Hannah Kent, Burial Rites. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2103. 321 pages. ISBN 9780316243919.
Burial Rites was the inaugural book of my book club, and it turned out to be popular among all three of us. It's a historical novel, set in Iceland but written by an author from Australia. I heard about this book at Book Expo America, New York, in May 2013. The author spent part of her college years in Iceland and heard the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. The story remained with her for years until she decided to write a novel about Agnes' situation.
Because there were no prisons in Iceland, people who were accused and convicted of committing crimes were placed in households until their sentencing. This happened to Agnes, who was placed in a farmstead for several months prior to her execution. While communications between officials about her sentencing plays out, Agnes becomes more integrated into the life of the household. Readers are able to see Agnes' impact and influence on others in the home as well as the priest who is assigned to hear her confession. Although this is a work of fiction, it is bolstered by actual documents and letters associated with the case. These short interludes provide a chilling touch of reality to the reader who is treated to instructions for how the axe that will be used in her execution should be made, and how much will be allotted to pay for it.
This is a very strong first novel; I recommend it for anyone who likes historical novels.