Saturday, 1 March 2014

Kiwie: Burial Rites

Long story short: I liked it, but I didn't.

The good:
- I love how the skeleton of this story is something that actually happened, with characters and evens from reality.
- I did enjoy the descriptions of life on Iceland, and how society worked.
- I loved getting to know Agnes, first through the eyes of others and then through her own.
- Some parts of the writing was really beautiful, some of the descriptions of the landscape and the homes really stuck with me.

The bad:
- I feel like I've heard this story before. A lot. Maybe because reality isn't creative and this is a story born out of a real event.
- The book is trying to layer Agnes, show a version of what might have happened and who she might have been (without redeeming her completely) and succeeds (though sometimes it feels like it is a bit too "team Agnes"), while the other characters are mostly one-dimensional. Margret and Toti being the two with some depth.
- Hints at spiritualism and religion, but doesn't delve into it. It just pops its head out now and again.
- To much reading between the lines - which is probably why things were only bleak and the characters were only one dimension. I had to fill out the blanks too often.
- Really wanted more about death, but this is all about waiting for death and describing a murder. The reverend was there to talk to Agnes and prepare her for her execution, but we got her life story instead (as told by her, we don't know what was true and what wasn't).
- Unlike a lot of others I didn't feel "transported" into the story. Yes, sometimes the prose was beautiful, but sometimes it failed me entirely. I think I expected it to be more eerie. I think my expectations weren't tuned to the book at all, and I blame the beautiful cover art this book has (in more than one edition) and that I have a very fixed image of Iceland in my head so it might not be the writing alone, but still a reason I didn't love this.

All that said it still wasn't a bad novel, and the prose was at times strikingly beautiful, but it was also a bit repetitive. It's cold, I get it. They're all poor and just scraping by, I get it. They're not all clinically depressed though, and I feel like there is no culture aside from dirt (and the Bible and the Sagas, but these are barely touched upon and nobody seems to go to church), and I know that can't have been the case. It's like this book was too long, yet far from enough. I wanted more about the stroy, more about Agnes, more about the other characters, but at the same time less. It had a very slow build up and then it was over. Like Agnes' beheading, which is fitting, but I still wanted more about death, less about the monotony of life (as poor people who are barely scraping by) and more burial rites.

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