Today the Morris County Book club met to discuss our February selection, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. We printed out several pictures of Hannah Kent’s photo essay of her Icelandic trip to give a sense of setting for the discussion.
People were divided in their opinions of the book. There were some who thought it was slow and meandering – and not in a good way (at least in the beginning). Others were instantly captivated by the story. A few people had not realized it was based on a true story, and they spent much of the book hoping that she would escape her fate. Others went into the story knowing how Agnes’ life would end, which only added to the bleakness of the storyline and landscape.
Most of the readers had a great deal of sympathy for the character of Agnes, even if they didn’t necessarily understand or relate to her. There was a feeling of powerlessness in her place in society that led us to empathize with her in a way that many of the other characters did not.
We discussed several of the secondary characters, such as Blondal, Toti, Margaret, and her daughters. Blondal’s character was unanimously disliked, though there was some understanding of him being a man of his time and position. Toti was considered weak by some, but others believed he progressed emotionally and was able to help Agnes on her journey to her execution. Almost everyone found Margaret to be one of the most sympathetic characters in the novel. From the moment she saw Agnes and cleaned her up, to the end when she witnessed her death, she proved to be a strong female character who had successfully survived until now in a harsh, patriarchal society. Given her illness, however, there was a question of how much longer she might survive.
Natan was disliked as much as, if not more than, Blondal. When asked if there was any point Agnes could have escaped her fate, the only suggestion from our Book Clubbers was that she could have opted not to move to Natan’s house (or once there, she could have left when she understood the situation more clearly). However, we all agreed there was nowhere for her to go, and in the end, that probably sealed her fate.
Overall, the book was enjoyed by most of the Book Clubbers, who gave it between 3 and 4 stars.