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This book had been on my "to-listen" list for a while when I finally decided to pick it up right before a vacation to Iceland. Since it took place there, it felt like the perfect lead-in to my trip, and I hoped I might even learn a thing or two about the country itself. I certainly was not prepared for how much I was going to fall in love with this beautiful, emotionally devastating story. Months later, I find I still can’t stop thinking about it.
Burial Rites tells the fictionalized story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a real woman who was sentenced to execution for her role in the murder of two men in 1928. Author Hannah Kent couldn't have set the scene more perfectly. Her descriptions of the harsh, bleak Icelandic landscape brilliantly captured the mood of the novel, making me feel like I had been there before my plane even landed. Her prose is rich with vibrant (and sometimes uncomfortable) detail, immersing the listener in the story completely through all five senses. It was mind-blowing to me that this was Kent's debut novel – I'll be eagerly awaiting her next.
The real star of the book was narrator Morven Christie, who absolutely nailed the unique pronunciations and sounds of the Icelandic language (I even referred back to the audiobook when trying to pronounce certain street & town names – she was THAT good). Her characterizations were so spot-on that at times I had to remind myself that she was the only one reading. In a book that shifts perspectives from chapter to chapter, her skillfully nuanced voice carried the story along effortlessly.
It sounds strange, but I wish I could somehow magically forget this book just so I could experience it again for the first time. But with a story and performance so unforgettable, that’s just not likely any time soon.
37 of 38 people found this review helpful
Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to come across the perfect book at the perfect time, and it has happened again with Burial Rites. The bleak, gray, and icy grip of winter here has provided the perfect backdrop for Hannah Kent's incredibly well-written debut novel. She tells the tragic story of maidservant Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last person executed in Iceland in 1830 after she and two others were convicted of killing Natan Ketilsson and neighbor Pétur Jónsson. Because there were no prisons in Iceland, Agnes is sent to live and work with District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife, and two daughters on their farm. We come to know Agnes and her story through her talks with her spiritual advisor, young reverend Tóti, who is meant to prepare Agnes for her punishment so she can meet her end with contrition.
Kent has researched her topics well, and writes about the details of water-collecting, knitting socks, making blood sausage, shearing, lambing, and slaughter that make life on the farm difficult on a good day. She never hits the reader over the head with these illustrative details, but they are presented simply as an integral part of the story.
The narrator, Morven Christie, is superb, in her pronunciation of Icelandic names, timbre, and emotion. I was tempted to give Burial Rites four stars, but Christie's narration makes it a five-star listen. This is a book that will stay with me for quite a while.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful