So for a little over a year now, I have been a part of a “Classics” book club. It is one of two book clubs I belong to, and when you love reading as much as I do, it a great way to socialize (and it certainly doesn’t hurt that most of my book club meetings involve wine and delicious food that other people who can actually cook make).
Classics book club is a challenge for me, because as a reader I would not normally grab classic literature. So this really pushes me to read out of my comfort zone and to feel like I am stretching my brain. It also helps that all of the people in the club are super smart and I always feel like I am learning something.
Which takes us to this months pick: Kristin Lavransdatter The Wreath by Sigrid Unset. This book was translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally and was originally published in 1920. It follows the life of Kristin in three parts from birth to death and is set in fourteenth century Norway. It revolves a lot around the concepts of sin and love and sometimes I had to remind myself that it was set in the 14th century so I didn’t hurl it across the room yelling at the damn thing. I mean ” “The ale is good, Lavrans Bjorgulfson,” said Haakon. “But a slut must have made the porridge for us today. Overly bedded cooks, makes overly boiled porridge, as the saying goes, and this porridge is scorched.” (referring to Lavrans daughter Kristin)
It also helps that the book is so pretty. It is one of Penguin’s Drop Cap series (A-Z); just look at her in all her purple glory.
I love the idea of the book, I love the saga, I love the beautiful descriptions of Norway, but I don’t love the idea that falling in love and sinning are such desperate things that Kristin needs to ruin her life about or that throughout the book she has to be “owned” by someone. I know, I know it was the times, however I have read strongly written characters from this time period before and I just don’t think Kristin qualifies as one. The whole tale seems to sit under the compass of a large religious arm, watching over and controlling everything. She wants to go against her father’s wishes to marry a man he does not approve of, but she stands strongly next to this man, when many times I think that she shouldn’t.
I kept waiting for her to perk up a bit. Her “betrothed” Erlend always seems like a cold man to me and I never was sure about him. “But he had taken her, partly by force, but with laughter and with caresses too, so she has been unable to show him that she was serious in her refusal.” Hmmmmmm. I am sure that we will see how their relationship develops in the next two parts of the giant sage. This book is one part of a three part trilogy and I do think that someday I will try to read the rest, even if it is a bit of a slog. I want to see if Kristin keeps crying forever over her past “sinful” mistakes. The last 30 or so pages of this book really had a lot of action so it makes me want to keep going. One thing I will say about Undset’s writing though, it feels real. Sometimes I hated the characters and sometimes I loved them but they all have faults as raw and flawed as the rest of us fools.