Burial Rites

By Hannah Kent Pan Macmillan

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.

Agnes is sent to wait on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson and his family, who are horrified and avoid Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the summer months fall away to winter, Agnes’s story begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she?

Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about freedom and the ways we will risk everything for love. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, and asks: how can one woman endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. Her first novel, the international bestseller, Burial Rites (2013), was translated into 28 languages and was shortlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Guardian First Book Award. It won the ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year, the Indie Awards Debut Fiction Book of the Year and the Victorian Premier’s People’s Choice Award, and was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, The Good People was published in 2016. Hannah is also the co-founder and publishing director of Australian literary publication Kill Your Darlings.

Judges' report

The year is 1828, the place is Iceland, and Agnes Magnúsdóttir has been convicted of murder and condemned to death. Billeted with a local farmer and his family, Agnes wins first the trust and eventually the affection of the family as the time of her death approaches and she muses over the events that have brought her to this place. Strong, sexy and clever, Agnes does not suffer fools gladly and is bitterly regretful that her love for the charismatic murder victim should have sealed her fate.

The novel is based on a true story, closely following the events surrounding the trial and death of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. Without any labouring of historical detail, the time and place are vividly brought before the reader’s eyes; the plot is cleverly managed, and the characters are powerfully drawn. Unlike many writers who base their novels on real events, Hannah Kent has not allowed her meticulous research to swamp her story or to pull the drama of her narrative out of shape, and the novel is cleverly structured in a series of flashbacks as the true nature of the crime is gradually revealed.