Burial Rites was my book clubs monthly read. I had never read Australian Author Hannah Kent so I checked this book out at our local library. I learned the author had completed a 10-year quest to research and uncover details of this last application of capital punishment, in Iceland.
In the early 19th Century, the killing of the person in question was legal. And the author has written a compelling version of Agnes Magnusdottir's final days.
Iceland did not have prisons for those serving time. Officials and their families took in murderers. We know that Agnes final months were spent with District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife Margret, and their daughters Steina and Lauga, on the families farm. Toti, a priest Agnes asked for and had met previously, was also able to be with her during her final days.
The book reads like a historical perspective. And, I believe the reader is able to connect more deeply as much of this fictional story is written from Agnes point of view. And, includes public notices and documentation from that time period.
I found I was baited by an atmosphere, I know very little of.
The climate is bitter, disease is present, hunger is evident (even though they are surrounded by farmland), superstitions are dour, gossip is rampant, and the sentence of death... formidable.
The writing throughout is convincing and uncomfortably eerie. “ I close my eyes and I am creeping down the corridor with the flickering light of my lamp and I am shaking, terrified. I hear the wind howl into the night outside and I think I can hear my foster-mother claw at the storehouse door where she is bundled and waiting to be nailed in the box and buried come spring. I stop walking and I listen hard, and under the wind, I think I hear scratching, and then my name- Agnes, Agnes, calling to me.”
This read has an immense emotional impact because the mood is disturbingly intense and daunting. Fridrik Sigurdsson and Agnes Magnusdottir were beheaded in Vatnsdalshólar in Húnavatnssýsla, on January 12, 1830, for murdering Natan Ketilsson, and Pétur Jonsson. A stone plaque, marking the site of their execution, is a reminder.
I LOVED this read! I returned the library copy and went out and purchased my own.