Hannah Kent – Burial Rites

Agnes is being held captive. She wonders whether she’s already dead. She waits in darkness and in silence, a chamber pot on the verge of overflowing. She’s got no inkling of how many hours or days have passed. She feels she’s being treated like an animal and clings on to some of her past memories for comfort. They forget to feed her sometimes and she no longer feels like a woman. She’s totally crippled by waiting for death.

She’s been condemned to death for her role in the death of two people found in the burnt ruins of Natan’s farm. The people involved are to be executed in Iceland and are due to be held in the homes of ordinary families in order to save costs. The home Agnes is moved to is in considerable disrepair, two servants losts their lives the previous year from diseases that started with the damp, mouldy house.

She’s staying with Jon and his wife Margret and their daughters Lauga and Steina. At first they’re suspicious of her, afraid of how they’ll be perceived by their neighbours and worried about what this woman could do to them. Agnes has been an outsider throughout her life, someone different from the rest, brighter than most. While staying at the house she’s visited by Reverend Jonsson, a man she’s specifically requested and whose official business to to bring Agnes to the Lord before she’s executed.

This is a work of fiction based on true events. We read on to see if we can get to the bottom of the story and find out if Agnes is innocent or guilty of the crime. The book raises questions of who we should believe and highlights that there are many different versions of any particular story. It’s beautifully constructed with the story being told from Agnes’s perspective and through letters and third-person narrative. I was totally immersed in it from the start and the story of Agnes will stay with me for quite some time.

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