This book is generating a lot of buzz on Amazon, even nabbing a spot as one of the September Amazon Best Books of the Month. The other books to debut this month must have been exceptionally appalling, because Burial Rites was truly one of the most painfully boring novels I have ever endured. That is saying a lot, as I have read some tedious novels in my time.
Burial Rites is a fictionalized account of a true story about a young woman accused of an Icelandic murder in 1829. Agnes Magnusdottir (there are some accent marks in there, but this novel does not deserve the time it would take me to correctly apply them) murdered a guy she used to work for and sleep with – in that order. Another guy was murdered, too, but I’m not really sure what role he played in this whole debacle. Because there are no prisons in the area, Agnes must live out her final days on the farm of a regional official, whose family is none too pleased about the new living arrangements. There is a priest who comes by regularly in an attempt to save Agnes’ soul when she’s not too busy doing farm work, and his efforts result in Agnes revealing a different version of the murders than the one floating around Iceland. Predictably, the family comes to feel for Agnes. Predictably, it’s too late.
It sounds like it should be a compelling read, right? I cannot fathom how Hannah Kent so brutally destroyed such an alluring concept. Amazon can’t get enough of this lady, and it praises her novel as:
Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?
The irony is that readers are expected to endure based on the fictions told by Amazon reviewers. Burial Rites is too heavy-handed with its lyricism, which defeats the purpose of lyricism in the first place. Kent gets stuck in her descriptions to the point that I often forgot the point of the description or what she was even describing. Despite her intense characters and a dark, ominous setting, the plot is surprisingly flat. It finally picks up some steam as Agnes gets to the crux of her tale, the murders themselves. However, the situation in which she finds herself prior to the murders makes it difficult to sympathize with her. She is not likable. The family is not likable. The novel is not likable.
Publishers Weekly claims that “Kent smoothly incorporates her impressive research . . . while giving life to these historical figures and the suspense of their tales.” I believe that she conducted a lot of research, but it reads more like a history text than anything with “suspense.” Moreover, the characters are stagnant and one-dimensional; they are lifeless and dull, which makes a work of 448 pages extremely brutal read.
Kent destroys herself by trying too hard and effectively ruins what could have been an engrossing read.