Everything I Never Told You – Discussion Questions Part 3 (Spoiler Alert)

July/August 2015

July/August 2015

Grief

The entire Lee family is dealing with the loss of Lydia, but like most families they are handling it in varying ways.  Not only are they dealing with the death of Lydia they are all also still, years later, reeling from the summer that Marilyn took off.  James and the kids have been on their best behavior for years trying their best to ensure that Marilyn is happy, but life cannot survive in an environment where relationships are like the thin and fragile shells of robin’s eggs.

How much of what happened stemmed from the fear of Marilyn leaving?  Do you think that had she not taken off that the family might have seen the town for what it was? Would the events that followed have been prevented?

James, Marilyn and Nath are able to share their grief via the pages of the book, but Hannah never seems to have been able to share her grief with anyone.  She sees the family grappling with the loss and their inability to deal with it communicate within the family, but they don’t see her.  Why?

An Answer to a Question

As promised our discussion of A Land More Kind Than Home has ended but I’m still here.

I’ve had a question that I think all of you might be interested in hearing (reading) my response.

The comment and question.

“The novel wasn’t anything I would have picked up on my own, but I really enjoyed it. How do you choose your books?”

high fiveMy initial answer was “Excellent” with an internal high-five to myself.  Why?  My not so short answer – I love to read (shocking I know), but not just any book will do.  The book must do so many things:

  • Be well written.  I’m an eye roller.  Have you ever begun a book and right off the bat something is off?  If I get a few pages in and I’m already rolling my eyes or find myself thinking about how many household chores need to be done I might as well put the book down and walk away.
  • Transport me away from my everyday existence. I mentioned in the discussion of Burial Rites that I thought that Hannah Kent did a fantastic job of painting a picture of life in Iceland in 1862.  I may never get to visit Iceland but I got a feel for the atmosphere, and quite frankly after reading the novel Iceland has made it onto my “want to visit” list.
  • Make me feel for the characters.  I don’t have to love them, but they must feel real and show depth.

Beyond the criteria above, I love to find that gem sitting on the shelf that hasn’t caught on with a wider audience.  There are so many great books but some I consider “orphan” books. They haven’t been widely reviewed, haven’t had a three page spread in the New York Times, and for whatever reason, in my opinion, seem to be left out to dry by their publisher.  This may not have been the case with Burial Rites or A Land More Kind Than Home.  I honestly don’t remember, but there have been cases recently that made me scratch my head.  The one that comes to mind is A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon.  It was truly a different and well written novel, but seemed to be passed over for other authors and novels that in my opinion were inferior.  You may see it here in the future – I haven’t decided.

I do read more popular books, but I probably have read them before they became popular. My problem with choosing a “best seller” is that they’ve been talked out by the time I can get enough copies together to do a discussion.  I considered doing The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (congratulations on the Pulitzer), but beyond the number of pages, everyone has read it and discussed it to death.  That just doesn’t interest me. Having just said that if any of you want me to consider a book that has reached that level of popularity I will.  All you need do is ask, suggest, or post a comment!

Now that I have bored you with my overly long response I will allow you to get back to reading.  Beware though the next post will announce our new selection.

 

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!
“Margret!”
“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 – 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?

Our First Pick is in!

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

It was a tough decision because there are so many great books, but I had to choose a book that I was passionate about. Burials Rites is that book. It is a well written, engrossing debut novel that I couldn’t wait to pick up and didn’t want to put down.

From the Book Jacket:

Burial Rites American“A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.”

The Washington Post called it “A starkly compelling story of murder, love.”

About the author:

Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. She is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your hannah kentDarlings, and is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Burial Rites is her first novel.

Feel free to visit Hannah Kent’s blog for interesting tidbits about her new-found fame and more about the book. http://hannahkentauthor.com

For more information regarding Hannah Kent’s inspiration for writing the novel as well as some of her photographs of Iceland read her article in The Guardian 

Pick up a copy of our current selection or download it from the JPL Overdrive collection.  You can also borrow a Nook Simple Touch that already has a copy downloaded for you.

Start reading and send me a comment and let me know what you’re thinking.