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Burial Rites
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BOOK 17: Burial Rites

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Rachel | 111 comments Mod
Here's the discussion thread for Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Discussion day is tomorrow, June 5!


Rachel | 111 comments Mod
Discussion questions! You know the drill: you can answer as many or few of these as you'd like.

1. What did you think of the way the book was formatted, switching between past and present tense and first and third person?
2. Did you find this book difficult to read at times? Do you think the graphic and often gory descriptions added to or detracted from the book as a whole?
3. What did you think of Agnes’s relationship with the Jonsdottir women? Why do you think Margret warmed to Agnes, and why do you think Steina took to her so quickly, while Lauga was more reluctant?
4. What did you think of Natan and Agnes’ relationship? Did you think it was unrealistic or humanizing that Agnes could love a man who was so terrible to her? What did you think about the reveal that Natan’s death ended up being a mercy killing?
5. [tw for rape for this question, just as it relates to Sigga’s narrative. Obviously feel free to forgo this part of the discussion, but as Sigga’s thoughts and motivations are never fully explored, we thought we’d give people the chance to talk about her, if you so desire.] What do you think Sigga’s intentions were? Was she as unintelligent and naive as everyone thought she was or should she be held accountable for her part in the murder and her relationship with Natan?
6. In the course of their discussions, rather than Toti successfully preparing Agnes for death, Agnes changes Toti’s life. It was the opposite of the desired outcome, but was the arrangement still worth it?
7. Both Agnes and Natan have a spirituality that is connected to superstition and to the land. The stone seems to be a manifestation of that. What significance does it hold?
8. This book is based on a true story - Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be sentenced to death in Iceland. How much of this story do you think is real and how much do you think is invented? Did you do any research on Agnes after reading this?


Chelsea | 42 comments Mod
Overall I have to say that I really enjoyed this book and thought it was well-written. Agnes is an interesting and flawed, yet strong, protagonist and I loved the way her different relationships are written, particularly Margret and her compassion in the end.

1. What did you think of the way the book was formatted, switching between past and present tense and first and third person?

I think this is something that is tricky to do well, but this book nailed it. I didn't find that the shifts in perspective confused the narrative at all and I thought they worked really well to both give us Agnes' view as well as that of others in the Valley.

2. Did you find this book difficult to read at times? Do you think the graphic and often gory descriptions added to or detracted from the book as a whole?

At times yes, both in terms of the graphic descriptions and the subject matter being challenging. However, I've definitely read other books that have been more graphic or gory so it didn't overly bother me. Generally I thought that they worked for the story. For example, initially Agnes' treatment by others and her state of mind are necessary in order to invite the reader to empathize with her, because it's awhile before the reader gets her side and can form their own opinion on the case. On a personal level, I find miscarriages of justice difficult to read about while at the same time finding them incredibly interesting, so this was right up my alley even though it was hard to read at times.

3. What did you think of Agnes’s relationship with the Jonsdottir women? Why do you think Margret warmed to Agnes, and why do you think Steina took to her so quickly, while Lauga was more reluctant?

The relationships between the women was one of my favourite things about Burial Rites. In particular, I loved Margret and Agnes and how Margret's opinion of Agnes changed, yet the change was believable. Certainly I think part of it is the fact that Margret is a mother and has daughters, so to have someone living in her house who was largely without parents there's some maternal instinct, but I think it would be unfair to put it all down to that. More than anyone else, especially once Toti is sick and stays away, Margret becomes a confidant for Agnes and she more than anyone gets the truth about what happened. Before that, she sees Agnes' nature as a hard worker and someone who is something of a straight shooter, and also of course they're both women facing their own mortality, sooner rather than later, and that creates a bond between them.

I think Steina is more of an outcast, so she sees a commonality in Agnes, and someone who doesn't fit neatly into society, and she latches on to the fact that she remembers this older girl who was kind to her years ago and can't believe the worst of her now. Lauga is the more conventional of the sisters and she thinks about what it will mean for her prospects and about how the family will be viewed for housing a murderess.

4. What did you think of Natan and Agnes’ relationship? Did you think it was unrealistic or humanizing that Agnes could love a man who was so terrible to her? What did you think about the reveal that Natan’s death ended up being a mercy killing?

Sadly I think it's quite realistic. Most of us know or have known someone who has been treated terribly by a boyfriend or, viewing the situation from the outside without having feelings for a man, we can think why does she stay? What is wrong with her, she deserves better? In Agnes' case there's the extra level of her being without resources, such as family to help her, being a woman at a time where women were much more dependent on men, and Nadan being of a different social class and standing while she is poor and a servant, so he holds extra power over her. As sad as it is, I didn't find her reaction, or even the fact that despite everything she loves him, at all unrealistic, just tragic.

I really liked the mercy killing reveal. I think by this point the reader is aware that nothing is as simple as it is made out to be, and that Agnes' role in the deaths is more complex than presented by her accusers. This was an interesting twist and, I thought, in character with the Agnes the reader has come to know over the course of the book.

5. What do you think Sigga’s intentions were? Was she as unintelligent and naive as everyone thought she was or should she be held accountable for her part in the murder and her relationship with Natan?

It would really be interesting to see, in a short story or another version, how things played out from Sigga's perspective, because I'm still not sure what to make of her. I don't necessarily think intent was there, so I'm not sure I'd hold her responsible, but I do think she plays a role in the murder. However, like Agnes, she's in a role where she doesn't have a great deal of power so I think it's difficult to determine where responsibility lies.

6. In the course of their discussions, rather than Toti successfully preparing Agnes for death, Agnes changes Toti’s life. It was the opposite of the desired outcome, but was the arrangement still worth it?

I think Toti is so green, and says so initially himself in his bafflement over why Agnes would choose him over a more experienced man for the role, that the arrangement is helpful for Toti because it gives him a fuller portrait of the lives that people lead and that not everything can be solved or absolved by passages from the bible. And Agnes gains someone who will listen to her, even though it doesn't mean her fate will be changed for once she has someone who will try to view her with an open mind and listen to her, a role which Margret then steps into. For once she is seen as a person.

7. Both Agnes and Natan have a spirituality that is connected to superstition and to the land. The stone seems to be a manifestation of that. What significance does it hold?

This is an interesting question. For Agnes to a certain extent I think the stone is a tie to family and her mother, that otherwise is not present in her life. Since her mother says that the stone will bring her good luck, it makes sense that she spits a stone out on the road to execution.

8. This book is based on a true story - Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be sentenced to death in Iceland. How much of this story do you think is real and how much do you think is invented? Did you do any research on Agnes after reading this?

I suspect a fair amount of it is invented because the time period is more removed and I don't think there would be that much in the way of records about a 19th century peasant woman murderess, particularly when it comes to things like motivations and how the deaths actually played out, but I haven't actually looked into it to know for sure. It was a really interesting humanizing portrayal though and I would like to know more about the historical Agnes and how events unfolded.


Rachel | 111 comments Mod
i loved this book a lot, i think it may have been my favorite thing we’ve read for book club! thanks to chelsea for choosing this one, which i’ve been interested in reading for a while, though i’m not sure i would have gotten around to it if we weren’t reading it here.

1 - What did you think of the way the book was formatted, switching between past and present tense and first and third person?

i LOVED the format of this book - it was one of my favorite things about it. it was so clever and inventive and for me it succeeded in a couple of things: 1. heightening the isolation between agnes and everyone around her, and 2. showing that agnes was living in the present tense; this was only a chapter in everyone else’s lives, while this was all that was left for agnes. her story has to be in the present tense; it’s still happening, until it’s over. also, seeing as agnes was condemned and constantly judged based on the stories that surrounded her i thought it was fitting and poetic that her voice was the only one that we heard in the first person.

i think from most writers the constant shift in tense and number would have been more jarring, but i thought that hannah kent did it exceptionally well. she’s a very gifted writer and i look forward to reading more by her!

2 - Did you find this book difficult to read at times? Do you think the graphic and often gory descriptions added to or detracted from the book as a whole?

i did think this book was incredibly difficult to read at times. there are certain types of gore i’m okay with - horror stuff, battle scenes, basically, anything that is far removed from my own reality. it’s easy for me to desensitize. but stuff like child birth and illness and dying animals? really gets to me. i spent a very solid portion of this book feeling physically nauseous, which…. i did not find enjoyable whatsoever, but at the same time, i understand it. it wasn’t intended to be shocking or edgy or gratuitous. hannah kent didn’t shy away from the incredibly harsh realities of farm living in a cold and remote land in the 1800s, which i thought was appropriate for the story she was telling.

3 - What did you think of Agnes’s relationship with the Jonsdottir women? Why do you think Margret warmed to Agnes, and why do you think Steina took to her so quickly, while Lauga was more reluctant?

i agree with chelsea, i loved this aspect of the book. while a huge shift occurred in margret’s character in this relatively short novel, it was still done believably. i found the relationship between these two women to be incredibly moving.

as for steina, i thought it was very interesting how much more weight she placed on one of her own memories than the stories and common conceptions about agnes. it tied in nicely with one of the main points of this book, which was that you can’t always trust the stories you hear.

4 - What did you think of Natan and Agnes’ relationship? Did you think it was unrealistic or humanizing that Agnes could love a man who was so terrible to her? What did you think about the reveal that Natan’s death ended up being a mercy killing?

since agnes is such a sympathetic character, i wanted natan to end up being the kind and loving person she wanted him to be, but the reality was both sad and certainly humanizing.

in some ways i was underwhelmed by the reveal of how natan and petur died, mainly because it’s just… sort of what i guessed had happened? regarding agnes’ role, anyway, i assumed that she wasn’t the one who instigated any of it. however, i LOVED the reveal that agnes mercy-killed natan so he wouldn’t suffer, waiting to die, contrasted with the fact that this is exactly was agnes was condemned to due to this act of kindness. the dramatic irony was so hard-hitting.

5 - What do you think Sigga’s intentions were? Was she as unintelligent and naive as everyone thought she was or should she be held accountable for her part in the murder and her relationship with Natan?

for me i never questioned that it was actually rape; the age difference between them sort of inherently prevents it from being consensual, in my eyes. in that regard, i don’t hold sigga accountable for a lot of what happened. however, i’m not sure what to think about her role in the murder itself - agnes’ reaction when she found out that sigga was being let off sort of makes me think there was more to it…? but in certain ways she did seem innocent and somewhat naive, so i’m really not sure. i agree that a short story from sigga’s perspective would be be good to shed some light!

6 - In the course of their discussions, rather than Toti successfully preparing Agnes for death, Agnes changes Toti’s life. It was the opposite of the desired outcome, but was the arrangement still worth it?

i think it was definitely a worthwhile arrangement, even if it didn’t bring about the ‘right' outcome. for both of them it’s really the first time they’re seen as human beings in their own right - toti’s been so overshadowed by his father, and agnes is overshadowed by the narrative that surrounds her, that i think it meant a lot to both of them, to be seen and valued and listened to in that way. even if it didn't prepare agnes for her death, necessarily - is it even possible to be fully prepared for death? that's a whole other debate that this book brings up. but i think what agnes really needed in the end was to tell her story, and for someone to listen and value her, and toti was able to do that. the final chapter of this book was so difficult to read - agnes saying 'I don't want to be remembered, I want to be here!' was one of the more devastating things i've read in a while. the scene where she's walking to her execution - and toti's narration at this point - just really got to me.

8 - This book is based on a true story - Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be sentenced to death in Iceland. How much of this story do you think is real and how much do you think is invented? Did you do any research on Agnes after reading this?

i would also be inclined to think that a lot of it (mainly involving the characters’ motivations) was invented, but it also seems like hannah kent did as much research as possible, so i’m not sure where exactly the line is drawn between fiction and reality. i found this story so interesting that i’d definitely be curious to do some research on the real agnes magnusdottir.


ashley (corridor89) | 12 comments Mod
Okay. As Rachel can attest, these answers took me far too long to write, so I'm not proof reading them. :) I also made an effort to not read any responses before completing my own, so I hope mine aren't too redundant. That said, I really liked this book, more so now that I've actually sat down to think about it. There's no way I'd peg it for a first novel.

1. What did you think of the way the book was formatted, switching between past and present tense and first and third person?

My first attempt to say that I loved the way the narration shifted back and forth, was to say that i don't usually like it, but that in this case it was well-executed. (sorry!!!) :P Nah, usually I find switching tenses and narrative styles to be distracting and hard to read, but somehow Hannah Kent managed to keep up the book’s momentum. The shifts to first person narration were a great way to show Agnes as being removed from everyone else, but they occurred seldom enough that we were kept guessing for a while as to her thoughts, emotions, and character.

3. Did you find this book difficult to read at times? Do you think the graphic and often gory descriptions added to or detracted from the book as a whole?

From a gore standpoint, I really didn’t find the book too hard to read until the retelling of the murder itself which definitely got me. The rest of the graphic scenes in the book didn’t bother me too much, though that may have had to do partly with Rachel warning me about them. Overall though, they fit the setting and narrative so well that I’m inclined to say that they added to the story; constant reminders of life and mortality and Agnes’ coming fate and all that.
Having read so many graphic scenes though, it seemed strange that the description of the actual executions was so tacit and sterile. Any thoughts as to why that was?

4. What did you think of Agnes’s relationship with the Jonsdottir women? Why do you think Margret warmed to Agnes, and why do you think Steina took to her so quickly, while Lauga was more reluctant?

I think Margret warmed to Agnes because over time she realized that they both had an indefinite death sentence of sorts. I would imagine it’d be a comfort to be able to talk about it with someone who actually understands. I think Margret is probably similar to Steina in the sense that she prefers to judge people based on their actions and character, rather than rumor and hearsay. Steina is trusting of Agnes, based on her memory of Agnes’ generosity and kindness. Margret doesn’t have that memory, but once Agnes demonstrates her work ethic and humanity, there is no real reason for Mararet to continue to be wary of her. I don’t know why Lauga is so reluctant to warm up to Agnes, but it’s never easy to publicly oppose popular rumors, so I’d imagine she was more concerned with herself and upholding her reputation than with treating Agnes fairly. Fear also just brings out the worst in people.
On a side note, the name Steina obviously means stone, and my brain has been spinning for ages trying to tie her name with the meaning of the stone that Agnes’ mother gave her. Any thoughts?
4. What did you think of Natan and Agnes’ relationship? Did you think it was unrealistic or humanizing that Agnes could love a man who was so terrible to her? What did you think about the reveal that Natan’s death ended up being a mercy killing?
I thought their relationship was entirely realistic and entirely fucked up. He was a man with means and money and social standing and she was a woman with none, so it’s not hard to see the lopsided power dynamic that existed between them or to imagine her being pulled into an abusive relationship with him. Honestly the emotional abuse in this novel was probably harder to read than the graphic scenes for me. You could see it coming a long way off, but still had hope that maybe she could still be happy for a bit before things went south, ooooohkay, maybe very much not.
I was surprised and not that Natan’s death was a mercy killing. I had been expecting Agnes to have been framed for murder or something, since murder did not seem to be in line with the character we were coming to know, but this actually makes a lot more sense. She didn’t put up a fight because she HAD killed Natan, but didn’t seem to show remorse for the killing, because she hadn’t done it out of spite but compassion.

5. [tw for rape for this question, just as it relates to Sigga’s narrative. Obviously feel free to forgo this part of the discussion, but as Sigga’s thoughts and motivations are never fully explored, we thought we’d give people the chance to talk about her, if you so desire.] What do you think Sigga’s intentions were? Was she as unintelligent and naive as everyone thought she was or should she be held accountable for her part in the murder and her relationship with Natan?
Sigga’s character kind of reminds me of Lydia from Pride and Prejudice; confident and feisty and not quite as innocent or ignorant as she seems, but still slightly delusional and naïve enough to quickly get in waaaaay over her head regarding things of which she has only a basic understanding. I think she was probably living in a fantasy and got in too deep with an abusive man. Should she be held accountable for her actions? I dunno. It really does depend on what she knew and what her motivations were, and we don’t know either. However, I would have at least liked for Sigga to disclose how the murder actually went down, especially after her sentence was eased. I can’t imagine Agnes’ guilty verdict would have been quite as definite or swift had it been known that her only action was to ease a suffering and prettymuchalreadydead man’s pain. Maybe it could have happened if this story had been fictional. Alas.

6. In the course of their discussions, rather than Toti successfully preparing Agnes for death, Agnes changes Toti’s life. It was the opposite of the desired outcome, but was the arrangement still worth it?
I think the arrangement was definitely worth it. It allowed Toti to come out from his father’s shadow and to find his footing in his profession. He went from being almost clinical in his approach to preparing Agnes for death, to becoming a lot more humane in his approach, willing to hear Agnes out and see her as a person rather than just another soul to save. It also provided a means for Agnes to tell her story and to finally form a meaningful bond with someone who didn’t have ulterior motives and could accept her as being enough (as she thought she was getting with Natan), and who had no intention of leaving her (as had pretty much everyone in her life up to that point).
7. Both Agnes and Natan have a spirituality that is connected to superstition and to the land. The stone seems to be a manifestation of that. What significance does it hold?
Luck is what her mother said, yeah? I dunno. Everyone describes Agnes as being conniving or wanting to rise above her station. Perhaps the promise of good luck is what brought that spirit about?
I mean, if you’re superstitious and of an impressionable age, and someone you trust tells you that things will work out well for you if you would just keep this magic stone, don’t be lonely when I abandon you, you can talk to the birds if you use this magic stone, just keep going, and keep this magic stone, why wouldn’t you be convinced that things will eventually work out well for you?
I think with the stone, Agnes was clinging on to hope, and her mother, and the possibility of finding love and belonging, and the stone represented that for her. She unknowingly spits out the stone on her way to being executed, which I suppose you can view in a few different ways.
On the one hand, if the stone is supposed to bring good luck, it can be interpreted that she’s giving up on that; there is no use continuing to hope that things will work out in light of what is about to happen. OR, you can look at the other things the stone may have represented for her and take a more positive outlook and not be super depressed when the book ends; the stone was in her mouth and it brought her to Kornsa and the family there. She kept the stone and found love and acceptance and people willing to hear her story and root for her. Having found those things, her spitting out the stone and uttering her last words to Margret, “The stone was in my mouth,” could be taken as more of a thank you.
8. This book is based on a true story - Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be sentenced to death in Iceland. How much of this story do you think is real and how much do you think is invented? Did you do any research on Agnes after reading this?
After reading, but before knowing this was going to be a question, I read a q&a with Hannah Kent, so I feel kind of spoiled for this answer. She mentioned that she thought of the story as a speculative biography–not a definitive history by any means, but a suggestion of a life as it may have been lived.” That said, I’d imagine a lot of the book was fabricated, as Agnes seems to be about as enigmatic as historical figures can be while still being known.
However, I will comment on the fact that while I was reading, the book felt much more like historical fiction than it did speculative non-fiction. Much more so than In Cold Blood had. It didn’t feel clunky or exposition-heavy or rehearsed at all and I had literally no clue that the story was based on real people and events and just filled in from there. I chalk that up to Hannah Kent’s skill as an author and her dedication to intensive research.


Lady H (fyoosha) | 18 comments so this isn't the type of book I would normally read, so I was really glad I gave it a shot because it pulled me in and I ended up liking it a lot!

1. What did you think of the way the book was formatted, switching between past and present tense and first and third person?

okay, so I really loved the switch between first person and third person. I think it worked really well to get us into Agnes' head, and it also helped me see that doing this is a possibility. that is, as a writer, it's often difficult to decide what kind of POV to use, and there are sometimes stories that are better served by being in multiple tenses, but I guess I'd always been apprehensive about how that would appear to a reader and how it might be jarring. but it worked so well here! I mean, it was definitely a bit unusual at first, but I got used to it quickly enough.

what I found harder to get used to, though, was the shift in POV when in the third person. like, one minute we'd be in steina's head, the next we're in lauga's, without anything separating the two. this was confusing, but also, I have a deep personal hatred for third person omniscient or anything resembling third person omniscient, so I found this POV terribly grating.

2. Did you find this book difficult to read at times? Do you think the graphic and often gory descriptions added to or detracted from the book as a whole?

not really! which surprised me, because I'd actually heard from several people about how graphic it was, and as I was reading I was kind of waiting for something graphic to emerge, but nothing did. I will, say, though, that the descriptions of living in rural Iceland (I just typed Ireland lmao) during that time were extremely visceral and well-done. I read a lot of high fantasy, which takes place during the ambiguous Ye Olden Times but none of those books have ever made the reader privy to this amount of detail re: living in a time before plumbing, tech, etc (not even game of thrones!). it really helped flesh out the setting and make me very, very grateful for living where I do now.

3. What did you think of Agnes’s relationship with the Jonsdottir women? Why do you think Margret warmed to Agnes, and why do you think Steina took to her so quickly, while Lauga was more reluctant?

I was really pleased by this! I think it was very human for margret to warm to agnes once she got to see her as a real person and not just a jumble of rumors and hearsay. it was quite telling that Margret's sympathy was stirred the second she saw agnes looking filthy and tortured. no longer was agnes just a suspected/convicted murderess, she was a Human Being who was suffering and I think it's a testament to margret's compassion that she warmed up to her so.

with steina, I think she states it for us herself, when she tells agnes that they are alike (though agnes didn't take that so well). steina, who seems to feel that she is something of an outsider, likely sees a compatriot in agnes, sees someone who could understand her. or to be more cynical, maybe steina likes having agnes around because then she's not the biggest weirdo around, or the subject of people's gossip.

as for lauga, there were a few moments in the book where I thought lauga's aloofness was not just jealousy and fear of rumor, but also - and this may sound totally ridiculous - a fear of getting close to someone you know is going to die. idk, there were a few scenes where it seemed the subject of anges' death was distressing to lauga, and I think over time as lauga started getting used to agnes' presence it just became easier to hate her rather than feel something for her and then feel pain over her loss.

4. What did you think of Natan and Agnes’ relationship? Did you think it was unrealistic or humanizing that Agnes could love a man who was so terrible to her? What did you think about the reveal that Natan’s death ended up being a mercy killing?

unfortunately this read as extremely realistic. it was disappointing to see that natan really was the complete asshole that everyone made him out to be. the way agnes talked about him and thought about him until the very end made it seem like he was a better man than that, that his true nature was hidden - I mean, she loved him so much! but no, she simply loved him despite his horrid, abusive nature, which I think it something we see all the time in real life, sadly. I mean, this is especially true given that natan was actually quite nice to her at the very beginning, and so agnes could always go back to those moments and think to herself that Horrible Natan wasn't the real natan because he was so great when she met him! and refusing to believe that maybe it's Nice Natan who is the fake and natan's true nature came out when he got everything he could ever hope to have from agnes.

it kills me that it was agnes' final act of kindness towards natan that got her sentenced to death.

5. [tw for rape for this question, just as it relates to Sigga’s narrative. Obviously feel free to forgo this part of the discussion, but as Sigga’s thoughts and motivations are never fully explored, we thought we’d give people the chance to talk about her, if you so desire.] What do you think Sigga’s intentions were? Was she as unintelligent and naive as everyone thought she was or should she be held accountable for her part in the murder and her relationship with Natan?

I mean, not only was sigga young girl and natan a much older, powerful man, but sigga was in his employ, and likely had nowhere else to go, and there really is no equation there where meaningful consent could exist. sigga to me just seemed like a naive, confused girl trying to make the best of a bad situation. I really do think she was just unintelligent; I don't think she meant to testify against agnes the way she did, or rather, I think that given the way things went down, sigga just assumed that of course agnes had killed natan, after he had hit her and kicked her out and humiliated her. I don't think sigga had any nefarious intentions; I think she was just scared and emotional.

7. Both Agnes and Natan have a spirituality that is connected to superstition and to the land. The stone seems to be a manifestation of that. What significance does it hold?

the stone seemed simply to be the last connection agnes had to her family, or the hope of a happy, normal life. her entire life story is so utterly tragic, and she's been through so much, that I think the stone was just her way of holding on to the last remaining remnant of her family.

8. This book is based on a true story - Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be sentenced to death in Iceland. How much of this story do you think is real and how much do you think is invented? Did you do any research on Agnes after reading this?

I googled her in the midst of reading this book but I couldn't find too much about her. I guess she's somewhat of an obscure figure? it's kind of chilling that this is based on a true story and I'd be curious to read about how much of this novel was accurate.

oh, it looks like in 2013 there were talks of a film adaptation with jennifer lawrence set to play agnes? what do yall think of that? (personally, jennifer lawrence is not who I would have envisioned at all)


Hana (hana_banana) | 24 comments 1. What did you think of the way the book was formatted, switching between past and present tense and first and third person?
i guess it worked for some people, but i never really got past the POV switching. while it did highlight agnes's isolation from everyone else, it was still a bit too jarring for me. i'm a fan of third person omniscient in general (sue me!), so i think that the narration could have been tweaked to fit this style while still retaining that sense of intimacy with agnes's thoughts.

2. Did you find this book difficult to read at times? Do you think the graphic and often gory descriptions added to or detracted from the book as a whole?
i'm kind of immune to this now so no, though i do think that it should come with a warning.

3. What did you think of Agnes’s relationship with the Jonsdottir women? Why do you think Margret warmed to Agnes, and why do you think Steina took to her so quickly, while Lauga was more reluctant?
i think it's good that she has a different kind of relationship with each one. lauga is clearly more distrustful of her as a) she's the eldest???, and b) she feels as if steina is taking to her as a better older sister. i think margret took to her easily as they shared the threat of looming death, nothing to create a bond than common experience. also, agnes seemed a genuinely hardworking person who kept out of trouble, and the fact that the neighbors and villagers were all so ready to judge her probably gave margret all the more reason to befriend her/prove them all wrong.

4. What did you think of Natan and Agnes’ relationship? Did you think it was unrealistic or humanizing that Agnes could love a man who was so terrible to her? What did you think about the reveal that Natan’s death ended up being a mercy killing?
sadly, i don't think it's unrealistic. it's certainly not right, but it's been known to happen. agnes tells it herself--where else could she go? she was bound to latch on to the first man who had an inkling of understanding her. to be honest, i wouldn't be surprised if agnes killed him in cold blood. it would certainly be out-of-character, but i'm just saying--it's not entirely out of the realm of possiblity. abuse, seclusion, betrayal--those things can mess with someone's mind, and tbh it wouldn't be far off left field if she was actively involved. however, to know that it was actually mercy-killing was a relief. the author did so well in building up agnes's character that i would be slightly disappointed if she had really been guilty. i'm glad she took the "higher moral ground".

5. [tw for rape for this question, just as it relates to Sigga’s narrative. Obviously feel free to forgo this part of the discussion, but as Sigga’s thoughts and motivations are never fully explored, we thought we’d give people the chance to talk about her, if you so desire.] What do you think Sigga’s intentions were? Was she as unintelligent and naive as everyone thought she was or should she be held accountable for her part in the murder and her relationship with Natan?
nah. nah, she's a kid. just a kid. she was raped, she had no agency, she's a victim. i agree with her pardon, and if agnes was a member of modern society and had had a good lawyer, i think she would have been acquitted.

6. In the course of their discussions, rather than Toti successfully preparing Agnes for death, Agnes changes Toti’s life. It was the opposite of the desired outcome, but was the arrangement still worth it?
i'm kind of in the fence with the entirety of toti's character tbh. in their scenes together, i felt like it was more of toti--more of how he thought of agnes, reacted to agnes, desired agnes--than agnes herself, and it's agnes's story were supposed to mind! i'm glad that toti finally got to put his foot down, but to me their scenes were a bit male-gazey so i never fully embraced their dynamic.


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