review: Burial Rites

Burial Rites
by Hannah Kent

This story opens on a small family farm in Northern Iceland with two sisters receiving the news that their household was chosen to retain a young woman who had recently been convicted of murder. When Agnes Magnúsdóttir arrived filthy and starved, everyone in the family and neighboring farms were repulsed by merely the thought of being near her. But when a young assistant reverend begins visiting and engages Agnes in speaking of her past, an unlikely understanding slowly develops with those closest to her.

The outcome of this story is known beforehand–both because it’s a well-known historical case in Iceland, and because it’s relayed in the official book description. The telling of the story, however, is where the intrigue lies. Was Agnes guilty of the crime she was accused? This question is painstakingly explored, as even the most obstinate of her detractors becomes immersed in her plight.

Beautifully told, this is an eloquent and detailed debut novel. Its obscure setting initially attracted me, and it did not disappoint. I read the audiobook version of this, and I recommend it for the pronunciations of the Icelandic words and names included.