Burial Rites by Hannah Kent


Name & Author: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Publisher: Picador, Australia

Release Date: January 1st 2013

Genres: Historical Fiction, Crime

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A brilliant literary debut, 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 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? -Goodreads

My Thoughts:

The book Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a great story based on true events about Icelandic history. In the beginning of the book Hanna Kent explains the Icelandic letters, like á, í, ó, æ, ð and þ, which aren’t in other languages (excluding the letter æ, it is used in Scandinavian languages). She also explains the use of the words -dóttir and -son that are put after the name of the father and mean daughter and son. In Iceland there are rarely last names, there are the father’s (or mother’s) name with daughter or son at the end.

Burial Rites takes on the last execution in Iceland in 1830. The main character Agnes Magnúsdóttir is accused along with Friðrik  Sigurðsson of the murders of Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson. The story revolves about the time after the murder in Agnes’ life to the execution. Executions in Iceland were a seldom event after they stopped hanging thiefs in 1760. The last execution that took place in Iceland was in 1790, 40 years before the last. (In 1805 a man was sent to Norway and executed there).

I read about these murders in a history class as a child and never thought about it more. So this was really fun for me to read about this even though I don’t agree entirely with how Hanna Kent portrays the persona of Agnes. I had always imagined her as a cold blooded murderess. But in the book she is kind, deep down, and she doesn’t want to die. But this is an historical event and no one can be certain how it happened.

Agnes and Friðrik were executed, beheaded, on Januray 12th 1830. Their head were put on sticks to be a lesson for others. Soon after they disappeared. It is said that they were buried by a workman with the bodies outside of holy ground. It wasn’t until 1932 that the bodies (and heads) were buried in holy ground after a supposed haunting of Agnes and Friðrik.

I really enjoyed this book. The character development was very good and they felt real. The book is set over a long period of time, about 2 years, and I felt like the ending of the book was bit rushed, all of a sudden there were only 6 days to the execution. Otherwise it was very good. It was little hard for me to read the book in English. I didn’t feel like the people were speaking Icelandic, rather they were speaking English with a bad Icelandic accent.

5/5 stars!



If anyone wants to read more about this there is a great article here in Icelandic.


One thought on “Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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