Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites book cover

Rating: 3/5

What It’s About:

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape in 1829, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. 

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard. 

Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?


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The Review

Burial Rites is a very atmospheric and pensive book. Fortunately I was in the perfect mood for a book with a slow burn. My favorite part was the depiction of rural Icelandic life in the mid 1800’s. The daily life, clothing, houses, and all the other details were so interesting to me. I loved how the author described the weather and landscape. I felt transported to another place and time. Burial Rites maintains a bleak and somber mood through much of the story.

The relationships between the characters were interesting because the population was very isolated while being close knit at the same time. The people in the area all knew each other and relied on each other for survival, but there was also a lack of privacy or personal space that caused many problems between the characters. At first, I didn’t know how I felt about Agnes’s character. As the story progresses, she reveals more and more about her side things. I found myself becoming sympathetic to her story and was frequently questioning whether she was actually guilty, or if there was something more to what actually happened. Could I trust her recount of what happened or was she an unreliable character? I still don’t know! What makes it more interesting at this book is based of a real person, crime, and execution. You can read more about it here. So spooky! Hannah Kent also posted a photo essay of her visit to real locations that she included in the book.

Final Thoughts

Even thought Burial Rites wasn’t a traditional murder mystery like I had expected, I still enjoyed reading it. I also shared the story and history with my husband and coworkers, who also found the premise interesting. Burial Rites book also reminded me of a few other books I have read. The books listed below all are historical fiction books that deal with women facing criminal charges.

  • The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave – Norway, 1600’s – my review
  • The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline – Australia, 1800’s – my review
  • Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian – American colonies (Boston, Massachusetts), 1600’s – my review
  • A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago – England, 1600’s – my review

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear what you thought.


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