Set in Iceland in the 1820s, Burial Rites tell a fictionalised imagining of the last years of Agnes Mangusdottir, a woman who was tried and killed for murder. Hannah Kent learnt of her when she was in Iceland and used the research she could find on Agnes to piece together what her life may have been like. Agnes was placed in the home of a local official and worked with the family through their harvest rather than being imprisoned. Given the cramped conditions in which these rural families lived, the fate of Agnes was bound to have some effect on them.
It’s a beautiful book that gives some personality to Agnes as well as those she was accused of killing, her conspirators and the people who surrounded her. Whether or not the real Agnes had such an existence, I felt a deep empathy for her tough upbringing and ultimate demise. There’s little I enjoy more than a good cry, and I especially love it when it is a book that is the cause of my tears. Burial Rites had several emotional moments that made me cry with the injustices of the world. Fabulous.
I had been hoping that Hannah Kent would be one of the featured first time authors at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival that kicks of later this month, but no such luck. Looking at her website, it seems she is Edinburgh at the moment, and I can’t blame her for being there rather than here – I love Edinburgh. I will have to ensure that I keep my ears open for non-festival events, however, as I’d love to hear Kent discuss her novel further.