Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
It took me a long while to want to read this book. Initially, I did not think I would find reading about the stark landscape of Iceland interesting. I didn’t think I’d find the life of a murderess awaiting execution in 1829 interesting. Now I realize, I don’t know what I will find or not find interesting. This book changed my perception.
This haunting debut novel by Hannah Kent is set in a bleak location and has a bleak premise. Agnes Magnúsdóttir awaits execution in the early 1800’s. She is accused of murdering her lover and another man. We are taken back to the events that lead up to the murder, the details of the murder and the anguish of the seemingly endless wait of her death. We are also shown, through the eyes of others, how the reputation of someone proceeds them and how minds can made to be changed and hearts made to care.
Kent takes this piece of Icelandic history and takes us on a fictionalized account of what occurred during the months she waited to be executed. We are taken inside of Agnes’ head and heart and learn about her memories and fears.
This story grips you and keeps you on the edge with a heavy heart until the very last page.
5 out of 5 stars.
Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow
Homer & Langley Collyer were brothers who were known as the Hermits of Harlem. Doctorow takes this fascinating story and fictionalizes it.
The collier brothers lived together in a mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Homer, who is blind and eventually goes deaf, is cared for by his brother Langley. Langley starts hoarding newspapers for ‘research’. Eventually the hoarding grows out of control and their grand mansion becomes a huge museum of junk and eventually their tomb.
In the factual account, the Collyer brothers lived from the late 1800s until 1947; however, for interest sake, Doctorow changes the time line. This brings them through World War I, the Jazz/gangster era all the way up to the free loving days of the 1960s and slightly beyond.
I think the change in time gives this story much more interest and relatability. The fact that there is not much information on these brothers because most of the stuff in their home was destroyed during the purging didn’t stop Doctorow from creating a compelling story of one possible reality.
4 out of 5 stars.
Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini
Kate Chase Sprague is the daughter of Salmon Chase, an Ohio lawyer in the 1800s. She attempted to establish her father as a future presidential candidate against Lincoln.
The fact that she was considered Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival was because of her beauty, intelligence and political acumen, Mary Lincoln did not embrace her.
I really enjoyed Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini; however, I did not embrace this book. I thought it was slow and lacked any interest.
2 out of 5 stars.
The Waterworks by E.L. Doctorow
Give me a book that takes place in New York City in the 1800s and I will read it.
A freelance writer notices a stagecoach with some elderly men. One of these men was reported dead and buried by his family. This mystery unfolds amidst the dank reality of New York City in the 1800s. We are shown the disparity between the rich and the poor in this morality tale.
3 out of 5 stars.