Burial Rites: A Novel - Hannah Kent

Iceland, 1829.  Friðrik Sigurðsson and Agnes Magnúsdóttir have been charged with the murder of Nathan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson, two farmers. The two are sent in specific districts and we follow the (real!) story of Agnes, who is a servant. In fact the discrict commissioner Björn Audunsson Blöndal implictly oblige Jon Jonsson's family to host Agnes in their farm during the wait for the execution. In that wait Reverend Tóti, chosen as a spiritual guide by the same Agnes, will prepare her to face death. This will be the occasion to know more about what really happened to Agnes during her life, from the childhood to the murder, engulfed by malevolent speculations.  

 

Hannah Kent has done a great job: a plot like this if not trated with a valuable approach risks to fall into the already-heard or standard. She has the right cards: an interesting setting, an excellent and very detailed documentation about the facts happened in those circumstances and..a stunning style. She knows how to turn the matter into something vivid and deeply felt. Her eloquent prose hooks you since the first sentence. It is rough like the hard life of Iceland in 1829, particularly for a servant whose hands are signed from the work of ages. And at the same time the inner voice of Agnes permeates the entire novel, always inserted in a fascinating atmosphere, similar to a a whisper full of life in the quiet "Icelandic" dark. Maybe because of the thoguthfullness of Agnes, her sorrows and struggles, the particular situation involved too. 

All these sensation are extremely sollicitated by the masterful read of Christie Morven in the audiobook version. I don't even know if the novel would have given me the same singular sensations without her interpretation. 

The novel itself ends up being also a moving reflection about death and death penalty, once you get to know well Agnes.

It reminded me of that particular sensation, when death happens to someone close to you: I can feel him/her dying, leaving silently their life and then the quiet indifference of the world, the laugh of strangers and the unceased and unchanged life in everything. I realized how much this world can be a emotionless machinery composed by souls that are flailing silently in their bodies for the passions which move them. 

(I don't believe in the real existence of a "soul" separated from the life of the body, I call our inner life "soul" only for convenience) 

One of them is smothered by the end of everything, death, and nothing changes. Particularly if a person is not doomed to be greatly remembered by the collective memory. All they were ceases to exist. And then there's a connection with the remains of the dead person and you, still alive, the only one who can still instill with your thoughts and grief something of what they were. It's a sensation that always wrecks me, one of the few times when silence can be incredibly cruel.