Published by Little, Brown on 9/10/2013
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Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites is set in rural Iceland in 1829 and based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, who was sent to a farm to await execution after being charged with the murder of her master. Outcast by those around her, Agnes has only Toti, a young priest chosen to help guide her in her final days, to speak to. As her execution inches closer, the story she reveals makes Toti and the farmer’s family realize the injustice about to take place.
My book club was thrilled to receive advance copies of Burial Rites, which we read through the warmest part of Virginia’s summer. Though it was great to read at any time, we talked about how September is a perfect release date, since it’s definitely a book that’s ideal to snuggle up with.
One of the first things we all mentioned in our discussion was how blown away we were by Hannah Kent’s control of language. Without feeling forced, her prose has this subtle beauty, sometimes so understated it could be missed until a second read. The book’s prologue, which is part of the excerpt Little, Brown is sharing, is a stunning example of Kent’s talent.
“They say I must die. They say that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine. I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind, and in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, awful coming footsteps, coming to blow me out and send my life up away from me in a gray wreath of smoke.”
A few members of the group had read Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and found that there were many similarities between the two books, though their settings are different. It would be really interesting for book clubs that have read Alias Grace as a group to read Burial Rites and discuss how the themes parallel one another.
We were also really fascinated by the true story Hannah Kent used to frame the story. Though the author’s note gives some background on which parts of Burial Rites are true, we were curious about the history of specific characters, namely Poet-Rosa. We did some digging into Wikipedia to find out a little more about execution in Iceland before falling into a Wiki rabbit hole and discussing how traumatically sad the movie Dancer in the Dark is. As book clubs do.