Customer Reviews


314 Reviews
5 star:
 (201)
4 star:
 (79)
3 star:
 (16)
2 star:
 (11)
1 star:
 (7)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


82 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly eloquent and beautiful
This is an extremely impressive debut novel and its haunting imagery and moving storyline will stay with me for some time.

1829: condemned murderess Agnes Magnusdottir (apologies for the lack of Icelandic punctuation in this review) is sent to a remote farm to live out her final days while she awaits execution. Along with two others Agnes has been convicted of...
Published 16 months ago by Denise4891

versus
54 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Victimised, misunderstood and martyred
I so wanted to love this like the other reviewers but I'm afraid that elusive alchemy between book and reader didn't work for me here. This is written in a style which I suspect you will either find beautifully poetic - or as tipping over into the faux-poetic at times: "the world has stopped snowing... the clouds hang still in the air like dead bodies... I am beyond...
Published 15 months ago by Roman Clodia


‹ Previous | 1 232 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

82 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly eloquent and beautiful, 7 July 2013
By 
Denise4891 (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Burial Rites (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is an extremely impressive debut novel and its haunting imagery and moving storyline will stay with me for some time.

1829: condemned murderess Agnes Magnusdottir (apologies for the lack of Icelandic punctuation in this review) is sent to a remote farm to live out her final days while she awaits execution. Along with two others Agnes has been convicted of the murder of two men, including the charismatic farmer/faith healer, Natan Ketilsson. The Jonsson family with whom she is billeted have no choice in the matter due to the father Jon's role as a District Officer (a low-ranking administrator) and are understandably suspicious and wary of having such a notorious woman living in their midst. Although on the surface they appear to be relatively affluent farmers with a retinue of servants and livestock, the Jonsson's still class themselves as peasants, fuelling their fires with dried dung and covering their windows with fish skin. Life is lived mainly in the `badstofa', the communal space where the family and their servants, including Agnes, sleep, eat and converse. This all adds to the sense of isolation and claustrophobia as Agnes slowly earns the trust and confidence of most members of the household, impressing them with her strong work ethic and sharing with them a love of the Icelandic sagas.

The day to day detail of Agnes's life on the farm is interspersed with her first-person account of her traumatic early life and the events leading up to the murders, mostly told in the form of a confession either to the matriarch of the family, Margret, or her chosen confidant and spiritual adviser, assistant priest Thorvardur Jonsson (no relation to the family). Thorvardur (Toti) is somewhat bemused at his appointment but soon becomes a steadfast and loyal advocate for Agnes during her darkest hours.

The writing is beautifully lyrical and evocative of the remote Icelandic landscape, complete with Northern lights, howling snowstorms and fields of volcanic rock. All this imbues the story with a spectral, almost supernatural quality, and makes me keener than ever to visit this fascinating country.

Burial Rites is based on a true story (don't Google it or you'll spoil the ending of the book!) and lucky Hannah Kent spent time in Iceland carrying out her meticulous research. The author bio tells us that she teaches creative writing at a University in Melbourne and is currently working on her second novel - based on the breathtaking eloquence and poignancy of her first, I am very keen to read it.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


54 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Victimised, misunderstood and martyred, 23 Aug 2013
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Burial Rites (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I so wanted to love this like the other reviewers but I'm afraid that elusive alchemy between book and reader didn't work for me here. This is written in a style which I suspect you will either find beautifully poetic - or as tipping over into the faux-poetic at times: "the world has stopped snowing... the clouds hang still in the air like dead bodies... I am beyond time".

The characters feel elemental and as if they're meant to be mythic, drawing on the Norse and Icelandic sagas which Agnes tells us she knows by heart - but that's a slightly lazy way of not having to delineate them as characters, to leave them as types. And the book itself fits a type (e.g. Corrag): this is the story of a poor woman victimised by men and society, misunderstood and martyred, with only brief moments of human companionship, connection and empathy to sustain her.

The atmosphere of C19th Iceland is well done, as is the portrayal of the austere hardship of agricultural life. And there are some very powerful scenes towards the end which are genuinely moving and filled with pathos. Overall, however, this felt a bit over-wrought and fey for me, with its repeated use of dreams and portends, and its clear intention to be `mythic'. I loved the idea of this book, but we failed to gel.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "They Said That I Stole The Breath from Men", 3 Sep 2013
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Burial Rites (Hardcover)
Based on actual events, Hannah Kent's powerful and beautifully written debut novel tells the story of Agnes Magnusdottir who, in 1829, in Northern Iceland, is tried and sentenced to death for her part in the savage murder of her lover, Natan Ketilsson. Once convicted, the authorities decide that until a date is set for her execution, Agnes will be placed under the care of District Officer, Jon Jonsson and his wife, Magret, on their farm at Korsna. It is hoped that living within a good Christian family will encourage Agnes to repent of her sins, and to further this aim, Agnes will be visited by Reverend Thorvardur Jonsonn (Toti), a young priest who has been appointed to help her to prepare to meet her maker. At first, Toti tries to preach to Agnes and to involve her in prayer, but realising that this is not having the desired effect, he encourages her to speak of her past life and, in this way, the reader gradually learns of the sequence of events which led up to the tragic incident. And as Agnes earns her keep by working alongside the Jonsson's on their farm, making butter, knitting socks and concocting herbal brews for Magret's consumptive cough, the family begin to see another side to Agnes and, as they learn more about their prisoner, they (and we) begin to wonder whether Agnes is actually guilty of the crime she has been accused and convicted of.

Hannah Kent travelled to Iceland on a Rotary Exchange when she was a teenager and this was where she first heard of Agnes Magnusdottir and became very interested in her story. Some years later, the author returned to this story and, using an interesting blend of fact and imagination, she has created this, her first novel. Meticulously researched and with extracts of official documents appearing at intervals throughout the text, this is a haunting and moving story, which is rich in atmosphere, full of period detail and deftly transports the reader to the harsh and unforgiving Icelandic landscape where: "Winter comes like a punch in the dark. The uninhabited places are as cruel as any executioner." A slow burn of a story, so maybe not for those who prefer a fast moving, plot-driven narrative - however, if you appreciate beautiful prose and enjoy reading books where the author focuses more on situation and setting, and if you are looking for something a little different, then this rather impressive debut novel should work well for you.

4.5 Stars.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and brilliant, 2 Nov 2014
This review is from: Burial Rites (Paperback)
I don’t read historical fiction very often, and when I do dabble it is almost always some sort of romance or has a paranormal twist.

Burial Rites has neither of those aspects and yet it is still one of the best books I think I have ever read (or listened to, as I had an audiobook copy).

The writing was stunning. Almost poetic at times (definitely poetic at others), lyrical and yet sharp and cutting when it needed to be.

The picture Kent created of Iceland in the early 1800s was complete – you felt the bitter cold of the snow and the gentle touch of the sunshine; you could smell the animal warmth of the cowshed and the smokiness of the kitchen; taste the warm milk and salty food; heard the ravens overhead and the cruel moaning of the wind, all in the stunning backdrop of the Northern Lights, wild ocean and looming mountains of the Icelandic coast.

I couldn’t step out of the world when I stopped listening, it stayed in my head and haunted my dreams the entire time it took me to listen to the whole novel. The characters and their stories felt real and honest and I found myself drawn into their lives like a ghost in the corner, watching everything unfold, learning secrets and sifting the facts from the gossip.

There was little to no light relief throughout the novel, it was a cascading tumble to the inevitable ending, as you would expect from a novel based on the life of a woman condemned to death. But this lack of comedy didn’t seem to matter, the changes in narrator were enough to stop you from drowning in too much misery and the matter of learning the truth in the mystery was a big factor in keeping you reading.

There were some graphic scenes and the images from at least one are going to stay with me for a considerable time. Kent has a way of making even the most harrowing moments beautiful and breaks your heart and fills you with fear all at the same time. Half of me wanted to press the stop button and walk away but it was compulsive and I rarely did, especially towards the end.

I cried my heart out more than once, feeling oddly hopeless as I did. It is strange because normally when you read a book, you have hope for the characters. Hope that even when things get tough, there will be some kind of a happy ending, perhaps not for everyone but at least for the main characters. You don’t have this when you know the novel is written about the last execution in Iceland – the ending is inevitable and unavoidable and no matter how much you want to shout ‘No!’ or bring about some magical happy ending, you know there won’t be one because it is based on fact and in reality Agnes Magnúsdóttir was beheaded on January 12th 1830.

There is power in hopelessness that I have never noticed so powerfully before until this novel. It is haunting and well worth the read if you are willing to stick with it despite the dark content.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3.0 out of 5 stars ok......but......, 24 Oct 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Burial Rites (Kindle Edition)
I would start this review by commending the author on her writing skills. I have read many debut novels during recent years and this is probably one of the best written I have come across. Similarly, the proof readers (if any) and the publishers editorial staff appear to have made fine contributions.

Having never visited the island of Iceland, I cannot comment on the accuracy of locations mentioned, but I take it as read that they are spot on.

Also being a stranger to the history of Iceland, I had never heard of Agnes Magnusdottir (the principal character) who was tried, convicted and executed - along with one other - in 1830 for the crimes of murder and arson. Here again it seems that the author has taken great pains over the required research. I assume that the period details regarding the poverty and hunger of the general population who have a constant struggle merely to survive are also authentic.

Why then only 3 stars? Quite simply, I found myself unable to empathise with any of the characters to whom we are introduced. Agnes herself, despite (or perhaps because of) her deprived childhood appears to be more than a little carnally egocentric, The Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jonsson (aka Toti) comes over as something of a whimp who, rather than leading Agnes to redemption gives the impression that he is falling in love with his charge, thereby neglecting the offices into which he hopes to be ordained. The District Commissioner Bjorn Blundel seems no more than a cost conscious local politician. The family with whom Agnes is lodged - pending her execution - Jon, Margret, Luaga and Steina Jonsdottir come over as more than a little dull, although in fairness Jon and Margret do seem blessed with a degree of common sense.

For fear of a spoiler, I will not go into the nuts and bolts of the story, but would remind potential readers that this is a fiction woven around actual historical events and therefore the final scenes should not come as a surprise.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars Tragedy in early 19th Century Iceland- you can almost feel it, taste it, smell it.., 10 Oct 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Burial Rites (Kindle Edition)
I would give this book 4 1/2 stars if I could. Why not 5? Because, as far as I can see, Hannah Kent's interpretation of events is entirely speculative- who knew you could obtain a PhD for a work of your imagination? At the same time, the work is presented as historical and whilst the mixing of fact and fiction doesn't worry most people, it bothers me. Call me stuffy but I feel that it is just a short step to rewriting the past to suit and that makes me uncomfortable. I suspect that every reader will come away from this book thinking that Iceland's last execution was a miscarriage of justice (can the death penalty ever be just? No, I say but you know what I mean) and that Agnes could have been any of us, if our lives had been as blighted and unlucky as hers. Even the author admits that was not the popular view of Agnes, in Iceland at the time, but almost 200 years later, we know better. Except we don't. That said the tale is gripping, despite the fact that the end is never in doubt. The characters seem real; you can see them, see the room, feel the cold, the fatigue, the fear that ebbs and flows, the hunger, the darkness, the lurking pain of a life without modern medicine ....I have never been to Iceland but I can see the village where Agnes ended her life, the lonely sea shore farmstead where it all came unravelled, the place of execution. The author showed them to me, clear as day, in my mind. Surely that is a huge achievement for any writer? And I cared, I cared about Agnes, about the bumbling priest of tremulous faith, about the dying farm wife...and I was sad for all of them. Read this book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Grim but beautiful!, 7 Oct 2014
This review is from: Burial Rites (Kindle Edition)
Wow, what an extraordinary debut! The story is so fresh and different, set in a remote corner of Iceland some 200 years ago. It felt so genuine I was mightily surprised to discover that the author was actually ... an Australian. And we owe her a huge credit for the daunting task of digging through to the bottom of the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, which took her years. Chapeau, this work was really impressive and coupled up with her imagination... the result is a gripping story, a human story, a different story of Agnes.

Agnes Magnusdottir, who indeed lived in Iceland at the beginning of the XIXth century, was the last person in Iceland to be executed. We get to know her when she is being transported into custody of a family in a remote village in Iceland, awaiting the day of her execution. Through wonderful story-telling by Ms Kent we get to know her better, to understand her, to feel what she feels. That alone is very well done, with the story floating from a person to person to, eventually, compose a complete picture. What is a bonus is the wonderfully detailed, and truthful descriptions of Iceland from the era, habits and rituals, clothes, ordinary life and landscape. This seem to be fitting very well with Agnes' story too, making it almost as important as the leading character. I bet had the story been set in England or elsewhere, it would have been nowhere near this powerful. It is grim allover, the sun shines maybe for a day or two, but it is still beautiful.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars "Out of my weakness fashion a character of fire", 24 Sep 2014
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Burial Rites (Paperback)
An intriguing book from the beginning, Burial Rites is set on Iceland, in 1828, and tells the story of Agnes Magnusdottir and three others who are convicted of the murder of one of their number and while the process of law is being followed, Agnes is billeted in the countryside with one of the local families. They are, understandably, reluctant to take on such a commission, but this is not an unusual request by the local District Commissioner, Bjorn Blondel. The other woman accused is also placed with a local family. We get a story within a story as Agnes eventually gives her version of what happened. It is a radically different story to that of the the District Commissioner.

The family she is billeted with are naturally nervous of having such a woman placed amongst them, but they need not worry. Margret, the lady of the house is not much moved by the tales told in the neighbourhood concerning Agnes who quite rapidly proves her worth by working hard and not causing any trouble. There are two daughters, Steina who comes to like and even admire Agnes, and Lauga, who doesn’t like Agnes at first, but latterly comes to respect her. Eventually they get quite a different story of what has happened. But while there may be doubts about Agnes, there seems no doubt that Agnes was somehow involved in the death of Natan Ketilssohn. Agnes has been assigned her own choice of religious carer, one Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jonsson, who visits her and who she willingly gives her own version of the murder. This takes some time to be coaxed from her and meanwhile the reader might wish it didn’t take quite so long. But when it comes down to the facts, it is a matter of who you believe. Certainly the other people involved in the killing seem to bear much more guilt than Agnes. But the other woman accused is younger and prettier and it is her version which lays the blame on Agnes, that is believed.

This story ends with a brutal act on the day set for Agnes’s execution. The story is based on a real person. It is well written and compelling, and there has been copious amounts of research to back it up. It is very sad, often very moving and as much as one can enjoy being moved and saddened, I have to say it’s a superbly crafted story.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars She feels she’s being treated like an animal and clings on to some of her ..., 15 Aug 2014
This review is from: Burial Rites (Paperback)
Agnes is being held captive. She wonders whether she’s already dead. She waits in darkness and in silence, a chamber pot on the verge of overflowing. She’s got no inkling of how many hours or days have passed. She feels she’s being treated like an animal and clings on to some of her past memories for comfort. They forget to feed her sometimes and she no longer feels like a woman. She’s totally crippled by waiting for death.

She’s been condemned to death for her role in the death of two people found in the burnt ruins of Natan’s farm. The people involved are to be executed in Iceland and are due to be held in the homes of ordinary families in order to save costs. The home Agnes is moved to is in considerable disrepair, two servants losts their lives the previous year from diseases that started with the damp, mouldy house.

She’s staying with Jon and his wife Margret and their daughters Lauga and Steina. At first they’re suspicious of her, afraid of how they’ll be perceived by their neighbours and worried about what this woman could do to them. Agnes has been an outsider throughout her life, someone different from the rest, brighter than most. While staying at the house she’s visited by Reverend Jonsson, a man she’s specifically requested and whose official business to to bring Agnes to the Lord before she’s executed.

This is a work of fiction based on true events. We read on to see if we can get to the bottom of the story and find out if Agnes is innocent or guilty of the crime. The book raises questions of who we should believe and highlights that there are many different versions of any particular story. It’s beautifully constructed with the story being told from Agnes’s perspective and through letters and third-person narrative. I was totally immersed in it from the start and the story of Agnes will stay with me for quite some time.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Pungent excellence, 3 Aug 2014
By 
P. G. Harris - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Burial Rites (Kindle Edition)
Burial rites is based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir (or Jonsdottir) who was sentenced to beheading for her part, with two others, in the murder of shaman Natan Ketilsson and another man.

Awaiting execution she is sent to live in the home of minor official Jon Jonsson and his wife Margret. Initially they are horrified by their charge, but as time passes, a relationship grows between Agnes, her hosts, and their daughters, Lauga and Steina.

One of the joys of Burial Rites is that has a number of intermingled facets to it. It could be viewed as a whodunnit. As the relationship between Margret, Agnes and her callow spiritual adviser, Toti, grows, we gradually learn about what really happened on the night of the murder and subsequent fire.

It is a extremely well researched picture of peasant life in 19th century Iceland. A modern view of Iceland may be of the wide open landscapes, but this book is painted on a small, claustrophobic canvas as the people huddle together in their austere homes. The outdoors is limited to the small fields which must be rapidly cultivated in the brief weeks of summer, before winter returns and the landscape returns to being something which must be crossed between the tiny, barely flickering islands of warmth.

It is a delightful character study. The two daughters, one soft hearted and ready to be drawn to Agnes, the other frightened and suspicious. The District Commissioner who could be a pantomime villain, but is in fact a highly convincing portrait of arrogant moral certainty. A particular favourite was the neighbour, Roslin a highly amusing village busy-body.

It is a story of relationships, of relationships between women and between men and women. There is the exploitative relationship between Agnes and her lover, the unsatisfying relationship between Agnes and the ineffectual Toti, and above all the ultimately crucial relationship between Agnes and Margret.

There are also interesting elements to the structure of the book. All through there are changing viewpoints, but crucially all except Agnes are told in the third person. Agnes alone speaks with her own voice, and this is really effective in emphasising her loneliness, in setting her apart, in making her unique and different.

Secondly the pace is beuatifully judged. It starts slowly, but gradually builds and builds to its twin climaxes of learning what happened on the night of the murder, and of determining Agnes's eventual fate.

A final thing to say is that it is a supremely smelly book. In the cramped Icelandic croft, the badstofa, in the animal sheds, in Agnes's prison, it is a book of sweat, urine, excrement and every conceivable bodily fluid.

So, in summary this is a really good, engaging read, and despite the fact that it is at times quite harrowing, it never wallows in misery, it handles the painful experiences of its characters in a way which is realistic, affecting, but never exploitative.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 232 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Only search this product's reviews