#AW80Books – Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
How awesome are live webcams!? They are our wonderful live windows on far away people and places! And by people, I mean those with their clothes on, and regarding places, my favourite has to be the webcams on this site. As it’s dark a lot of the time in Iceland at the moment, so the view is often a tad black, but I take this little virtual tour of the sights most days. I love to spy on unsuspecting swans on Reykjavíkurtjörnin, the partly frozen lake next to Reykjavík City Hall and the National Gallery of Iceland, and that time I saw one kid try to take other’s bag, only to them slip on the ice as he ran way, ha! I also really love when there raindrops and insects on the lenses, and when the wind at Hekla and Katya shake the picture.
I love all things to do with Iceland, from knitting patterns to the sagas, to films and my own awful attempts at the language, so ‘Burial Rites’ jumped the queue after hearing so many good things about it.
The book is set in 1829, and is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, an unmarried farm worker and housekeeper, due to be executed along with two others for brutally killing her master. After she is taken to a farm to await execution (much to the resident family’s initial horror) the Assistant Reverend Thorvadur is charged with visiting her, and ‘bringing her back to God’. A younger, and less confident clergyman than those around him, he uses a subtle approach, and lets Agnes speak of her rough (and often heartbreaking) upbringing, and how she came to be in this awful position.
I enjoyed this book, I read it quickly and felt taken into its world, and if I’d have to nit-pick, the only thing that jarred with me was once when a woman’s tasselled cap was described as ‘traditional dress’, broke the spell for a minute, as in 1829, it would more likely have just been referred to as ‘dress’.
I particularly liked the bleakness of Icelandic food, and there really isn’t incredible variety there now, let alone back then. The relaity of food crosses the time gap with so many historical and classic novels, the characters become human to us when we see them appreciating hot tea and toast, just as we feel for Agnes when she recalls melting tallow candles to feed little children and boiling herself up a piece of leather. I thought it bad when once in Tesco’s on Shetland and I had to buy bagels as as there was no bread due to bad weather delaying the ferry, let alone what it must have been like to be hungry in Iceland nearly 200 years ago. A weird as it might seem to us, no wonder Icelanders eat puffins.