What with Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker win, it seems the Antipodes are positively pulsating with writing talent these days. Australian Hannah Kent marked herself as one to watch with the publication of her debut novel last Autumn. Burial Rites was among 2013’s most interesting historical crime novels, transporting us to the harsh landscape of an Icelandic winter. It tells the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a servant and one of the last people to be publicly executed in Iceland in 1890. They don’t have prisons in Iceland, just miles of inhospitable valleys, so Agnes must wait out the winter before her beheading on a farm. Living among a family uneasy at her presence Agnes requests the counsel of Tóti, a priest, as she counts down to her death. During these late winter nights with wind almost whistling the walls down you couldn’t find a more suitable read.
Originally inspired by living among this landscape of night when she was an exchange student, Kent weaves a haunting tale of a woman’s last weeks breathing on this earth. In this excerpt for the Guardian she wrote about how the story of Agnes could not leave her mind and describes the writing Burial Rites as a means to “banish [Agnes’] presence from my imagination… both an act of restoration and an exorcism.”
As well as co-founding and acting as deputy editor of literary journal Kill Your Darlings, Kent teaches Creative Writing and English at Flinders University. And when she’s not finishing off her PhD she’s working on her next endeavour which takes place in 19th century Ireland. We cannot wait.
Buy Burial Rites here.
Jeanne Sutun @jeannedesutun