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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An Update & Friday Reads | 15th January

I have excellent news… I started a job last week. I know, I’m as surprised as you are. At its most basic, it means I no longer have to go to the soul-destroying non-place that is the local friendly Job Centre Plus – huzzah. At its best, it’s a job I think I can vaguely do, in time… and once I have permissions in place to access to all the relevant systems. It’s happening, just slowly. The job itself is based on a service/reception desk of sorts. It’s a part-time, temporary contract covering someone’s maternity leave but it’s working at a local University so I’m really pleased that my on-campus jobs whilst studying at Lancaster University obviously helped at interview for my current job – huzzah again.

All of this means, however, that I can no longer spend Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays wandering about the house with my nose in a book. It seems an acceptable trade-off. Plus the 20 minute train journey either way gives me 2 hours a week of spare time in which, really, there’s nothing much else to do besides listen to music and plaintively stare out of the train window at the not-so-glorious, not-so-picturesque views of the North East countryside zipping by. I’m glad to discover the morning train in particular is quiet enough to be conducive to reading; I’m sure this is only because no one is awake before 8am. I’ll take it, though.

So, this is a rather long winded way of saying this is why my blogging has become somewhat sporadic though I have been making an effort to queue things ready for posting. Once I have time to sit down this weekend, I’ll also catch up on the couple of reviews I need to write. Alongside that I do have some reading plans for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, as follows:

  First off, I hope to finish Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I’ve really been enjoying this one – when I saw it was blurbed by Caitlin Moran, I knew what sort of writing I was in for, even though I’d never heard of Jenny Lawson previously to Leena’s lovely video on her latest book Furiously HappySpeaking of, I also have Furiously Happy on loan from the library so it is quite possible I will be starting that if I end up enjoying the remainder of Let’s Pretend as much as I have the first 200 or so pages. All in all, any book that makes a reference to Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch in the footnotes seems like a solid book to me.

Aside from that, I recently finished the Mistborn trilogy and have been experiencing withdrawal from Sanderson’s brilliantly baffling world. So it’s possible I might venture towards his standalone novel set in the same world – The Alloy of LawFailing that, if I think I don’t have the mental capacity required for adult fantasy I might allow myself the comforting tropes and tribulations of his YA fantasy offering – Steelheart. 

If I don’t have the capacity for either, I’m considering getting started on Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while and I’ve had it out from the library for quite some time now so I should probably stop being a bad book borrower and actually finish the book and return it in a timely manner so someone else can read it. Aside from the moral dilemma of hogging books, I also noticed Shannon from leaninglight’s reading group Reads With Friends has organised a readalong for next week – so it seems rude (almost like going against fate) to ignore the book yet again when there is an opportunity like this to discuss it once I’m finished reading it. But I might get a cheeky head-start if the time presents itself over this weekend.

So those are my likely Friday/Weekend Reads – what are you reading this weekend? How has your reading been going so far in 2016? Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned above? Comment below – I’d love to hear your opinion.