Saturday, 21 January 2017



Looking at my reading list for 2017 so far, I haven't exactly stretched myself, have I? Two children''s books, one comic classic that I've read many times before ... but my first proper read turned out to be so gripping that I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be my Book of the Year. Why haven't I read this before? I can't recall what gave me the nudge to get it out of the library before Christmas and even then it sat on the pile, not quite appealing enough to get me started ... all those Icelandic names, too many sons and dottirs, and my deep-seated prejudice against well-reviewed first novels written by 20-something blondes. Grrr.  (Do publishers realise how many books get rejected out of hand by resentful old bats who take against an author's glossy blow-dry?)
Well, I admit it, I was wrong ... Burial Rites has been the cause of several late nights when I couldn't put it down, I was so immersed in the story (based on historical fact) of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a servant held on a remote farm (there were no prisons in Iceland) while awaiting execution by beheading for the murder of two men. I could feel that oppressive landscape weighing down on me (I've been to Iceland in January!), feel the gloom and loneliness and the stale air of the communal badstofa . In many ways, this reminded me of His Bloody Project but whereas my interest in that flagged, Hannah Kent kept me on tenterhooks. Looking back on what I wrote about His Bloody Project, I wanted to move along a bit faster ... not this time, quite the opposite, I wanted to put the brakes on, to hold back time, knowing that every passing day was relentlessly bringing Agnes to the end.


Feeling the need for some light relief, I've also been reading this country house novel by Angela Thirkell (though my second-hand copy has a far less attractive cover). It was grabbed from a pile at the crack of dawn as I needed something lightweight - in both senses - for a train journey. It served its purpose but I'm not sure I can be bothered finishing it. It would be better had it been written by Nancy Mitford. Must say, it puzzles me why Virago had a Dorothy Whipple-line below which they they wouldn't stoop - I'd have a Thirkell line.

7 comments:

Veronica Cooke said...

Yes, I've heard nothing but good things about the first book. I'll be looking out for a copy! I have a couple of Angela Thirkell's but have not yet read any...

Mary said...

I'm sure you'll turn up a copy in one of your charity shops, Veronica. You're not missing much with Angela Thirkell; she's okay once in a while if you want something soporific. They're all pretty much the same.

Sue said...

I am still miles behind you, Mary. Currently reading Val McDermid after seeing her on University Challenge.Then I think I might give this book a whirl. A friend and I went to see Manchester by the Sea last week, and we loved it. She is from that area and the photography was stunning - agree that it wasn't exactly a feel good film, but the acting was def 10/10.

Mary said...

Yes, the photography and acting were brilliant, Sue - I think I just emerged feeling gloomy! I've only read one Val McDermid, seem to remember it was a bit gory! I bet she was good on University Challenge.

Gina said...

I loved Burial Rites. It kept me totally gripped.

Julia said...

I laughed out loud at your 'below the Thirkell line' comment. I find her mildly amusing at best and silly as silly can be the rest of the time.

I'm not sure I could manage Burial Rites. I might be able to manage it if the sentence was hanging, but I have a phobia of decapitation.

Mary said...

Such a thrill when you come across a book as rewarding as this, Gina.

Julia, I think you've summed up Thirkell exactly! I suppose sometimes mildly amusing is enough; no good getting too engrossed if you know you'll be interrupted.
I can see you'll never be a Scarlet Pimpernel fan and A Tale of Two Cities is definitely out. But you might manage Burial Rites; it's more that you know what's coming than any gory detail.