Burial Rites Book Summary
‘Burial Rites’ is a compelling and gripping historical crime novel, skilfully composed by Australian author, Hannah Kent and published in 2013. It encapsulates the emotional struggle during the final six months of convicted murderer, Agnes Magnusdottir, before her execution in 1830, for her unclear involvement in the murder of two men. She was executed in the north of Iceland for allegedly murdering her lover, Natan Ketilsson in 1828. She was the last female to be executed in Iceland and her story captivates people worldwide. The novel uncovers Agnes’ humanity and honesty, which many sources fail to consider.
The author’s narration of the novel is mesmerising and her vivid descriptions of the awe-inspiring yet brutal Icelandic landscape allow it to become its very own character. Years of research allowed Kent to write a novel which is accurate and informative whilst being extremely powerful and touching. Agnes’ perspective is written in first person, allowing the reader to immerse themselves with the internal conflict that she suffered during her final months in custody. ‘Burial Rites’ begins with a confronting first passage, informing the reader of Agnes’ death sentence. It reads, “they said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine.” This foreshadows the dark tone of the book.
Plot and Key Moment Summary
Deeper into the novel, Agnes revealed her relationship with Natan Ketillson and the true incentives behind the murder. She was sentenced to death along with Fridrik Sigurdsson and Sigga Gudmundsdóttir, who were also associated with the murders of Natan Ketilsson and his friend, Pétur Jónsson. Agnes first met Sigga, who claimed to be Natan’s housekeeper at his farm. She fell in love with Natan, and their secret romance continued when asked her to live with him and be his housekeeper. Fridrik, Natan’s neighbour, would often visit only with the intention to steal his money as he “didn’t have a coin to his name” (pg. 238). Fridrik and Sigga fell in love and he asked to marry her, to which Natan agreed. However, during this time, Natan had been sleeping with both Sigga and Agnes, even sexually abusing Sigga. When this came to his attention, Fridrik was enraged and in a furious conversation with Agnes and Sigga he said, “He’s a bastard. I’ll kill him” (pg. 277). At that moment we see what truly provoked the murder. This sparked a huge concern amongst Agnes and Sigga. When Agnes confronted Natan about his involvement with Sigga, he threw her outside in the snow. She found shelter at Fridrik’s house and they came back the next day to leave and take Sigga with them. Natan came back to his house with Petur, telling him he would not allow the marriage and told Fridrik to leave. The next morning Agnes woke up to see a hammer and knife in Fridrik’s hands and when she later entered the badstofa (living area), she saw Sigga crying and Fridrik looking fearful. Fridrik had killed Petur and...