Sunday, September 11, 2016

Read This, Then That Vol. 2

Burial RitesRead This...
Start with Hannah Kent's Burial Rites, which is the fictionalized story of the last woman to be publicly executed in Iceland.  We know from the beginning that Agnes is sentenced to death, the penalty for murder.  She's being kept on a small farm, and a young priest comes to listen to her story and essentially take her last confession.  As Agnes' execution looms ever closer, her story comes out, and it's implied that not everything might be as it seems.  This uses non-linear storytelling, jumping from the "waiting for execution" stage back to the times Agnes speaks of, when she worked as a servant on a really strange homestead and became engaged in a series of events that eventually led to a double-murder.  Agnes has apparently been painted as a ruthless killer historically, and Kent strives to humanize her and bring some semblance of doubt into whether she actually committed the murder or not.  Kent doesn't make Agnes a sympathetic character, necessarily, but does make it easier to see things through her eyes even when at times when it's hard to actually feel bad for her.  Ultimately, however, Agnes is a young woman in circumstances that, while they initially seem ideal, eventually spiral beyond her control to devastating consequences.  If you liked Burial Rites, continue on...

The Dressmaker's War...Then That
If you liked Burial Rites, you'll like The Dressmaker's War.  Set more than a century after Burial Rites and taking place in WWII Britain and mainland Europe (mainly Germany) rather than rural Iceland, The Dressmaker's War nonetheless has many of the same "feel" qualities.  It has that same sense of a young woman hoping to find love and advance herself who gets swept up in something that was not what she thought and paying the price for it.  In this book, we also know (or can pretty easily infer) that Ada, the heroine, is about to be executed, but it's unclear exactly for what.  That comes out over the course of the book.  Unlike Burial Rites, The Dressmaker's War uses sequential storytelling, with the exception of the prologue; the rest of the book is kind of set up as the story of what happened to Ada that she wrote down prior to her execution.  There's no sympathetic ear for Ada, unlike there was for Agnes--the reader has to serve that purpose.  But the feel is much the same, and if you liked one, you'll like the other.  I think reading Burial Rites is good because then you get them chronologically--the earlier story first, then the later, and it gives a sort of sense of continuity, of how over more than a century, in some areas, things had not changed that much.

1 comment:

  1. I read Burial Rites some time ago and it really stuck with me as being quite an unusual book. Looking forward to The Dressmakers War!