In January 1830, Agnes Magnúsdóttir became the last person executed in Iceland. She was accused, along with Fridrik Sigurdsson and Sigrídur GudmundsdóIn January 1830, Agnes Magnúsdóttir became the last person executed in Iceland. She was accused, along with Fridrik Sigurdsson and Sigrídur Gudmundsdóttir, of the murder of Natan Ketilsson and Pétur Jónsson (the former her employer) in March 1828. Of the three, only Agnes and Fridrik were executed. Sigrídur's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in Copenhagen. It was presumed that her youthfulness made her suggestible and thus influenced by the others.This story is of her final months with the family of District Officer Jón Jónsson.
Kent's prose is sparse, befitting the setting. The District Commissioner and one of his servants are distinguished simply by their coats; 'bright red' for the former, and 'worn' for the latter. One can readily imagine the fierce winds whipping across the skins used to cover windows.
Written alternately in the third and first persons, some readers might feel some disorientation moving between modes. But it is well handled in Kent's deft prose. Reading Burial Rites gives you the sense of a writer in command of their craft. This impression is confirmed by the research that the author has undertaken. While the work is obviously an imagining of Agnes' thoughts (and of what really happened), it is clear that much research has informed the writer's views. What I also found particularly impressive was that, though there was a lot of knowledge behind the writing, the writing never became a display tableau for it.
In general, the characters are well drawn. The District Commissioner is not simply keen for the executions to serve as a deterrent to the district's peasants (though he is certainly that). He expresses a desire for the islanders to share the modernisation enjoyed in Denmark, for example by having glass windows. The Assistant Priest's attraction to his charge is deftly drawn. If I were to level one criticism, it would simply be that we don't feel the antagonism towards Agnes felt by most of the Jónsson family (in particular). While we slowly see the relationships between them thaw, we don't feel the revelation that they did. Instead, we feel that she cannot be guilty of murder, and simply await the truth to be revealed.
What we have here is a wonderfully told story of a woman whose own was ignored. It is a story that you should hear.
I read the trilogy of which this is is the first part when I was first at uni in the late 1980s, and wanted to see how it holds up for me now. Jane, aI read the trilogy of which this is is the first part when I was first at uni in the late 1980s, and wanted to see how it holds up for me now. Jane, a middle-class woman in her late twenties falls pregnant after her first sexual encounter. Her relationship with her widowed father already difficult, she takes a cheap room (which is the source of the novel's title) in a crumbling building. In it she struggles to come to terms with the impending reality of becoming a single mother in early-sixties Britain.
In many ways it's very much a work of it's period in the way it deals with issues such as pregnancy, abortion, poverty. One probably couldn't now write a mainstream novel in which the main character could seriously talk about the desire that she had to 'save herself' for marriage. Nor would she continue to drink throughout her pregnancy without some self-justification. Jane's first encounter with her West Indian neighbour is memorable for his powerful 'negro odour'.
Yet it's also timeless in the way Jane copes with her new circumstances, alternately moving between hopeful optimism and quiet despair. Despite the outdated stereotypes, Jane's deepening relationships with her fellow tenants do much to undermine them. And many of the attitudes to women that Jane wrestles with seem distressingly modern.
In 6th century Britain an elderly couple, both Britons, sense memories that tease the edges of consciousness. They journey across a Britain to find thIn 6th century Britain an elderly couple, both Britons, sense memories that tease the edges of consciousness. They journey across a Britain to find their son in another village. The eerie post-Roman landscape is one in which mythical creatures are an ever-present danger.
This is a beautifully written melancholic work. As Axl and Beatrice wrestle to re-discover their memories we become uncomfortably aware that forgetting can be a mercy. Some will find that their pilgrimage across Dark Ages Britain drags, and the sense of 'fogginess' that permeates the work robs it of texture. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed reading a work of fantasy whose main concern isn't the machinations of power, the march of armies, and that isn't the start of a trilogy....more