As a frustrated writer myself, I’m always hugely envious when I read debuts as accomplished as Hannah Kent’s – especially given we’re the same age. Set in northern Iceland in 1929, Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir who is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover. Ahead of her execution she is sent to a remote farm belonging to the Jonsson family where she is to spend her final days. While staying on the farm she is visited by Reverend Thorvardur Jonsonn (Toti), a young priest who has been appointed to help her to prepare to meet her maker.
Initially both the priest and the Jonsson family have reservations about their involvement with the murderess, but Agnes soon gains their trust and through her meetings with Toti the reader learns the sequence of events that led to the alleged murder and it soon becomes clear that all is not as it first seemed.
Burial Rites is full of beautiful prose and Hannah’s writing is evocative of the remote Icelandic landscape in which the book is set. With a haunting plot and wonderfully written characters I don’t doubt that the judges of this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction have a tough job ahead of them in selecting their winner.