Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Tuesday; Bookshelf; Burial Rites;

BURIAL RITES  by Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent, the author of Burial Rites said:"  first heard the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir when I was an exchange student in the north of Iceland. It was 2002, I was 17 years old, and I had left Adelaide for Sauðárkrókur an isolated fishing village, where I would live for 12 months. This small town lies snug in the side of a fjord: a clutch of little buildings facing an iron-grey sea, the mountains looming behind.

When I arrived it was January, and the days were gripped by darkness, 20 hours at a time. There were no trees. The town’s houses were hostage to snow, and in the distance the north Atlantic Ocean met the north sky in a suggestion of oblivion. It felt like the edge of the world.

I was intensely lonely. The community was tightly knit, and I was an outsider. For the first time in my life I felt socially isolated, and my feelings of alienation were compounded by the claustrophobic winter darkness, and the constant confinement indoors. I turned to writing for company, to fill the black hours. I sought shelter in libraries, consolation in books.

It was during the first difficult months of my exchange that I travelled through a place called Vatnsdalshólar. It’s an unusual tract of landscape: a valley mouth pimpled with hillocks of earth. When I asked my host parents if the area was significant, they pointed to three small hills, nestled closely together. Over 100 years ago, they said, a woman called Agnes had been beheaded there. She was the last person to be executed in Iceland.

I was immediately intrigued. What had she done? What had happened? Over time I discovered that Agnes was a 34-year-old servant woman who had been beheaded on 12 January 1830 for her role in the 1828 murders of two men. It seemed a tragic tale; Agnes had been unequivocally condemned.
Excerpts from Hannah  Kent.

 In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.
Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes's spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes's ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn't she?
Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about personal freedom: who we are seen to be versus who we believe ourselves to be, and the ways in which we will risk everything for love. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland's formidable landscape, where every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

We talk about the "good old times" yet when we go back to those times they were anything but good for most of the populace. Life was more a  tragedy, a constant battle. Work from morning to night. Living in dismal conditions, no rights, nothing. Ts

Burial Rites, is well written and makes you shudder to think that people lived under those conditions. Ts


  1. Sounds gripping. I love stories based on true incidents.

  2. Diane, yes, it is. Interesting to read about the early 19TH century in Iceland. I have never known much about Iceland.