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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 19 April 2015
Based on a true story, Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, an Icelandic woman in the 1830s who is found guilty of murder along with two others and sentenced to death. She is placed with a local family on their farm until the date of her execution and naturally they are horrified to be sharing their small home with a murderess. The first half of the book focuses more on Agnes's removal from her prison and placement with the family and then the second half focuses on what led Agnes to be accused of the murder of her lover/employer and another man.

This book was recommended to me as being similar to The Miniaturist, which I had loved. In many ways, this is correct, as it's got the same sort of slow and detailed style to it, and Burial Rites is a book which needs to be read at a slower pace than some books. It's very atmospheric and drew me into the area and gave me an appreciation of the desolation of the landscape in Iceland at that time. Agnes's story is interesting to read and I enjoyed both the parts where she told the story and the bits in the third person from the viewpoint of the young priest she asks to help her through the time before her execution, and the various family members with whom she finds herself living.

This is a very good book and I enjoyed it very much, but I can't say it was the easiest read. It has a poetic style about it but I didn't find it over the top in this respect. I think it will be interesting to see what this author does next.
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on 25 September 2017
In 1828 in rural Iceland, three people are convicted of murdering two others. As Agnes Magnusdottir waits to be executed, she is given into the reluctant care of a faing family until sentence can be carried out. A young assistant minister is assigned as her spiritual mentor.
Based on real events and much research, the novel paints a vivid picture of a farming community in Iceland in 1828. Work is hard, unremitting, and at the mercy of the northern climate. Social strictures can be as unforgiving as the long, dark winters, with a casual cruelty that is too often disguised as religious respectability. Farms may be isolated but privacy is hard to come by with families and visitors sharing the communal living and sleeping space of the badstofa.
In this land of sagas, the stories people tell about others are not always true to actual life. The stories surrounding Agnes slowly unfold in third person supplemented with extracts from documents of the time. Agnes intersperses her thoughts in first person and her reflections add a depth of feeling and understanding to the narrative.
The story is definitely not 'feel-good’, but I would not describe it as miserable; fate may be cruel but humans can, and do, learn kindness. And the evocative writing is a pleasure to read, conjuring with almost physical intensity the sounds, smells, colours and textures of life at close quarters in this beautiful, harsh landscape. I found myself pulling an extra duvet over me, I was so convinced by the depiction of the cold.
If you don’t already know the end and want to keep the suspense, then don’t look up the actual case until after you’ve read it. Hannah Kent weaves an engrossing story of how it might have been.
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on 25 June 2017
Absolutely loved being taken out of my comfort zone with this story. Based on a true story and set in the 1800's in Iceland. Wonderful descriptions of the landscape and the lives of the characters. Bleak in places, like the landscape but could not put it down. Hannah Kent is a wonderful story teller. Highly recommend.
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on 13 April 2018
I’d heard about this novel on a book recommendations Facebook page and then had a colleague mention it to me as well as I was about to jet off on honeymoon to Iceland, where the story is set.

It’s based on a real life crime in the early 1800s where three people in Iceland were convicted of murder and sent to live with different families whilst awaiting their fate: death by beheading. This crime has apparently been written about before but all the previous tellings painted Agnes, the main character in Burial Rites, as pure evil. Kent wanted to show a more balanced possibility and add some humanity to the character in her fictionalised account of Agnes’s months with the family tasked with keeping her a prisoner until her execution.

This was really well written and the characters were very believable. Kent has given them depth and the slow revelation of aspects of the story through the use of interspersed flashback worked really well for me. I’d definitely recommend it to others, even if you’re not usually into historical/period novels (which I’m not!)
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on 9 March 2018
A grim setting in the Icelandic nineteenth century but the characters are well drawn and you care what happens to them. Having visited Iceland last year in summer, the book evoked the harshness of life before the modern age and also the humanity (and lack of it) that is shown towards the central character. The weather plays a major part in the tale so the reader is transported into the outdoor life lived in the past. It is not the genre of book that I would normally read but I was gripped from start to finish and will now investigate some of Kent's other novels.
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on 22 December 2017
Absolutely loved this book. Yes it's dark, yes it's not uplifting or happy or heart-warming. It's about a woman sentenced to death for murder in Iceland.

What it is is beautiful, captivating, immersive and intriguing. Kent's writing style pulls you in and holds you there to the point where her description of the wild Icelandic landscape will leave you feeling chilly. Protagonist Agnes is a hard nut to crack, but as her story absorbs you more and more it's easy to forget why she is in the position she's in...

Look forward to reading more from this author. A wonderful debut.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 August 2014
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.
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on 9 November 2017
Burial Rites is a very good read. Bleak story, but largely engrossing. Left me with a vivid sense of time and place. What stopped me from giving this 5 stars, was that by the half way point, I felt the descriptions of the landscape, and the everyday lives of the characters took over somewhat from the plot, whereas I wanted Hannah Kent to get on with telling Agnes' story. That is not a criticism of the descriptions, which were evocative, they just went on a little bit too much for my taste. However, once the novel began to pick up the pace of storytelling, (around the half way point), I found the book a real page turner. If you prefer an uplifting tale and comedy, give this one a swerve, otherwise definitely read this.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 March 2014
***4.5 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.

I purchased this book a while ago and as is the way of things with my reviewing schedule I have only just managed to pick it up - inspired by the fact that it appears on the Bailey's Prize Longlist in amongst some other terrific novels.

This is a beautifully written book, bringing into stark focus the bleak landscape and hard living conditions in the Iceland of the day and telling a fictional yet well researched account of a real life murder. Utterly compelling and often heartbreaking, this is a must read for Historical fiction fans and fans of intriguing stories with a real human twist.

Agnes is fascinating - as we learn more about her life and the horrific events that have brought her to where she is, awaiting her death, you will be right in the heart of the storm and desperate for her to find some way out. As a snapshot of the life and laws of the time this is compelling stuff - some wonderful prose and a terrific feeling of authenticity throughout will keep you right in the moment.

I was transported to another time and another place during the reading of this one, it was an emotional and inspiring reading journey in a lot of ways and comes highly recommended from me.

Can't wait to see what this author brings us next.

Happy Reading Folks!
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on 8 April 2018
An exceptionally atmospheric novel which captures the harsh lifestyle, history, unique landscape and social injustice of Iceland at the time. Mercifully, this is not about the trial (of the last woman to be executed in Iceland), but cleverly weaves factual documents into the well-paced and well-drawn story. While fictionalised, there is great credibility in the way the author tells the tale and she manages that rare thing: to make the reader fully engaged and caring about the heroine. She also has a light, but razor-sharp, touch with her descriptions which took my breath away at times ("the children were as thin as tide marks") and knows how to turn on the emotional scenes.

(Going to be made into a film and a tourist tour is being planned around this book.)
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