Burial Rites – The End

Burial Rites AmericanI realize that some of you may have found Burial Rites difficult to get through.  I didn’t promise a “happy” read.  I was hoping to offer you a book that would take you on a journey to an unknown place and time and get you to pick up a book that might have fallen through the literary cracks. In an earlier post I told you that I was having a great deal of difficulty choosing the inaugural book for JPL’s Book-In-A-Blog.  Before finishing Burial Rites I just knew that this was the “one.” How?  Well, like you I knew from reading the book jacket how the novel would end.  It is the story of the last woman executed in Iceland after all.  I knew what Agnes’ fate was, and yet when I got to that final chapter a part of me held out hope for her. I had grown to like her, feel for her, root for her much as Margret did.  I saw Agnes as a woman who had been treated terribly and had loved Natan (even if he truly didn’t deserve her love.) So as Margret, Steina and Lauga sobbed so did I.  Even now as I re-read to refresh my memory I find tears fighting behind my eyes daring me to read on.

Margret is reaching out to me and she takes my hand in hers, clasps my fingers so tightly that it hurts, it hurts.
“You are not a monster,” she says. Her face is flushed and she bites her lip, she bites down. Her fingers, entwined with my own, are hot and greasy.
“They’re going to kill me.” Who said that? Did I say that?
“We’ll remember you, Agnes.” she presses my fingers more tightly, until I almost cry out from he pain, and then I am crying. I don’t want to be remembered, I want to be here!
“I am right here, Agnes.  You’ll be all right, my girl. My girl.”

What did you think of the book?  Did you connect with the characters? You know how I feel about the book – now it’s your turn. Let me have it I’m tough I can take it!

Hannah Kent has done an admirable job of researching the events and people involved, but this is a work of fiction.  She admits to have taken some liberties with the story as there are no accounts of what transpired while Agnes was living with the family.  We don’t know what was said, or what their relationships were. Do you enjoy reading fictionalized accounts of real events? Did the story seem plausible to you?

edeb4e204643c1054f3bc2cd9ff56bd5Agnes was executed January, 12, 1830.  Her remains buried along with Fridrik in an unmarked grave.  Later, their remains were moved and the headstone place.

I do hope you enjoyed reading Burial Rites along with me.  Please feel free to comment, tweet, or “friend” JPL’s Book-In-A-Blog on Facebook. Let me know what you thought of the book, and what you might like to read with me in the future.

We’ll begin our next book soon.  You can find out about our next pick on the Jericho Public Library website (www.jericholibrary.org) or Newsletter,  here on the blog, via Twitter or Facebook.

Burial Rites – Discussion Questions III (Spoiler Alert)

Burial RitesWe’re nearing the end of the discussion.

The story revolves around the murder of Natan. Agnes is found guilty of his murder, but it’s not until very late in the novel that Agnes is able to discuss the events surrounding the murder.  What do you think about her take on the murder? Do you believe her version? Given the bleakness of her situation, do you think she could have extricated herself from his household?   Do you think that given the opportunity that she would have taken it?

I know it’s not proper to speak ill of the dead but I must.  If Natan was truly depicted in the novel he was an unlikeable creature who lied to Agnes.  Do I think he deserved his fate? No, but would I mourn him? No! Given the little bit we know about Natan what do you think of him?

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Burial Rites – Questions Part II (Spoiler Alert)

Let’s talk about character development.

We begin the book by meeting the family Steina, Lauga and Margret. Oddly enough even though the father, Jón Jónsson, was the main motivation for Blondel to house Agnes in the Jonsdottir household he was rarely at home.  It was the three women who feared and then grew to accept Agnes.  Even though we do learn about Agnes from her own inner thoughts I think we learn so much about her from the observations of these three women.  It is through Margrets’ observations that the reader learns of the inhumanity and mistreatment that Agnes experienced during her incarceration.  We can’t know how much time Jon spent at home during the time that Agnes was present. Why do you think that Kent wrote the story is such a female centric manner? 

Agnes begins the book as an unknown, abandoned, mysterious feral creature who has been locked up in a dark hovel.  Does Agnes change over time, or are we just seeing her become who she was prior to her arrest?  Are Steina, Lauga and Margret changed by Agnes’s time with them?

Even though this is truly the story of these four women we can’t ignore Tóti and his relationship with Agnes.  Thrust  into the position of being the spiritual advisor for Agnes on her journey to her execution, Tóti is forced to grow into his religious life prematurely.  Do we see him mature and grow?  As a man not fully grown, is he the best that Agnes could have found to advise her? When he is chosen by Agnes the reader and characters in the novel wonder about the randomness of her choice.  It is much later in the story that we find out the connection that the two share.  In your opinion was there an underlying cause for Agnes’ choice of Tóti?

Apropos of nothing really. During my Internet mining regarding Burial Rites I found a blog written by an author, James Thompson,who delivers a succinct history of Iceland, mentions the execution and provides a glimpse into what it’s like to live in Iceland.  I thought you might be interested as well. Follow this link  – Jimland.

Burial Rites – Questions (Spoiler Alert)

I happen to enjoy the historical fiction genre, but regardless of whether you’re a historical fiction buff or not it’s clear that Hannah Kent has certainly done her research.  She has included historical documents throughout the novel.  Did you find the inclusion helpful in understanding Agnes and the time period?

We learn so much about Blöndal via these historical documents.  His dispassionate communications with those whom he controls are filled with venom and spite.  In my opinion he is the true villain of the novel.  Why did he remove Agnes from Stora-Borg, and why move her to live with District Officer Jon and his family? What do you think motivated his decision to go forward with the execution of Agnes and Fridrik while sparing Sigrídur?

Agnes’ time spent at Stora-Borg was brutal and dismal. Her life while living with the family bordered on hopeful.  There were times I felt as though it was almost cruel to have given her hope, but I was so torn.  Would she have been better just remaining at Stora-Borg or was that time spent more free worth it?