My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There’s a note at the end of this novel that says it’s an attempt to make more ambiguous the historical record of the central figure, Agnes Magnusdottir. I think the outcome of the characterisation is far less subtle than that; indeed Agnes is rendered a victim of poverty, circumstance, a particularly manipulative lover, and blinkered judiciary–far from the ‘inhumane witch stirring up murder’ of record . By now it’s a frustratingly familiar story, but it’s one that bears repeating as long as societies continue to condemn the socially and economically disadvantaged, without examining how the very structures of those societies produce ‘criminals’ like Agnes.
Still, while the ‘truth’ of the events in Iceland in 1829 are unknowable, part of me does wonder at the desire to so thoroughly whitewash any historical figure; it’s seems to be motivated by a conviction that people must be wholly good to deserve our sympathies. The same might be said for the characters that we are encouraged to condemn–do they need to be so wholly bad? There seems to be very little to love about Natan Ketilsson–but there must have been more to him for him to gain the affections of Agnes, surely?
The audiobook I listened to was read by Morven Christie at a good pace and with deft pronunciation of the Icelandic names. Her reading evoked the pathos of the story and Agnes to great effect.