MODERN NOVELS 6: REVIEW OF BURIAL RITES, BY HANNAH KENT
Modern Novels Group 6 has written a review of a book they would recommend others to read - hopefully the first review of a regular feature with the ten Modern Novel groups taking turns to share details of books they have enjoyed. Our unanimous choice
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent - a brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story.
This graphic and tragic novel tells the tale of Agnes, the last person to be executed in lceland’s history. When this book was first published I was fascinated to read its journey to fruition. Hannah Kent, an Australian, first discovered Agnes Magnúsdóttir’s story in 2002 when, as a lonely seventeen year old, she was on a twelve month exchange visit to Northern Iceland. Far from home, in an unfriendly environment, Kent’s own emotions allowed her to identify with Agnes and her isolated place of death. Imprisoned by the Icelandic winter, where darkness lasted twenty hours a day, Kent’s own feelings of loneliness and isolation were compounded by the close knit community in which she found herself.
Agnes was a thirty-four year old servant woman who had been beheaded on January 12th 1830, for her role in the 1828 murder of two men. This story resurfaced some years later, as a possible subject for Kent’s PhD in creative writing. However, she soon discovered how inadequate her research was which motivated her to return to lceland on a six week funded field trip. There in The National Archives, museums and libraries, with gloved hands and anticipation, Kent handled aged papers of history, spoke to the local people, immersing herself in the most impressive and thorough research. The result was this novel of magnificent and fragile writing. Despite knowing the end of this story at its beginning, so hauntingly descriptive, l found myself agonising over Agnes’s fate, provoking my interest in willing history to change direction, denying reality - a feature of a skilfully written of a novel.
As another member of our group said: ‘I hadn’t anticipated being drawn into the subject matter to extent I was. The immersive style of writing that placed the reader firmly in the place and time of the events that unfolded was very powerful and all absorbing. The meticulous research gave authenticity to the narrative but did not detract from its integrity. All in all a superb novel.’
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, was originally published in 2013. 338 pages, ISBN 9781742612829
AR, JB & JS
Group Members Modern Novels 6