Many people have summarized the story contained in this book already, so I won’t bore you with further description of what it is about.
I listened to the audio book, on the recommendation of my long-term Goodreads friend, Chrissie. I am so happy that she made that recommendation and that I followed it.
Both the writing and the narration are superb.
Allow me to deal with the narration first. Morven Christie had obviously worked extremely hard with an Icelandic tutor to get all of the pronunciation exactly right. At least it sounded completely authentic to me. Her diction, her elocution, was perfect. Of course she was reading one of the best pieces of fiction to hit our bookshelves in recent years, but she did so with flawless execution. Her voice totally captures the listener.
The only health warning that I would add to my high praise for Morven, is that it is not a book to listen to whilst lying on a sunbed, as I was. Her voice can easily send you to sleep!
I paused after the second CD and listened to the rest of the book in my car on the way to and from work. Luckily, I remained awake long enough to stay on the road until I reached my destinations. Thus, I was able to enjoy the whole book in about five days.
Now on to the writing itself.
Hannah Kent, as she acknowledges at the end of the book, she has been assisted by so many people in her meticulous research of the various accounts, and of the official documents, relating to the last execution in Iceland in 1830. That effort has paid off.
The author admits that some of the accounts are contradictory and that there were many differing opinions surrounding the case at the time. By weaving an historical fiction around the threads of those account, Hannah Kent has managed to present a neutral case, neither siding with the convicted murderer, Agnes Magnusdottir, nor against her. Feelings ran high at the time. Some of the population despised her, even labeling her as a witch, whilst other doubted her guilt, or at the very least sympathised with her motive.
Somehow, in her writing, she manages to get right inside the heads of all of the main players, including the victims. As a “reader”, you can actually feel their sentiments. Not only that, but the relationships between the people in nineteenth century Iceland, how they lived, how they endured the hardships of their lives as owners of crofts and as servants of such farmers, the weather conditions, the barren landscape, the value of each small possession, the importance of their animals and harvests, the impacts of society and religion, are all brought to vivid life. An amazing, three dimensional image of all of those elements is built up in one’s mind to such realistic levels, that one feels a part of it.
There is not much more that I can say, without going into the details of the story, and doing what I promised not to do: summarizing it.
All I can say to you in conclusion is that, if you do not follow my recommendation to read, or listen to, this book, then you are missing a huge opportunity. You simply must put it on your to-read list and promote it to somewhere near the top. Trust me!