Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

From Goodreads: 
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. 
The writing in this book is absolutely stunning.  It's a book that you can enjoy reading just for the beauty of the words.  The setting (Iceland) is so perfectly drawn that I felt like I was there.  The way the author uses her words mimics the landscape itself - sparse, but full of life and beauty.  And the characterization is just stunning.

Entertainment Value
This is definitely a character-driven novel.  Plot-wise, nothing moves very quickly.  It's more about getting to know each character, but Agnes in particular, than it is about fast pacing or shocking revelations.  The truth about the murder Agnes is to be executed for is revealed slowly and without salacious detail.  The real draw to the story is in exploring Agnes as a character and in seeing her prepare for death.  Her guilt or innocence are secondary to her development as a character.

It's an absolute must-read for fans of character-driven literary fiction.  It's got a stunning setting, but the biggest thing for me was in really grasping who Agnes is and how she's coping with the knowledge that she will be executed.  As I mentioned above, it's not fast-paced and there are no jaw-dropping revelations, so if you're looking for a mystery or a thriller, this probably isn't the right choice.  But it's beautifully written and was exactly what I was looking for in a character-driven novel.

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