photo copyright 2016 by N.K. Wagner
rumpled quilt sky
New Year's morn
photo copyright 2015 by N.K. Wagner
a subtle splash of color
in a world of winter white
whispers for attention
in the leaden morning light
Some people write in a very planned way. They have a protagonist and an ending in mind before they start. They are the police force, FBI kind of writer. There are photos on their writing wall, pins in maps and red string connections.
Others are high-in-the-sky kind of writers. Their pen is a spitfire in a dogfight. You've seen the movies where the pilot has to make split second decisions as he copes with enemy fire. The 'pantsers' write like that. They're resourceful but sometimes just like in a sailing ship they run out of wind and stare at the becalmed waters of writer's block.
Most writers are a mixture of the two styles. They plan but also get the lee rail under and feel the salt spray whip their writing face.
However there is a different style of writing. It's the shade-tree-mechanic style. You know that guy for whom kudzu is a blessing because he has so many crippled cars on his property.
It is borne out of nanowrimo, the writing a novel in a month. On-your-marks-get-set-go pens are poised as writers scribble 1667 words a day in a mad flurry. Sure they should have a plan for what they want to write but brainstorming is encouraged. Authors are encouraged to write even if they think it's rubbish. There will be nuggets of writing gold in the scribble.
I did that. I wrote a novel. It took me three months, not one, and I must say I'm not too proud of it. A literary agent told me prologues were out dated. She said she didn't like my protagonist, and that it was confusing and I should read more. I got my revenge and modeled the evil witch on her. Her verbal critique lasted three minutes but the wicked-bird-witch will fly on her broom for eons.
On reflection, she was absolutely right. But there were some good ideas in the mess. Like that mechanic who buys cars for parts I have written three picture books by using the ideas in that novel. My chapter book, that I have started is a simpler version of my top heavy novel. And I can write with more confidence because I have a beginning and middle. Yes, there is also a ending to aim for. I am excited about writing this way and so is my protagonist. He will not be free falling in the air, screaming his lungs out for two weeks as I try to write him out of an impossible situation.
Photo copyright©2014 by N.K. Wagner
As a blanket of snow brings peace to my world,
I pray ev’ry sore heart be made new.
'They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine.'
Thus begins Burial Rites, the winner of 2011's Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript award.
In the year 1829, something unimaginably horrifying happens in northern Iceland. Agnes Magnusdottir, a servant sentenced to death for her part in the cold-blooded murder of two men, one of whom was her former employer and lover, awaits her execution in prison. Publicly condemned and portrayed as the monstrous minx who murders men, Agnes is abhorred and ostracized by society completely. She is then sent to district officer Jon Jonsson and his family's farm to be lodged there until the execution day.
At first, the family is immensely startled and abound with indignation to be forced to handle a murderess in their household. Only Toti, a young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes' spiritual guardian is impelled by his own curiosity and sense of duty to try and understand her.
Agnes, although initially shunned by the family, is later found not to be the ' diabolical and unequivocally evil ' wretch everyone her believes her to be.
Days hurtle by like ribbons in the wind and Agnes' side of the story is slowly unraveled.
The execution day nears ominously while the ultimate question blazes through the pages:
Did she or didn't she?
This thoroughly-researched novel though fictitious has its foundation based on true events.
Hannah Kent triumphantly succeeds in exquisitely depicting an ill-famed, extensively documented and mythologized event that happened nearly 200 years ago in Iceland, a country foreign to her, with rich lyricism and a bewitching style.
"Prickles of frost", " Lingering fingers of light", " golden floods of hay" and "wildly screaming snow" are shallow examples of this novel's cutting-edge imagery.
Throughout the novel, Kent uses several characters as narrators and frequently delivers morsels of historical information as epigraphs that limn the story's original facts.
I found the constant switching of narrators to be ingenious and rather audacious. As the reader, I could slip into the characters' shoes and view what was happening in their perspectives which was exciting and engrossing. The plot neatly and fascinatingly unfolds without there being any dull moments, repetition or confusion because of the disjoined narratives. But at the same time, the continuously shifting point of view in many ways tapers the reader's commitment to Agnes which, I think, is a pity since she is the central character with the most compelling and riveting voice.
Her first-person soliloquies and dialogues are hauntingly terse, precise and gripping, causing her pain to be felt within the readers' hearts and minds.
"...they chronicled their hatred towards me, a mark here, bruises, blossoming like star clusters under the skin..." is a fine example of how Agnes delineates her agony.
Hannah Kent's allurement towards Agnes' eerie tale is understandable and it's obvious why she was haunted by it. Her refined, poetic descriptions of the Icelandic landscape and its long, bleak seasons paint strong pictures and charm enchanting spells on the reader making it almost impossible to stop reading the book.
The rhythmic farm works such as shearing, milking, slaughter, lambing and cattle rearing become the novel's steady pulse; it's pleasantly surprising to look up from the novel and realize that you haven't been there yourself.
Phrases like " turfs oozing with water in spring..." and "...the sky : a bright, bright blue so bright you could weep." lucidly silhouette the plush, rural Iceland. They strikingly balance the almost tangible loneliness that haunts the novel throughout.
Burial Rites is also a uniquely written book in regard to how it voices the injustice done to women in past times. The novel explores how women have been unable to author their own public identity unlike men. Women who strayed from the social norm, or simply didn't fit into the accepted were seen as suspicious and assumed to be simply bad. Kent herself adds her opinion on this matter in the author's note where she states the dichotomy of ' If you are not an angel, then you must be a demon ' as cruel and unfair.
Although Agnes Magnusdottir is portrayed to be somewhat of a strong feminist heroine, one can't fully affirm that Burial Rites is a feminist story. Rather than being feministic, Burial Rites is an ambiguous and humanized portrayal of one woman's struggle when her life depends on the stories told by others.
Agnes sharply penetrates through the era's hypocrisies; she's aware of the brutal limitations forced on her by society and stays brave through every humiliation foisted on her publicly while rejecting victimhood rather strongly because of its submissiveness. But towards the end of the novel, a cold dread latches on to her, possessing and enfeebling her - a result that is translucently foreseeable.
Agnes retracts into her shell knowing and resenting that there is nothing she can do to prevent the coming of night, even if she has raged enough against the dying light of day. Kent, on the whole, presents her protagonist as painfully yet understandably human - a woman of no extraordinary courage or bravery but only a mere human who does not wish to die. Therein, says the author, lies both the tragedy and poignancy of the story.
I found Burial rites to be beautifully dark and an unputdownable novel which transported me to the unflinchingly boreal terrains of Iceland with its meticulous prose and wistful imagery.
With its dramatic, ripped-from-real-life tale filled with swirling facts and a most engaging account of one of history's truly enigmatic women, Burial Rites reminded me of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace.
Before reading this novel, Iceland, to me, was just another Nordic country. But ever since I read Burial Rites, it has had a dynamic effect on me. I was left craving to visit Iceland and to know more of it as a nation. It has shown and reminded me that everyone, even the most sinful person, is still human and that they lead lives just as vivid and intricate as everyone else, probably even more so.
Burial Rites is a novel worth reading without a doubt.
Fans of historical fiction, drama, murder and inventive language will hungrily devour this book.
Every sentence is a sight to be seen and every word a delight to be tasted and relished in this dear book which is the indubitable declaration of a writer to take notice.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent,
ISBN : 9781742612829
I have always believed you can stay anywhere as long as there is a good shower. The place can be really bad, but that melts away as warm water soothes your stress.
I am currently staying at a fabulous house while the owners are on vacation for a month. They opened their home to my daughter, her new born, two-year-old and I. It has been a gift in many ways except for the bathroom.
They have an attack-shower. It's modern and gleams with stainless steel and decorative tile. There is a heated towel rack. So what's the problem? The nozzle and head where jets of water are supposed to massage and soothe has broken off the wall unit. Day one, I turned it on and was blasted in the face with icy cold water. While I was in there, the handheld nozzle fell off, and I got blasted like I was sticking my face into a bidet. I tried to drape the hose over my shoulder, but the water was either scalding or cold. So I just cowered in a corner and scooped water over me.
One day, I had to clean and dry walls and floor of the entire bathroom because the demonic thing twisted when I turned it on.
It morphed into a vicious monster when I heard my two-year-old granddaughter squeal, "It get me! It get me!"
My daughter usually lives in Cambodia, where the shower is in the same place as the commode. But now I can say I enjoyed the Cambodian shower better.
All power to a good shower. Enjoy yours folks. My day starts with a blood curdling yell.
N.K. Wagner is the Executive Editor and Publisher of Page & Spine.