Nominated by:

The National Library of Australia, Canberra

The State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Richland Library, Columbia, USA

The Free Library of Philadelphia, USA

Publisher of nominated edition:

Little, Brown & Company, USA

Picador Australia

Burial Rites

Hannah Kent      

2015 Shortlist

Judges’ Comments

Burial Rites tells the story of the last woman who was beheaded in Iceland, in the nineteenth century. The novel is based on real events–on the police case of a woman accused of murdering two men. Agnes awaits the moment of her execution confined to a farm, in a stifling microcosm with a family that is afraid of her and a young man who tries to understand her and hopes to save her soul. The story immerses the reader in the chilling atmosphere, in the misery that was so prevalent in Iceland during that period. In her début novel, Hannah Kent writes a tale in which she elegantly dissects society’s mechanisms in response to crime, depicting the tragic view of the world of someone who has been sentenced to death.

About the Book

A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

(From Publisher)

About the Author

Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. She is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Burial Rites is her first novel.

Librarians’ Comments

Burial Rites is a debut novel from an exciting new voice in Australian literature. In the book’s first year of publication it has already won and been nominated for numerous awards and has been translated into twenty languages. Set in northern Iceland in 1829, the narrative takes readers on a journey through the final days of Agnes Magnusdottir, a woman condemned to death for the brutal murder of two men. Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a gripping tale of longing and betrayal, which looks at the psychological aspects of human thought that considers how we are seen and how we believe ourselves to be seen.

Kent’s debut novel tells the story of Agnes Masnusdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland. The novel makes use of multiple narrators and archival material to give life to the events on an isolated farmstead where Magnusdóttir awaited her execution. This meticulously researched novel provides a vivid voice for Agnes and those who shared her last days. Kent uses her powerfully drawn characters and compelling narrative to bring the time and events to life. Burial Rites is the winner of the Fellowship of Australian Writers Award and has been shortlisted for a number of major Australian literary awards.

This is a complicated story that presents a sympathetic and complex portrayal of convict, Agnes, and the young priest who ministers to her. Based on a true story, Kent said that this novel is her dark love letter to Iceland. The harshness of the landscape is a fitting background to the tragedy of Agnes’ life.

Iceland 1829. Stark landscape and stark characters.

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