“Inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. 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 Toti, 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.”
Sounds morosely fascinating, right? And Iceland, who could resist? Parts of the story reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace (19th century convicted murderess in a cold country), a comparison that left Burial Rites seeming a bit lacklustre.
I mean, Kent uses beautiful language to convey her speculative biography and the bleak landscape is as much a character as any of the members of the small isolated community the protagonist finds herself in. The story itself is interesting enough and based on some incredible research, but I felt that the narrative arch was too obvious, there were no surprises, no cliff hangers or intriguing questions to pull me as a reader along. Regardless, it is a haunting tale about morality, prejudice, fear, belonging, forgiveness and loss. It has many fine reviews as well, but for me it only gets