how are you supposed to spend the rest of your life when you know it’s only a few short weeks until it’s over?
Kept Me Hooked On: Aspects of non-fiction. I haven’t read much non-fiction at all… so when it really hit me that this was the REAL story of Agnes Magnusdottir… I think it all became much more real and personal. I knew it was based on a real story but I didn’t realize exactly how much of it was true. Honestly, Hannah Kent mostly just created dialogue and came up with some original pot points but she really did her research to make this as historically accurate as possible and tell a true story but with dabs of fiction. It was really interesting!
Left Me Wanting More: Personal connection. I just wasn’t able to get into it like I wanted to, both on the character side and the plot side. I think it was a lot heavier than I expected and was expecting a bit more of a fictional mystery story. It was really interesting but hard for me to get into at the same time.
This one didn’t ENTIRELY work for me but the story was really interesting and Hannah Kent is a wonderful writer. If you’re hesitant about nonfiction and enjoy historical fiction, this is probably a great place to start!
(Click the cover to see my review!)