Monday, March 23, 2009

Review: Kristin Lavransdatter: II The Mistress of Husaby by Sigrid Undset

I read the first book in this trilogy years ago and struggled through it. At the time, I was told that the translation I happened to have was probably the hardest to plug through so I put off, and put off, and put off reading any further. But I wanted to because I had heard such wonderful things about this medieval set saga written by Nobel prize winner Undset. I don't really know what finally inspired me to pick up the second book this many years onward (good thing I have a decent memory for most books or I'd have been rather lost I suspect) but I am glad I did and am now looking forward to the third and final installment in Kristin Lavransdatter's life.

This portion of the saga starts with Kristin and Erlend arriving at Husaby, his ancestral estate, as they start their marriage. But Kristin and Erlend's life is not destined to be easy, even once they have the sanction of marriage, and Undset draws a full and captivating portrait of life in 1400's Norway. Domestic and political, male and female spheres, religion and secularity are all played out on a grand and a small scale, providing the reader with and intimate glimpse of a time long since passed from memory. Kristin is a strong and fascinating character but she has her faults. Erlend is weaker and more wayward as a character, a bigger picture thinker than his wife, who focuses on the small details. But their inability to temper each other's weaknesses in a true partnership leads them into great difficulty.

Once I settled into the language of this translation (and that took a bit), I was interested to see how Kristin and Erlend developed. In general I sympathized more with Kristin because she did so very much, always cognizant of the consequences of her actions. But there were times that I found myself getting annoyed with her, as if she was indeed a real person making poor choices and ill-advisedly holding onto grudges instead of a character in a book. The setting of the book was rich and well-detailed. And the historical imformation in the story line itself and in footnotes was fascinating since Norway's history is not even touched upon in classes in this country. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to live in the Middle Ages but I enjoy visiting there on occasion through the pages of a book. And I plan to visit Kristin in the last third of her story sooner rather than later.


  1. Was the first or the second book the translation that you have a picture of? I have that set and loved them all. It did take a little to get the ol' brain in the whole Middle Ages way of thinking but afterwards really enjoyed them. I kept hoping Erlend would wake up and smell the coffee but nooooo...

    You'll like the third but the ending is surprising (well it was to me!)

  2. The picture is to the second in the trilogy and is of the translation I read rather than the one I've heard praised to the skies. :-) I suspect that I read the first one at a crabby time (younger kids, maybe in the midst of moving, etc.) and that would definitely would ahve colored the reading!

  3. Thanks for this. I'm reviewing this book for (and my own blog, of course). It's not very easy to read! I'll be following your blog now, by the way.


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