Culture Street


Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

On September 30, 2013

By Sophia Whitfield

Burial Rites is a beautifully told gripping tale that manages to build suspense throughout the novel despite its inevitability. Thoroughly researched, it is a moving account of the loneliness endured by one woman who must live out her final days in a claustrophobic setting in bitter conditions.

This story all began when Hannah Kent took a gap year after high school to Iceland. She wanted to see snow and so Iceland was the obvious choice. It was here that she discovered the story of Agnes Magnusdottir which ten years later forms her debut novel, Burial Rites.

In Iceland, 1892, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for the murder of two men. She was the last woman to be executed in Iceland, beheaded on January 12, 1830, aged 33.

As she waits out her execution she is sent to the remote farm of District Office Jon Jonsson where she must assist with the farming. She lives in close proximity with Jon, his wife Margret and their two daughters Steina and Lauga.

Agnes must be appointed a minister to absolve her of her crime before her execution, she asks for assistant minister Toti whom she has met once before. Returning to a place she once called home, Agnes reflects on her life as she divulges to both Toti and Margret the circumstances that led to the crime. The burning question that lurks at the heart of the book is did she or did she not kill two men? It is only in the final pages of the book that the truth is revealed.

As Agnes spends her time assisting Margret on the farm, the reader is drawn to her story, keen for Agnes to be exonerated from her crime. The reader is moved by her plight and, like Toti, desperate to hear her side of the story. What really happened on the night of March 13, 1828, when healer Natan Ketilsson and friend Petur Jonsson were stabbed and bludgeoned to death?

Supported by factual letters from the past Kent has written a moving narrative of Agnes Magnusdottir’s life set to the backdrop of a bleak landscape bathed in a formidable cold climate. Based on a true story Kent unravels the history behind the execution of a woman whose fate was sealed. She vividly reimagines Agnes story tracking her life from deserted child to convicted criminal.

If you like historical fiction you will love Hannah Kent’s debut novel. It is a novel you will read quickly, but not forget.

You Might Also Like


Bill Bryson to Tour Australia

Bill Bryson, popular writer of narrative non-fiction, will travel to Australia to appear in a live show entitled Bill Bryson – Many a True Word, an Illuminating Interview.

On November 6, 2013


Interview: Kaz Cooke

Kaz Cooke is the number one go-to advisor for Australian girls and women. Her best-selling books include Girl Stuff, Women's Stuff, Up the Duff, Kidwrangling, and a series of ebooks...

On November 9, 2017


The Marble Collector by Cecelia Ahern

By Sophia Whitfield

On December 8, 2015


Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. A compelling read.

Louisa Clark works in The Buttered Bun tea shop, a job she loves. When she suddenly loses her job her comfortable life is thrown into chaos. Her parents rely on...

On May 31, 2012


A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

By Sophia Whitfield

On October 6, 2015


Random House to Publish Former PM Julia Gillard’s Memoir

Today Random House Australia announced that they had secured the global publishing rights to the memoir of Julia Gillard, the former Prime Minister of Australia, to be published in October...

On September 25, 2013
Copyright © 2012 - 2018 Culture Street