Title: Burial rites
Author: Hannah Kent
Published: 2013 by Picador, Australia
Adult fiction/ historical fiction
Burial Rites is a very popular book, on the book club circuit, at my library. This made reserving the book difficult due to its popularity. In my mind, I needed to read this book and once a copy became available I grabbed it. The expectations were confounded further upon discovering it is the first novel written by Hannah Kent, translated to over 20 languages, optioned for a Hollywood film and boasts an impressive list of awards as follows;
- Shortlisted for The Stella Prize
- Shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Award 2013
- Winner of Indie Awards 2014
- Winner of Victorian Premier’s Literary Award People’s Choice Award 2014
- Winner of FAW Christina Stead Award 2014
- Winner of ABA Nielsen Bookdata Booksellers’ Choice Award 2014
- Shortlisted for NiB Waverley Award for Literature 2013
- Shortlisted for Voss Literary Award 2014
- Winner of ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2014
- Winner of SMH Best Young Australian Novelist 2014
- Winner of ABIA/Booktopia People’s Choice Award 2014
- Shortlisted for Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014
- Shortlisted for Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction 2014
- Shortlisted for ALS Gold Medal 2014
- Shortlisted for National Book Awards 2014
- Winner of Davitt Awards Debut Fiction 2014
- Winner of Davitt Awards Reader’s Choice 2014
(Source: http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/9781742612829 )
Hannah Kent spent some time in Iceland, on an exchange as a teenager. During this time, she learnt of Agnus Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Northern Iceland, for her part in the murders of two men in 1829. This historical moment/story inspired Hannah Kent to go back, later in life, with intent to research the story and write this novel. The detail of the research process is outlined in the back pages of the book. At the beginning of the book is an outline of Icelandic genealogical passing on of names based on patrilineal heritage. Sometimes genealogical links can become unclear depending on social circumstance, position in the household and desires to keep infidelity hushed up. This provides an insight into relationships.
When I first started reading the novel, I found it difficult to become fully engaged. Even though the writing was great and I enjoyed trying to map names and relationships, it seemed somewhat held back. I discussed this with a friend who felt that the language was too contemporary for the period it was set in and thus detracted from the work, for her reading pleasures. Whilst I understood her point, I can’t see how the language could have been written differently. It may have made it even less accessible. Even though I was enjoying the read, I put it down for a week only a third of the way into the story.
When I picked up the novel again, I found I became more enthralled with each revelation in the story. At the outset of the novel Agnus barely spoke, as if her words could not be heard even if she tried. The language snippets suggested the power of society was how her story was being told and she had resigned herself to there being no point in trying to be heard. This concept of storying became something that needed to be questioned. As Agnus started opening up and storying, I became engrossed wanting to learn about her character, to understand her, to see the injustice in her in life. I became engrossed in examination of power relationships, the complexities of social and economic power and how women were intertwined with power, disempowerment and a process of finding power in the gaps that presented themselves.
Once engrossed, I wanted to keep reading. When I finished, I wanted more. By the end, I realized the sophistication of the story, the research and the capturing of power relations. I fell in love with the writing of this story. It is fiction yet somehow resonates a truth.
When you finish reading a book and you want to reread it again, because you may discover something overlooked in the first reading, is when you know how great the storying is.
You may be interested in the following review on Burial rites:
Fire and ice – written by Steven Heighten and published September 27, 2013 in The New York Times