Burial Rites by Hannah Kent


Literary Fiction, Cultural : Iceland

This was one of my selections for my Autumn TBR. I was hoping to fall in love with this book and sadly, was slightly disappointed. This novel is a fictionalised account based on the life of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be executed in Iceland after being convicted of murder.
Hannah Kent raises the question of how a woman could hope to endure when she’s tied down by the tapestry of stories spun by the people around her; by bureaucracy that’s unflinchingly rigid; when the truth of what happened is unbeknownst to all but her. And through this Kent creates that ambiguity in the heinousness of the convicted. An interesting premise, for sure, but didn’t find the execution of it impactful.

I really didn’t enjoy the backstory, in particular, where Agnes narrates the events that led up to the murder. It felt melodramatic with shades of obsessive love, lust, jealousy, greed and finally revenge. Secondly, I couldn’t fathom why Agnes, portrayed as an intelligent woman, would be so blindly obsessed with Natan knowing that he was manipulating her. It really weakened Agnes’s character for me. Thirdly, the priest’s ‘infatuation’ with Agnes which is never explicitly mentioned but can be implied felt completely misplaced and unnecessary.

There were aspects I enjoyed like the interactions between the family and their slow transformation into accepting Agnes. Hannah Kent is incredibly talented as a writer and there some of the passages brim with beauty and metaphor. As a reader though, I was acutely aware of being ‘outside the book’, and though Agnes is an interesting character to understand, I wasn’t invested enough.

If you’ve read & loved Burial Rites, please don’t take this the wrong way. I feel as readers, we come in with different experiences and expectations that directly influence what you take away from a book. I can definitely see why it’s a 5 star read for many people. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it, in all likelihood it could be your next favourite. But for me it just hasn’t stayed with me.
Rating: I can definitely see its merits but it wasn’t for me 3/5🌟

One thought on “Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

  1. The premise of this story sounds amazing, and the cover art really attracted me! So I’m very sad to hear that you didn’t think it was written well. I hate when a story sounds amazing but isn’t well executed. Nice post!


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