Burial Rites is a book that really hits you like an emotional freight train. While I've been known to shed a tear or two during movies, I'm not someone who cries while reading. Hardly ever, really (with the exception of a certain character dying at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince).
I damn well came close to tears at the end of this book. Word to the wise: do not read Burial Rites if you're in a very depressed mood. This book will not lift your spirits in any way whatsoever. You've been warned.
This isn't to say, however, that this story is a bore or a waste of time. I intended to read a few chapters and ended up reading the book in one sitting. If all the pages I bent are any indication, I would have highlighted an insane portion of the book had I actually owned it and not borrowed it from the library.
This book is a fictional account of Agnus Magnusdottir's life after she is convicted of conspiring with others to murder two men on a farm in Iceland. Agnes is sent to live with a family on a remote farm while she awaits her execution and during her stay she gradually reveals details of her life and what happened the night of the murders.
We are never led to believe that Agnus is completely innocent, but she is also not the callous evil witch history paints her to be. Murder is a subject-matter that should be transparent. When it happens, it is a violation so heinous that it can never be justified. Yet, we see a lot of grey area in Agnus's story. She may have made many mistakes along the way, but we see glimpses of her humanity and learn how she ended up in such an unfathomable predicament. We're asked whether she is actually guilty and if so, does the punishment imposed upon her fit the crime she committed? Is Agnus capable of atonement?
I'd like to think better of Agnus - that the version of her life she reveals is the truth. However, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if other people feel differently.