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Amber's Thoughts

Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series

 

 

Love and Death in the Far North

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent

This is by no means a mystery novel, and yet the question that keeps the suspense alive through its spiritual, emotional, and Icelandic darkness comes from the question of the truth about a murder. The accused have already been tried. The central character, Agnes, has already been condemned. But the author skillfully makes us wonder about Agnes’s guilt as the family charged with housing her until her execution and the young priest responsible for her soul’s care until her death get to know her and gradually draw out her story.

 

The strengths of this book are in deep yet subtle things. A lonely person’s need for love and touch, and the profound meaning the simplest gesture can have. The slow and steady growth of understanding and compassion. The portrait of daily life on a 19th century Icelandic farm reeks with realism. There’s no romance, no illusion or glamor in this story. Though a passionate love is at the root of the tale, love isn’t idealized—far from it. There are loyal marriages in hard circumstances, and unwise passions that lead to disaster, but no happily-ever-after for anyone. In all the gloom, though, there are moving moments of beauty, especially in the portrayal of some unexpected friendships.

 

Impressive researched and poetically expressive, this is well worth reading. The author makes smooth and effective transitions between third person past tense, historical documents related to the murder case, and a first-person, present-tense narrative in Agnes’s point of view. It brought me tears near the end, never made me laugh or smile, but it made me live through these people’s struggles and understand the time and place.