Agnes Magnúsdóttir is scheduled to be executed for murder, the last person to experience such a fate in Iceland. Due to administrative blundering she is housed on Kornsa, the farm of District Officer Jón Jónsson, while awaiting execution, and given spiritual consul by Tóti, a young, inexperienced assistant reverend. Her time with Tóti and the familiar surrounds of Kornsa make her final year one of reflection and sorrow.
Drawing on folklore, the sagas, religion and agrarian life we are simultaneously introduced to the culture as we learn the specifics of the murders. The text blends third person narration with Agnes’ reflections, which, although containing some of the more interesting phrasing in the novel, occasionally overflows. This furthers Agnes’ isolation, as although born and raised in the same District, she is segregated, both in the narrative and in the community.
A murder mystery with tones of historical revision, Burial Rites handles the last days of a murderess with sympathy, both for her and the culture that has condemned her.