Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

I know you were sooo excited, so.... my Christmas bulletin board! I like the hand-stamped months. :)

And while we're getting warm and cozy, how about a goodread for ya?!

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
Translated by Tiina Nunnally

Here is a book that I loved.  I kept thinking about Shakespeare's line (from Hamlet I think) "More matter, with less art," because unlike some Dickens (no offense to Dickens and those who love him), Sigrid Undset does not fill her book full of fluff. Stephen bought it for me several years ago. I finally made the time to read the whole thing this Fall, and I'm thankful that I did.  I loved this book because it is a classic Catholic book, not to mention Nobel Prize winner, full and rich with love, history, and a command of the liturgical year.

For starters, though it is long, it feels seamless. She marks passage of time with Saints' days.  Her writing has a dreamlike quality, so at times you feel so far from your own modern world, you may expect to walk into your kitchen, and see a huge wooden table, decorated with sprigs of juniper, and laden with fresh fish or bear meat cooked over a fire. But that's because it takes place in Medieval Norway, thus, it should take you far away from your present-day surroundings.

To summarize (without spoiling the plot), the book starts with Kristin's mysterious interaction with faith and family as a young girl. As I said, much of it, dreamlike. Then, it follows her complicated love story involving two men, Simon and Erlend. We follow her through the major events of her life- growing up, marriage, housekeeping, and raising seven sons. Watching her struggle with sin and betrayal, as well as seeing her deal with pain, such as the death of her parents, you often have a mirror held up to your own personal life. Something interesting is always happening, so don't be fooled by this boring narrative.

Kristin is a very Catholic heroine.  She deals openly with her oft-grief stricken heart by talking closely to a priest, and bemoans her mistakes and failures throughout.  She is not a perfect person, but her imperfection makes the story feel so very real. She struggles with fear from folklore, and superstition, and often must turn to practices such as confession, consolation in Mass, or seeking out the wisdom of her superiors.  She proves the universal truth that grief and broken hearts make the beauty and happiness of life richer.

The other main characters are all very Catholic.  The fun of reading a trilogy of this length, is that many of the characters are developed in a much richer and more complete rendering than a book of average length. Talking of her two youngest, twin sons, Kristin thinks,

"Secretly, in her own heart, she knew that she was actually proudest of these two. If only she could break their terrible defiant and wild behavior, she thought that none of their brothers would make more promisiing men than they would. They were healthy, with good physical abilities; they were fearless, honest, generous, and kind toward all the poor. And more than once they had shown an alacrity and resourcefulness that seemed to her far beyond what might be expected of such young boys."

And since you watch her grow up, and then watch her children born and grow, this makes perfect sense.  All of the characters, particularly the nobility, are developed over time, as is the time period.  The richness and depth are a result of lengthy time in its pages.   For all of these and the other aforementioned  reasons? And being Norwegian myself? Ah, the perfect book.

Have you read Kristin Lavransdatter? What did you think? What can you add to my discussion of the book?  Cristina?  Rhonda? Would you please consider weighing in?

If you haven't read it, do you want to read it? Why or why not?

Now, go read this piece from Crisis Magazine. I feel like I'm continuing a conversation about KL and that's what I like about blogging. Correction: That's one thing I like about blogging!