Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Club: Burial Rites

Last Thursday night we had our final book club meeting for 2013. This time we discussed Hannah Kent's Burial Rites.

Here's the description of the book taken from Hannah's website:
In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men. Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. 
Only Tóti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. 
As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she? 
Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about personal freedom: who we are seen to be versus who we believe ourselves to be, and the ways in which we will risk everything for love. 
In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, where every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?
Man, can this girl write. Burial Rites is an impressive effort for such a young writer, and first-time author. No one could dispute Hannah's obvious writing talents, and the book club members and I were all in awe of her beautiful, descriptive writing in particular. Hannah really takes you on a journey to Iceland and opens up a sometimes excruciating truth about a time of poverty and hardship.

The thing that made this book all the more interesting to read is knowing that even though it is a work of fiction, the main character, Agnes, and many of the characters in the book - as well as the storyline itself - is based on actual people and events. Hannah spent many years researching Agnes' story through ministerial records, parish archives, censuses, local histories and publications - as well as speaking with many Icelanders. Events in the book are either drawn directly from record or are the result of speculation - making it an interesting and sometimes heart-wrenching read, knowing what the characters may have endured in real life.

The story is not told just from Agnes' point of view, but focuses also on other characters, including Toti - the assistant reverend appointed as Agnes' spiritual advisor.

Whilst the gradual build up to Agnes opening up about the fateful night of the murders kept our group turning the pages, many of us felt the (very) slow build was, at times, a little frustrating, and that the ending to the story a little abrupt.

Personally, I admire authors who don't feel the need to completely wrap up story lines at the end of their books, and rather allow the reader to determine what they think may have followed after the last page, but I also understand how that annoys some readers!

That's not to say that this book will leave you unsatisfied. It won't. It is well written and intelligent, as well as a very interesting did-she-or-didn't-she story.

We all agreed Burial Rites a very good read, and those book club members who were unable to finish the book (as mums, we get really  busy in Term 4 with all the Christmas concerts etc - I only finished the book at 5pm the day of the dinner!) are still planning to finish the book, as they enjoyed Hannah's writing and Agnes' story.

Thumbs up!

I am very excited to announce that our next book club read is ... Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas - author of the bestselling novel, The Slap. I'm also so happy that yet another Australian author has been chosen.

Here's a little from the Allen & Unwin website about the book:
A searing and provocative novel by the acclaimed author of the international bestseller The Slap, Barracuda is an unflinching look at modern Australia, at our hopes and dreams, our friendships, and our families. It is about class and sport and politics and migration and education. It contains everything a person is: family and friendship and love and work, the identities we inhabit and discard, the means by which we fill the holes at our centre. Barracuda is brutal, tender and blazingly brilliant; everything we have come to expect from this fearless vivisector of our lives and world.
I've already started it, and I'm already hooked. I'm really looking forward to reading this. I enjoyed The Slap - as confronting as it sometimes was - and I have a good feeling that Barracuda won't disappoint either.

Our next book club meeting will be Thursday 13 February 2014! If you want to join in on the discussion, you have until about a week after that to finish the book. Or, use these posts simply for book reading ideas.

Happy summertime (in Australia, anyway) reading!


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Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts. J xox