Book Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent


Burial Rites was the winner of my bookish bingo twitter poll, and I thank all who voted for it! Scandinavian Historical Crime Fiction, a beautiful combination that made for a gripping read.

From the back cover:

Northern Iceland, 1829.

A woman condemned to death for murdering her lover.

A family forced to take her in.

A priest tasked with absolving her.

But all is not as it seems, and time is running out:
winter is coming, and with it the execution date.

Only she can know the truth. This is Agnes’s story.

My Thoughts:

I must confess, I didn’t know much about this book prior to reading it, I’d asked several fellow booklovers for recommendations of a Historical Fiction book that contains a murder – Burial Rites was recommended to me many times so it ended up on my reading list, I didn’t even read the synopsis prior to buying it, so imagine my delight when I discovered it was set in Iceland and based on a true story.

Agnes, sentenced to death for murdering her lover, must live out her final days with the family of Jon Jonssen, his wife and their two daughters. What follows is a beautiful story of Agnes’ time living with the family, and her interactions with the priest chosen to ready her for her death. This novel has all the traits Nordic Noir is so well known for, and that I have come to love in this genre – the hauntingly beautiful, almost poetical writing style. The dark moody atmosphere, who knew there could be so much beauty in one woman’s pain? As Agnes relives the events that led to her conviction and the days leading up to her death, you drown in the sorrowful atmosphere.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t Agnes herself who hit me right in ‘the feels’ but instead, reading how the family took to her, particularly the mother, Margret. It’s these characters surrounding Agnes that pull you in emotionally, their relationship with her, and the pain they are left to feel as a result of the situation they are placed in. That’s not to say I didn’t feel sympathetic towards Agnes, I most certainly did, I guess what I’m trying to say is, if Agnes told her story as a soliloquy without interacting with the Jonssen family and the priest, I don’t think it would have been as effective.

When I read books of this nature, I always have to take a second look at the story that has been told because I can so easily get caught up in the descriptive scenery, these cold, dark, almost lonely settings, that only Scandinavia can offer almost hypnotises me and it’s almost a given I’m going to enjoy the read. Kent is not reliant on frills or fancies, she simply strips back the layers and in a simplistic manner tells us Agnes’ story, but I had to be sure the story was strong and not made to be so due solely to its setting. So upon finishing this book and prior to writing this review, I took some time to think about the plot itself, minus the scenery and I decided…. The year the book is set + Agnes’ story + the setting, make this book what it is, so why should I even try to separate it? Together it all works and together it makes this book a highly-recommended read.

Although I can say, the books ending was so devastatingly tragic and beautiful all at the same time, I would not have felt that way had the story not been strong! A wonderful debut from Kent, worthy of all the praise it has received.

This book is available to buy now from: Amazon UK

25 thoughts on “Book Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

  1. I requested this ASAP from the library after Cleo raved about it and I’m still waiting:( Now that you’ve loved it, added incentive to read it as soon as I get my hands on it!! Awesome review!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m waiting on the ebook copy from the library and that takes longer. I’m 4th on the list. I like reading on my kindle then I don’t have to wear my glasses:)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my favourite reads! I still think about the story and characters often, even nearly a year after reading, it made that much of an impact. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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