Friday, August 08, 2014
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
Agnes Magnusdottir has been convicted of murdering her lover. While awaiting execution, she is sent to a remote farm to live with a district official and his family. Escape is essentially impossible, since no one could survive in the wilderness for long. While there, she is expected to meet with a spiritual advisor in order to repent and make her peace with God before meeting Him face to face to be judged. The wife of the district official is at first very resistant, but as Agnes works with the family, and her story comes out, it becomes clear that executing her would be a miscarriage of justice.
Kent uses a combination of third person and first person narrative (from Agnes' point of view) to tell the story. Agnes' story is revealed both through the comments of the other characters and her own thoughts. The official documents that were included, and the conversations of the other characters about Agnes, are then given context when the truth from Agnes' point of view is revealed.
What really sets this book apart from other books in this genre is the setting. Otherwise it's a sadly familiar story of a woman who was taken advantage of by a man she loved. But the description of Icelandic culture and the interesting narrative structure help this novel stand out from other similar mysteries, even ones with historical settings. I look forward to seeing if Kent's future books will continue to offer familiar stories with engaging twists.