Paperback (Picador, 355 pages)
First published 2013; this edition published 2014
Rating on Goodreads: 3 stars
“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.”
Agnes has had a tough life, that much is certain.
I won this as part of the Bailey’s Prize giveaway, and it was one of the ones that I was most excited to read. I’m fascinated by Iceland and its culture, and so Burial Rites seemed right up my street. I started it hoping for the best, and in some ways, I was not disappointed.
The characters were full of depth, and I really empathised with Agnes’s struggle. I loved the inclusion of Icelandic language and it read easily, even for someone who knows little if any Icelandic at all. The descriptions of nineteenth century Iceland were rich, and they were definitely captivating; Ms Kent has an undeniable descriptive skill.
What stopped me from speeding through this novel was the fact that I found it rather slow and difficult to get through at certain parts; it was only in the last hundred pages that I was truly gripped. The ending happened very quickly, which added to the reader’s shock, and I was left mostly satisfied. But I still found the pace of the story frustrating. Had it been faster, I would have given Burial Rites a higher rating – and yet I can appreciate why the pace was the pace it was. The novel is a contemplative one, and exploration of character and truth, and fast pace does not necessarily occur in such tales. It is a saddening, poignant story, and I know Agnes will stay with me for a long time. What makes her narrative even more moving is the fact that it is based upon true events, and I will definitely be researching them.
I will still recommend this to people, because it is a good, rich novel. Let me know what you think below if you have read it; I’d love to know your thoughts.