Burial Rites: believe the hype

I finally read Hannah Kent’s superb debut novel, Burial Rites. First published in 2013 (Picador) and reprinted six times in 2014, it’s no wonder Kent won so many awards for the book.

Winter is the perfect season to delve into its icy depths. Painstakingly researched, the setting of rural life in 19th Century Iceland just suits the warm glow of lamplight and, ideally, rain pounding the window as you adhere yourself to the unfolding drama of Agnes’ wretched life. The sadness and stench of it, the bone-chilling tragedy of it; it’s magnetising. Kent paints images so visceral, I often found tears streaking down my face unawares, not to mention the constant fluctuations in body temperature. The weather is a potent protagonist.

Outside the Breidabólstadur croft, the cold stung Tóti’s cheeks and set his ears aching. He struggled to breathe as he saddled his sleepy mare and turned her towards Kornsá. Even as the fog gave way to snow, shaking down flakes that tangled in his cob’s mane, and Tóti felt his limbs grow sore from so long in the sharp air, he cast his mind back, again and again, to the woman he met by the Gönguskörd pass, and the memory warmed him to the bone.

Delicious stuff, these words. I was moved to learn Agnes indeed lived and breathed such a fate; Kent has honoured a life, more precious for its precariousness.

Desanka Vukelich