Eerie, poetic, touching, intriguing, mysterious, dark, real, honest... those are just some of the words that popped into my mind while reading Hannah...moreEerie, poetic, touching, intriguing, mysterious, dark, real, honest... those are just some of the words that popped into my mind while reading Hannah Kent's debut novel Burial Rites, a fictional story based on historical research about the final days of Agnes Mangusdottir, the last person executed in Iceland in 1830.
Based on real people, places and events, Kent's novel takes the reader along to a journey to witness the last days and thoughts of a thirty something Agnes who is accused, along two other people, of a brutal murder to two men as well as committing arson to cover the traces left by the horrific act. She's placed under the supervision of a family living on a farm. Naturally, knowing only the public side of the events, the family avoids her as much as they can - after all, she is a brutal murderess with no conscience. But as time goes by, the family gets to see another side of Agnes - a side that "could have been" if it wasn't for the wrong people and wrong decisions. With the help of the mother of the family, as well as the young reverend appointed to help her on her journey to execution, Agnes opens up about her past, her present and the night that changed everything for her while keeping to herself what everyone wants to know - did she really do what she's accused of?
Around last Christmas I kept eyeing Burial Rites every single time I visited Waterstone's (which is usually several times a week). Since I rarely buy books from there (the prices are so high compared to discount bookstores), I never ended up purchasing it. Then these stickers started to appear to the cover of the book indicating all the awards and the praise that title has gained. Finally, almost nine months after Christmas I got an ebook copy of the novel and gave it ago. Now I hope that I could take a trip to the past just so I could have bought this book already during the Christmas time.
Burial Rites, a historical novel in its essence, occasionally reads like mystery or a crime story, occasionally like a book of poetry and very often like a combination of all. The historical detail from the names, locations and letters shows that Kent really knows what she is writing about - the research put into this piece of work must be humongous. Though the case is probably much written about in Iceland, I had not heard about it before and without reading the synopsis of the book one could think that all of these people and events are products of Kent's imagination. The fact is though that when you know that the people you are reading about actually lived, the novel gains a new level of meaning, a new level of accomplishment. Kent gives Agnes a voice that is honest, touching and oftentimes extremely melancholic. The people that surround Agnes also get a voice and one of the most interesting aspects of the novel is to follow how their opinions about Agnes change as the story develops. Kent takes her time establishing the background to the murders - we get to know about Agnes's childhood, her jobs on several farms, her relationships with the people who were killed. In addition to that, Kent allows the reader to get to know Agnes after the murders - a woman who finds her place from the home of the people who did not want her there in the first place.
Like its subject matter, Burial Rites is dark and eerie and often very sorrowful and hopeless. There are glimpses of hope here and there, moments in which Agnes does not feel like everything is over, but then the black ravens come and eventually devour all the hope. I feel like I should warn that this might not be for the faint of heart. Though there's only a couple of scenes of direct violence, the general atmosphere of the novel could very well seem suffocating for some readers. This is one of those books that will definitely haunt me for the days to come - the lyrical, eerie prose of Kent has definitely left a mark on me with its descriptiveness and detail.
What Kent excels in is making Agnes, an accused murderer, a character you can feel for and a character you can connect with. Agnes is not a monster, but she's not an angel either. She's so real, so human and so perfectly flawed. When you feel like you finally know her, she reveals more of herself, adding more layers to her history and personality. The supporting characters from the young reverend to the family Agnes stays with all have their own unique perspective to what they are going through which feeds incredibly well to the building of Agnes's story and character. It has been a while since I read a book with this good character development and pacing - you just want to keep reading and reading to see what happens.
In conclusion, Burial Rites is mindbogglingly brilliant debut novel by Hannah Kent. This definitely makes me curious to see what she comes up with next.
The film rights of the novel have been optioned by Allison Sheamur, the producer of The Hunger Games and it has been announced that director Gary Ross and Oscar Winner Jennifer Lawrence has been attached to the film. Gary Ross directed The Hunger Games, in which he, in my opinion, excels with creating the eerie atmosphere of the setting, which is something I hope to see in the film adaptation of Burial Rites as well. Jennifer Lawrence might not perfectly fit the physical description given of Agnes in the book, but while reading the novel I really was able to imagine Lawrence playing Agnes on the big screen. The project still seems to be in pre-production, meaning that it might take a while for it to come to the cinemas near you, but I do really feel like Kent's story and writing are perfect for cinematic interpretation.(less)
Rating more like 3.5 stars. I probably won't review this (expect if someone's interested to see a full review), but I'll just say that I found it inter...moreRating more like 3.5 stars. I probably won't review this (expect if someone's interested to see a full review), but I'll just say that I found it interesting, though not very touching.(less)
I am always a bit wary to pick up a book narrated in verse because my experiences are that those books either blow your mind and make you think about...moreI am always a bit wary to pick up a book narrated in verse because my experiences are that those books either blow your mind and make you think about them for days or really disappoint you and make you regret ever picking them up. Fortunately, Madeleine Kuderick's deput Kiss of Broken Glass fits to the first category. The story of Kenna, a 15-year-old girl who cuts herself, is haunting, realistic, beautiful and extremely touching. The verse flows beautifully, keeping the reader intrigued throughout, showing that sometimes you don't need a lot of words to make an impact. You just need the right words.
Kenna lives in Florida, where the Florida Mental Health Act (known as Baker Act) allows the involuntary institutionalization of individual for up to 72 hours if it is determined that the person might be harmful to himself/herself or to others. When she's found from the school bathroom cutting herself, she's taken to an institution and locked up with other troubled youngsters. There's Skylar, a girl who also cuts and fights with other problems too; Donya, who's on suicide watch; and Jag, who instantly makes Kenna forget her crush from school. Through therapy sessions and Kenna's encounters with the other characters the reader is faced with issues that are difficult but not hopeless.
The verse narrative jumps between the present day (Kenna at the institution) and the situations from her past that drove her to cutting. The reader gets to see how peer pressure and the desire to be included in something drove Kenna into her actions. In the contemporary society with social media, I feel like it is increasingly important that books like this are written and offered to young readers. Kuderick does not glorify the problems Kenna is going through but does not preach about them either. She writes realistically, showing both sides of the coin. There's no miraculous cure, no instant help. Getting better is a process, one that you have to work for.
While reading Kuderick's words, I was constantly touched by the honesty and reality of them. I kept wondering whether the author writing from her own experience because it really felt like she knew what she was talking about. From the author's note I noticed that she actually got the idea for the novel from the experiences of her own daughter who started cutting during 6th grade and eventually was committed under the Baker Act. So though the novel is purely work of fiction, it does have a real-life event as an inspiration. Kuderick also mentions in her note that she did research on Tumblr and other sites in which young people dealing with issues of self-harm discuss their problems, which I think really shows from the text because the voice of Kenna is like a voice of a teenager, not like a voice of a mother who's daughter is cutting.
Though you only know these characters for a while, you form a bond with them, especially with Kenna, and you start to wonder what will happen to her in the future. Will she get better? Will she relapse? Like some people in real life, she becomes a person you are touched by for a short period time and never hear about again. She's like a person you remember occasionally from your past and think about for a while, hoping that she/he is doing alright. You go on with your life, but once in a while, it's there - the memory of someone you used to know and the hope that that person is doing alright.(less)
I used to read a lot of poetry back in high school when it was a part of my English syllabus, but since graduating from HS I've been neglecting poetry...moreI used to read a lot of poetry back in high school when it was a part of my English syllabus, but since graduating from HS I've been neglecting poetry. For some reason it has been difficult for me to pick up a book of poetry rather than a novel. I guess I've always found novels easier to get into, easier to understand and easier to read. When I read the synopsis for this collection of poems, I instantly felt like I want to read it since I am very interested in issues of female representation and how it is shaped by media. Also the blurb by E. Lockhart really made me interested about this one.
Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty is a collection of 50 poems by Christine Heppermann, a poet, writer and a critic, that tackles issues that young girls (and women as well) deal with daily, ranging from issues of body and problems of love. The way the poems discuss the life of modern teenagers from eating disorders to self-abuse is touching, unique and hauntingly beautiful. Heppermann does not shy away from discussing serious issues, but tackles head on into situations that are occasionally scary and occasionally funny.
Heppermann takes inspiration from fairytales, building the poems around characters like Ariel, Belle and Rapunzel in a modern context. The collection touches upon the society' expectations towards young girls and the problems they face while growing up in a world in which media repeatedly tells girls how they are supposed to look and act in order to see "respectable" and "normal". While some of the poems deal with serious issues like anorexia and self-harm in very serious light, others dealing with issues like fashion magazines and peer pressure have a dark, humoristic flair.
In addition to the poems, the collection includes black and white photographs from a series of artists that brilliantly complement the words within the pages. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty is definitely a book that I'll try to acquire as a physical copy once it's published. It is one of those books I instantly wanted to share with someone, a book that I wanted to talk about with someone. My Kindle probably did not do justice for the photographs and I'm really looking forward to seeing them on print.
Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty is a fast read, but also one that makes you think, one that you will carry with you. It is one of those books you can always go back to and one you can discuss with your friends. A must read for anyone interested in gender representation!(less)