Written by Hannah Kent
Published by Little Brown, September 10, 2013
My star rating: 2 stars
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? Find it on Goodreads
I am so sad to admit – this book was just NOT meant for me! I’ve heard so many positive things about it too. It’s been described as atmospheric, heartbreaking, beautifully written, and devastating. Unfortunately, I felt none of those things.
This book started off pretty good. We meet Agnes after she’s been tried and charged for a murder. We meet her as she’s awaiting her execution and is sent to live/serve a family until her death date arrives. In the beginning I did feel her devastation and pain. She was so badly mistreated and endured some harsh and disgusting treatment. We were in the dark about her guilt at the time which made it even harder to read. Yes, she was convicted, but there were a few hints that indicated that there was more to the story.
Shortly after that, when we see Agnes living with the family that would foster her until her death, things slowed to a crawl. I felt as though it was one large repetition and I was bored to tears. We see her working to keep herself busy, speaking with a Priest and not wanting to talk about personal things because she’s just going to die anyway, and that’s about it. It was the fact that she refused to open up combined with the writing that held my connection to this book at arms length. The writing was so matter of fact. There was little to offer in the way of emotional commentary and I felt like I couldn’t connect with Agnes. There were even a few flash backs to her life before and her life around the time of the murders, but it was told so bluntly that I found my mind wandering. There also didn’t seem to be any sort of chronological order to the flashbacks either. We would jump from one time period to another which made it hard for me to create a complete background to Agnes’ life. There was also times where the narrator/perspective would change without warning. It would once again take my head out of the book and take a second to figure out who was talking. It was just confusing!
And then there’s the characters themselves. I’m not sure if I was reading it right, but the characters were so hard to figure out! It seems that each person was called by many names. They had given names and then there were proper names, and then there were titles….. I couldn’t keep it straight!
The atmosphere also fell flat for me. Of course there was an underlying suspense behind it all, but it was just so mediocre. I know that it was meant to be dark and bleak but it was done in a way that made it difficult to picture. Also, the writing seemed forced at times, like it was trying to be too lyrical. Along with the inclusion of symbolism and dreams…… it just didn’t sit well with me.
One thing that I really did enjoy though, was the way that this book explored how people look at the convicted. Once it is assumed that a person committed a crime, all sense of reason and doubt is thrown out the window. People assume that the person is guilty and refuse to doubt or change their minds when presented with other facts. As soon as assumptions enter the picture, all else is forgotten. People suddenly see the accusation instead of the person. It’s as if the convicted suddenly becomes an object that needs to be rid of instead of treated with compassion or understanding. I really loved how this element was explored, but I just didn’t think that the writing was strong enough to support this element completely. It wasn’t enough to hook my emotions.
I can definitely see how someone could enjoy this book though. There was suspense, connections, desperation, and history, but this was not the book for me.
Until next time, happy reading!