I really enjoy books set in Greenland or Iceland, especially historical fiction, so I thought this book might be interesting. Too bad. The books by Sjon, Michael Crummy, Haldor Laxness, Peter Hoeg, Jane Smiley and others are incredibly better in many ways. The most important to me of those ways is that in Burial Rites there seems to be very little sense of being in historic Iceland – it’s just a story based on an actual event which took place in Iceland circa 1828 with some language thrown in (actually, though, what’s wrong with that?- lol)
Kent has taken the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a “pauper” and a servant girl who was executed for the murder of her master and retold it for 21st century readers. With far more emphasis on the the human side and mental stability of Agnes than on the place or the era, Kent has woven her own tale of love and murder.
Agnes is placed with a local family until her execution and the dynamics of those relationships are touched on. A nice element in the novel is the relationship Agnes develops with the young assistant priest, Toti who is assigned to visit with her in her final weeks. As he tries to prepare her for death, Toti encourages Agnes to tell her story. The narrative is structured around several points of view including that of Agnes as 1st person.
But there is only the one plot line so I suppose it’s a murder myster – Did she or didn’t she? and vitally important here, why? Of course another issue is to what extent is Agnes reliable. … yawn
Overall I generally enjoyed the book but the last third was a fair page-turner. 🙂