Best Books of 2016

Welcome one, welcome all, to the inevitable and downright obligatory Best Books of 2016 post that isn’t at all subjective or biased in any way. (Disclaimer: that sentence was entirely a lie.)

(If you’re looking for my more stats-based wrap up of 2016 then please do pop over to my 2016: A Bookish Year In Review post!)

I’m sure you’ve seen enough of these lists floating around in the past week or so but, basically, I’ve decided to draw a line under (let’s face it a pretty crappy) 2016 in the most positive way possible – by celebrating some absolutely brilliant books that I’ve read this past year. They may not necessarily have been published in 2016, but all of them were read by yours truly in these past twelve months and, it’s safe to say, if they made this list and have stuck around despite my patchy memory, then they must have been something special. Each of these books has well and truly earned their place on this list and I’ve detailed the not-at-all-incoherent reasoning behind each choice below so that, hopefully, my flailing might persuade you to read them yourself if you haven’t already.

Right, without further ado, let’s do this like the music charts, in reverse order, shall we?

burialritescoverHonourable Mention: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Why?: When people say a story is “haunting”, I finally know what they mean thanks to Hannah Kent’s novel. Set in Iceland, it follows the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be sentenced to death in the country. From the outset we are told what Agnes has allegedly done and this characterisation of her as a “murderess” haunts her every word and interaction from this opening page. Add onto that Kent’s chilling writing style which masterfully evokes the harsh, bleak, but beautiful, Icelandic landscape, and you have an absolutely astounding book that has stayed with me for many months.

“To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things.”

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Review | Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

burialritescoverTitle: Burial Rites (2013)
Author: Hannah Kent
Read:  18th-24th January 2016
Genre: historical fiction; mystery
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I know very little about Iceland, I know even less about Icelandic history, and I know precisely nothing about the 19th century justice system and capital punishment so choosing to read Hannah Kent’s historical fiction début novel Burial Rites was well and truly choosing to be thrown headfirst into a setting which I was not familiar with and had no point of reference to cling onto. However, Kent’s cleverly woven prose style is so lyrical and evocative that within paragraphs I felt the harsh winds whipping across the unforgiving, yet beautiful, landscape as we are introduced to our condemned protagonist, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, and the brutal crime of which she is accused.

“To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things.”

Set in 1829, Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes, a servant charged with the brutal and calculated murder of her former master and lover, Natan Ketilsson. The authorities send the murderess to be held by a district officer, Jón Jónsson, at his farm in rural Kornsá, living with his wife and two daughters whilst awaiting the capital punishment to which she has been sentenced, an arrangement that, unsurprisingly, causes rifts within the household. As allowed by law, Agnes bizarrely requests a particular unassuming Assistant Reverend, Tóti, to be her spiritual aid, intended to show the condemned brute the error of her ways and prepare her soul for its final judgement and repentance of its horrific acts. However, instead, those at Kornsá begin to better understand the shape of Agnes’ past beyond the labels which she has been assigned.

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