Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a solemn fictionalization of the last criminal executed in Iceland circa 1828. The story focuses on Agnes Magnusdottir, who has been sentenced to death for the murder of two men, when the book opens. And what an opening! Kent delivers stunning prose from the start through Agnes's first person point of view: "I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind....They will blow us all out, one by one, until it is only their own light by which they see themselves."
Agnes's first person point of view poetically pursues the emotional thought process of a woman condemned. Half of the story is told through a general third person omniscient narrator who speaks the emotions and thoughts of other characters in-between Agnes's tellings of the story. The third person narrator is markedly different. Emotions and thoughts of various characters can be seen; however, it lacks the poetic raw emotion of Agnes's telling. The result is an effective storyline that does more than tell a story, it draws the reader in and speaks of life.
The story itself follows Agnes through the last days of her life. Forced upon the family of a local, small time politician, she earns her keep working their farm as she awaits her final destination...death. Living with a convicted murderess keeps the family in fear for themselves and their belongings. An absolutely clueless, young priest is also sent in to save her soul before her execution is scheduled. Between the young priest and the women of the family, Agnes comes out of her shell and her story is made known, including the truth of that fateful night. The truth isn't always cut and dry, as Agnes makes clear, but it isn't always what we assume it to be either. Much like stories of the Titanic, you find yourself hoping the end will not happen as you knew it would from the beginning.
Hannah Kent's thorough research provides a strong framework for Agnes's life story and Kent's writing fills it out beautifully. Burial Rites is also in talks for a movie, with Jennifer Lawrence starring as Agnes. This will be something to see!
Do you have a favorite book that is "based on a true story"?