Burial Rites is the 2013 debut novel of Australian author Hannah Kent. Since it was one of the oldest books on my To Be Read List, I was glad when I was able to purchase it on an Audible sale. I don’t think I would have been able to pronounce many of the Icelandic names, so the audiobook was very helpful.
This is a haunting true-crime tale. On March 14th, 1828 two men, Natan Ketilsson and his friend Pétur Jónsson, were found dead at Natan’s home, Illugastaðir, in Northern Iceland. The men had been hammered and stabbed to death and the house was burnt to the ground. Natan was Agnes Magnúsdóttir’s employer and lover. Supposedly he also fancied his young housekeeper, Sigríður, which caused Agnes great jealousy. Sigríður was in love with the frightening young neighbor, Friðrik Sigurðsson, who hated Natan. Agnes, Sigríður, and Friðrik were all found guilty of the murders. Agnes remains the last person executed by capital punishment in Iceland.
Kent’s fictional version takes the reader into the mind of Agnes during her last days as she awaits her execution. After being transferred from a terrible prison, she lives on a farm with a local family in the area where the crime occurred. The family does not want her there, but they are given no choice but to house her. Agnes chooses a young associate priest, Tóti, to provide her with spiritual guidance before her death. As she slowly relates her story, the family and the priest are deeply affected and come to believe in Agnes’ innocence.
The starkness of the Icelandic scenery mixed with a tale of love and madness makes the story dark, but compelling. The story was well-researched and an informative look at life in the 1820s.
4.5 Stars. Book Club Recommended.
My research found that a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence as Agnes Magnúsdóttir was supposed to start filming in 2019. When I checked on IMDB.com it says the movie is “in production” with no further information.