Archives

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Burial Rites – Hannah KentTitle: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Publishing Info: September 10, 2013 by Little, Brown
Source: BEA 2013
Genres: Adult, Historical Fiction
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate 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?

bookreview1

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.

character_breakdown1

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?

addiction_factor1

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.

Addiction Rating
Try it

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!

book_recommendations1BOOKS LIKE BURIAL RITES

(Click the cover to see my review!)

     man in the dark    code name verity

 

On the Same Page: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

OtSPcirclebanner

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.)

Don’t forget to check out Alyssa’s and Amy’s posts about Burial Rites today too!

Alyssa (Books Take You Places) //  Amy (Tripping Over Books)