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Burial Rites


They said I must die. They said that I stole the breaths from men, and now they must steal mine. I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, ... Show synopsis

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Reviews of Burial Rites

Overall customer rating: 4.000

Gripping and hypnotic

by christopher on Mar 12, 2014

Iceland, 1828 and two men, Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson, are found dead within the burnt remains of a farm building. On closer inspection of the charred bodies it becomes obvious that they have been murdered. Fridrik Sigrdsson, Sigridur Gudmundsdóttir and Agnes Magnúsdóttir are arrested, tried and condemned to death. While the three accused await the final judgement from the King of Denmark, Agnes Is moved from prison to stay with a District Officer, Jón Jónsson, and his family at Kornsä until the final decree as to her fate is decided by the King. Agnes asks for her spiritual needs to be administered by Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jónsson who it appears has had no past connection with the condemned woman. Jón Jónsson and his family, Margrét his wife and his two daughters Steina and Lauga, are of course horrified at the thought of housing a murderess but with Jón Jónsson?s status as a District Officer he has no option but to comply with the command from the District Commissioner, Björn Blöndal. The story is related dichotomously in the first person narrative by Agnes and in a third person omniscient narrative. This method is perfect for this novel as it allows the readers to not only get inside Agnes?s mind but to also decide if what she relates to others is truthful or is of a meretricious nature. There are also an epistolary element to the novel with the inclusion of poems, letters and official documents. The author Hannah Kent has written a gripping a story that makes one feel the need to voraciously devour the book in as few sittings as possible. Hannah Kent has a gripping and hypnotic style of writing that defies the fact that this is her first novel. She weaves and knits together paragraphs in a sententious manner as to be as concise and compact as the snow that falls on Kornsä farm. ?Then I understood that it was not me they stared at. I understood that these people did not see me. I was two dead men. I was a burning farm. I was a knife. I was blood.? The author perfectly captures the Icelandic landscape and its seemingly unrelenting, devastating weather that seems hell bent on killing all living things on the island. Hannah Kent captures an austere Icelandic way of life and conveys a country and its people who are as tough, pragmatic and as primitive as the Icelandic language. ?...the thrill of escape is sucked away, like water down a geyser. I would only be trading one death sentence for another. Up in the Highlands blizzards howl like the widows of fishermen and the wind blisters the skin off your face. Winter comes like a punch in the dark. The uninhabited places are as cruel as any executioner.? But, I have one major negative criticism of the novel and that is its rather obvious derivative storyline. It has a few similarities with Anita Shreve?s 1997 novel, The Weight of Water*, but has many, many glaring similarities to Margaret Atwood?s 1996 novel, Alias Grace*: female murderer, 19th century, based on true events, women who are more intelligent than their status implies, domestic servants, men attempting to understand the accused and in so doing become charmed by them, third person/first person narrative to name but a few. However, the derivative nature of the novel is forgivable due to the novels exuberant, eloquent style and its ability to punch above the weight of a young first time author. First Line - "They said I must die." Memorable Line - "Memories shift like loose snow in a wind, or are a choral of ghosts all talking over one another." Number of Pages - 355 Sex Scenes - Yes and a little graphic Profanity - Yes Genre - Fiction based on fact.

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