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Publisher's Summary

Longlisted – Baileys Women’s Prize 2014

They said I must die. They said that I stole the breaths from men, and now they must steal mine. I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind, and in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, awful coming footsteps, coming to blow me out and send my life up away from me in a grey wreath of smoke.

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover. Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district office Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’ spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’ story begins to emerge and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed.

Based on actual events, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, in which every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

©2013 Pan Macmillan Publishers Ltd (P)2013 Hannah Kent

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Story

Slow, maudlin, w overly earnest, breathy narration

What would have made Burial Rites better?

More social history. More plot. Less trite characters.

Would you ever listen to anything by Hannah Kent again?

No

Would you be willing to try another one of Morven Christie’s performances?

No

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

I had thought the novels depiction of atypical time and place would be interesting; It wasn't.

Any additional comments?

In fairness, I could only get through half the book. I almost always finish books hoping they'll get better but in this case I made an exception.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Story

Beautifully written.

What did you love best about Burial Rites?

Based on a true story. Described Iceland countryside. A bleak, sad book but absolutely fascinating.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Burial Rites?

Her execution.

Which character – as performed by Morven Christie – was your favorite?

The main character.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Katherine
  • 11-15-13

Wow what a book and based on a true story!!

Would you consider the audio edition of Burial Rites to be better than the print version?

I've never read the book but the audio version was excellent.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Burial Rites?

I think the end. It was so moving and I kept saying to myself please don't behead her let her live----

Have you listened to any of Morven Christie’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No but I think this one is so good I would pick a book just to listen to her voice.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I did a lot of crying.

Any additional comments?

This is a very sad book but so well written it was well worth listening to and I will keep it in my library to listen to again next year.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan Ryland
  • 01-03-18

One of the best books I have ever read

I love Iceland therefore was keen to read this book set in that country in the 19th century. It is written beautifully and portrays the bleak and brutal times of the story vividly yet with great understanding and empathy. I loved it and found it hard to stop listening. It kept me gripped until the very end of the epilogue. Massive congratulations to the author. And to add to the enjoyment it is wonderfully read by Morven Christie. I have had my enjoyment of some audible books spoilt by the choice of narrator but in this case the choice was superb. Wholeheartedly recommend this book.

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  • cjc62
  • 12-25-17

Captivating and haunting

Emotionally penetrating, wonderful use of language enhanced by the beautiful narration. Utterly captivating and haunting.

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  • Ms
  • 12-18-17

haunting

My first excursion into this genre . Wonderful , a fully absorbing story . I felt that I was living with the characters , Truly well narrated with enough edge and enough subtlety .
Excellent .

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  • Katy Macky
  • 11-09-17

Tragic

A tragic tale based on true events, beautifully written and narrated, I enjoyed evey last word.

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  • Suswati
  • 11-05-17

Remarkable re-telling of an Icelandic murder case

Hannah Kent's detailed historical true crime story is fascinating, as she fills in the gaps about Iceland's last known case to end with the death penalty of a woman.

It isn't a murder mystery, more a fictional portrayal of Agnes Magnusdottir, who was condemned to death after the murder of two men, one of whom was her employer. It surrounds her last months kept in the home of a lawman and his family, as they grew closer to her and as she revealed more about the case to them. She confides in a young assistant priest, Toti, appointed as her spiritual guardian.

Here we find a rather ambiguous story about her so-called heroic employer, who seems to be more callous than what most thought about him. It is moving to read about the intense poverty she faced, and the loveless life she led, forcing people to behave in many different ways. There is a recurrent theme of jealousy throughout the book which shows what people are truly capable of. It is a battle for survival in a harsh, wintry landscape.

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  • a white
  • 10-03-17

Hauntingly beautiful

A truly moving tale of this Icelandic woman. I felt deeply moved by this story of her life an death. The narration was pitch perfect and so beautiful.

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  • Cathryn Small
  • 07-09-17

An incredible book!

Based on a real story, this is an amazing book which reads as fiction. The story of a convicted murderer in Iceland in the period leading to her execution, the characters are well portrayed and incredibly memorable.
The story is well presented and incredibly intriguing.
Innocent or guilty? What do you think?

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  • Jengrove
  • 06-28-17

Haunting story of a condemned woman awaiting her death sentence

Beautifully written story so powerfully portrayed that I felt I was there in that bleak landscape understanding all Agnes emotions. Superbly read by Morven Christie - a real 5 star performance.

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  • janien
  • 06-22-17

Beautiful yet harrowing historical fiction.

What made the experience of listening to Burial Rites the most enjoyable?

The narrator, Morven Christie did a perfect job of presenting this read. Initially I thought the narration was too slow and I tried speeding up the read. I quickly realised however the pace Morven uses brings out the bleak, sorrowful atmosphere throughout and was spot on for the novel. Her ease with Icelandic language and beautiful poetic rendition heightened the enjoyment.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

I don't think this is a novel with any particularly enjoyable scenes. Bleak, cold, sad, harrowing throughout but with touches of human kindness from the family Agnes stayed with whilst awaiting execution.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Difficult to listen to in one sitting; after all there is no happy ending and that is clear from the outset. Interesting to find out from the authors notes at the end, this is a well researched novel and suggests perhaps a more balanced analysis of who Agnes was and the murders than earlier works.

Any additional comments?

This read was recommended to me and I in turn would readily recommend to others. Don't adjust the narration speed fearing it is too slow; persevere and you will find it to be just right! I would never have comprehended the Icelandic names and words either had I read this in paperback format. Definately one for audible as a preferred format.