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Dor Does Books

Oh, hai! I read books, then I write down what I think of them. 



This book has taught me everything I know about Iceland - Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent

I started reading this one an *age* ago, but somebody put a hold on it at the library so I couldn't renew it. Given the choice of incurring massive fines (it's something like 2c a day - I'm glad of the automated machines at the library because the librarians always used to apologise to me that I owed them 20c or some other such financially crippling amount) or reading it at a later point, I returned it. Now the later point has come. Rejoice.


Burial Rites is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be executed in Iceland, sent to reside with a family until her sentence can be carried out. It was short-listed for the Woman's Prize for Fiction and probably deserved to be - up to a point.


The writing is at once flat and evocative, barren as the Icelandic landscape it portrays. It reads as though it could have been translated, if that makes sense. It's also tremendously readable.


The characters, too, have an evenness to them - they move through the story like dancers: onto the stage, perform, exeunt. From Toti, the priest charged with Agnes' spiritual well-being, the man to whom she tells her story, to her keeper's daughters, Lauga and Steina. All bob on a surface, the inexorability of this history holding the reader at arm's length. There is only story here; things happened.


While I liked the writing, it was also a let down. There are occasional clichéd phrases, eyes being described as "like pissholes in the snow" was a stand-out clanger. I also, rather surprisingly for a book which manages to do so much with so little, badly missed a sense of Iceland's daylight hours, especially in that final January set scene.


The highly promising start dulls - we are drawn into Agnes and her truth of what happened, but I couldn't quite manage to care enough. Without a compelling Agnes, I wasn't interested in the particulars or the consequences of what she'd done. I found Lauga and Steina far more interesting and more memorable, but, alas, they have little to do beyond that initial opening scene.


It's worth reading, certainly, and I'm interested to see what Kent does next - without wishing to comment on the author, Kent is a young writer and I do think it shows at times - but I couldn't manage to love this book. 3.5 stars.