Stunning Debut for Hannah Kent with Burial Rites | A Review

Image: Goodreads

Image: Goodreads

“They will see the whore, the madwoman, the murderess, the female dripping blood into the grass and laughing with her mouth choked with dirt. They will say “Agnes” and see the spider, the witch caught in the webbing of her own fateful weaving. They might see the lamb circled by ravens, bleating for a lost mother. But they will not see me. I will not be there.” 

― Hannah Kent, Burial Rites


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?

(Synopsis and image via Goodreads)

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My Thoughts:

Despite the gruesome subject matter surrounding the last days of Agnes Magnúsdóttir’s life, Hannah Kent writes a lyrical and at times poetic tale for the reader. Burial Rites reaches into a country and time unknown to most of us, and the lifestyle is beyond our comprehension in our world of convenience and technology.

Kent’s character development had me drawing images in my mind of the people populating the story of this cold, dark land. Additionally, her ability to describe the countryside, travel and dwellings surpasses many other debut authors I’ve read.

My only stumbling block dwelt in my inability to pronounce names of people and places as well as some words with the ease I would have liked. Even my Scandinavian/Nordic gene pool failed me here. However, I did not find it so distracting as to spoil my enjoyment of reading Kent’s book.

There are scenes which, for some, will seem brutal and unpleasant. One must accept the time and place in which the story is centered. I believe Kent researched well and brought reality to the page.

My Recommendation: 

For anyone with a love of history on Iceland and its culture and traditions as well as the justice system as it existed in other times and places. In my opinion, if you are not inclined to enjoy reading dark tales, this may not be the book for you.

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Meet the Author:

Hannah Kent Image: Goodreads

Hannah Kent
Image: Goodreads

Hannah Kent won the 2011 Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award for her manuscript, Burial Rites, and is currently mentored by Geraldine Brooks. She is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and teaches Creative Writing and English at Flinders University, where she is also completing her PhD.

In 2011 she was a judge of Melbourne University/The Australian Centre’s Peter Blazey Fellowship for Life Writing. Her creative and critical writing has appeared in The Big Issue, Australian Book Review, The Wheeler Centre, Kill Your Darlings and Voiceworks, amongst others.

(Bio and image via Goodreads)

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Publisher: Little Brown & Company
Published: September 10, 2013
Genre Historical Fiction
ISBN 0316243914

I received a copy of Burial Rites from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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 On Thursday next, come along on a journey of five years on Salieri with Mary Gottschalk in her memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam. It’s a trip you won’t want to miss.


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4 thoughts on “Stunning Debut for Hannah Kent with Burial Rites | A Review

  1. tpolen November 4, 2013 at 5:24 am Reply

    This sounds great – will have to see if it’s still available at NetGalley.


    • Sherrey Meyer November 4, 2013 at 10:52 am Reply

      Teri, I certainly hope you can grab a copy. I think you’d enjoy it so much.


  2. marianbeaman November 4, 2013 at 5:18 am Reply

    Again, you present a work historical fiction which presupposes lots of research. I daresay I’ve never read a book with Iceland as the setting. I like the question you pose at the end of your review: how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

    The author’s credentials are impressive–and so young! The subject matter seems a little dark for my taste, however.


    • Sherrey Meyer November 4, 2013 at 10:51 am Reply

      I can’t say enough good things about this book or its author. I had never read a book with this setting either, and I’m now interested in learning more about Iceland. Also, I’m awaiting Ms. Kent to write another book!


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