viernes, 30 de octubre de 2009

Kristin Lavransdatter I: The Wreath

Kristin Lavransdatter Readalong, Part One

"I have often prayed that you might have a yearning for the convent life," said Brother Edvin, "but not since you told me what you know.  I wish that you could have come to God with your wreath, Kristin."  (Kristin Lavransdatter, I: The Wreath, p. 251)

Although I wouldn't go so far as to call this medieval chick lit, the soap opera storyline at the heart of the first book in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy didn't really speak to me at all.  In fact, I found it rather annoying at times.  While I trust that the other readalong participants enjoyed The Wreath much more than I did, I should note that I did appreciate some aspects of the writing unconnected with the title character's tumultuous love affair with the bad boy Erlend Nikulaussøn and subsequent headlong descent into fallen woman status.  I thought Undset was very credible from the outset, for example, at establishing the ambience for her 14th-century Norwegian setting in a land far distant from our own in time and space.  Danger in one form or another is always just around the corner in the Jørundgaard community, and this sense of an everpresent menace lurking nearby provided a nice grounding for some of the more lyrical landscape descriptions and such.  Despite my lack of interest in the love story, I also thought Undset was fairly convincing in terms of her characterizations.  Kristin's parents Lavrans and Ragnfrid, complete opposites in terms of their outward personalities, are particularly subtly drawn in terms of their interior worlds, and there are other characters--a wayward priest here, a suspected witch there--who caught my attention when my interest in the principals was flagging.  If it's always a little silly trying to come to grips with a work when you're only one-third of the way through it, the flipside of that is that I still have 800 pages left for Undset to convince me that Kristin Lavransdatter is something other than the literary equivalent of a very conventionally told costume drama.  In the meantime, man, do I miss Bolaño's 2666!  (

Nobel Laureate Sigrid Undset on a 500 Kroner Bill

Have you read The Wreath?  What did you think about it?  Sign up here or at my co-host Emily's blog over here if you'd like to join the readalong that's in progress (it's not too late!).

20 comentarios:

  1. This does seem like quite the departure from your regular reading fare, Richard, so I hope it does improve for you in the next two sections. I will be curious to hear whether you ultimately find the work worthy of gaining Undset the Nobel Prize.

  2. Oh, I would definitely go so far as to call this "medieval chick lit!" And I think it does get more bodice ripper-y as it goes along. But you really get more social background and character portraits in this trilogy than you get with today's chick lit. But in my opinion, so much of who wins the Nobel, especially in literature, seems political.

  3. Medieval chick lit - ha!

    I did enjoy THE WREATH for what it was - historical fiction in my mind.

    I have high hopes for Kristin becoming more mature, less self-centered, and showing herself as a strong (ahead of her times) woman in THE WIFE and THE CROSS ... do you think my expectations are too high?

  4. I'm thinking you'll find it even more medieval chick lit as you venture into Book 2. I'm ready to throttle Kristin. Although, I am still enjoying hanging out in medieval Norway...I just need a new cast of characters to hang with.

  5. It's funny that you think this is soap-operaish. I can kind of see why you think that; it seems like a lot happens in the first part of the trilogy.

    But, on the other hand, a lot more drama probably happened in the "olden days"...people died more often, people got sick and disabled more often, got married more often, etc...

    With considering that in context, I liked the book anyway, and will be looking forward to the next two parts of the trilogy.... and continued participation in the read-a-long!

  6. *Sigh*...It's no 2666, that's true.

    The soap opera-y-ness bothered me too (surely there must be an actual word that expresses that better!), and I agree that the secondary characters tended to be more interesting than the principals. But I get the impression that I'm feeling more engaged than you are by the peripheral stuff. Hmm. We'll see if it keeps up for 800 more pages!

  7. *Steph: Part of why I wanted to read this with a group is because it is such a big departure from what I usually focus on, so it's OK that it hasn't been super-exciting so far. In the meantime, I too am curious to see how the next two sections might change my initial lukewarm reaction. Anyway, thanks for stopping by! P.S. I just ordered my first Murakami book ever, but I've decided I'll also be checking out that Mishima book you recommended before the end of the year if all works out. Thanks again for the suggestion!

    *Jill: More bodice ripper-y? Thanks for the warning, I think! The Nobel prizes are definitely political--one reasons awards in general don't interest me all that much--but it's always nice to see how an author does or doesn't measure up. In this case, I hope the social background stuff makes more of a favorable impression on me in The Wife. Cheers!

  8. I probably wouldn't have read this either. I HATE anything resembling "chick lit."

    I actually found most of it rather dull until Kristin met Ereland and the plot picked up. I think there was an interesting duality present, between, for instance, Christianity and paganism, guilt and innocence.

    But still, it felt like Oprah's Book Club.

  9. *Dawn: You just asked the $64,000 question! I'm not sure what to expect next myself. However, I'm glad you enjoyed The Wreath and I look forward to comparing our reactions as we move forward. Have a nice weekend!

    *Softdrink: Oh, no, another warning about what lies ahead! I love how you framed the medieval Norway/new cast of characters distinction, though, because I think I'd much prefer reading the book called Ulvhild Lavransdatter right about now. What do you think? Cheers!

  10. *Valerie: While I happily concede all the points you make about drama in days gone by, my soap opera comment had to do with the dynamics (or lack thereof) of the Kristin/Erlend/Eline love triangle, which struck me as shallow and over the top. Nothing to do with mortality rates! Anyway, I'm glad you and others weren't as traumatized by the plot as I was. Happy reading!

    *Emily: I didn't really expect another 2666, but I had to punctuate my disdain for the love triangle somehow at the end of my post! You are 100% right about our different reception of the work probably having to do with our engagement with the peripherals at this point, and I'm willing to give Undset a clean slate as we head into the second section. I do feel a little awkward as co-host, though, because The Wreath was easily the least interesting thing I read all month. Talk about drama! Happy Halloween!

    *E.L. Fay: Sorry, but I had no idea there would be any chick lit overtones! And like you, I did enjoy some of the dualities presented--just not enough yet to officially "enjoy" the work. I look forward to reading your post, though!

  11. Haha, cue sad trombone sound effect. Waa waa waa waaaaaah.

    I feel a bit awkward not being 100% into it as well. To get even more meta, I'm starting to feel awkward about my awkwardness (!) and to dissect the underlying priorities that make me want to apologize for Undset's decision to write an overwrought romance...or maybe apologize for reading it. What a weird reaction, right? I, like Kristin, need to have a drink and get over myself. :-)

    PS - I discovered "" in the course of writing this comment, which pretty much makes it all worthwhile.

  12. Ironically enough, my back-ordered copy (it's been two whole months) of 2666 is still on its way and I can't wait to read it.

    I don't think it's a bad thing at all that we're criticizing the book. A book with an award attached to it is not always worth reading. That being said, I'm still excited about it. It's so different from anything else that I end up reading during the month - it helps me to slow down a little because of Undset's pacing.

    I just went and picked up the Wife today. I look forward to delving into Norway tomorrow.

  13. All these reviews are helping me to get more excited about reading this book -- the Medieval chicklit summary is actual a positive for me!

  14. I think that so far the "wayward priest" was the most intriguing character, and definitely agree that without the supporting cast, Kristin could get unbearable. Although my initial reaction was fairly positive, I find myself not overly eager to pick up the next section. Cross your fingers!

  15. My opinion of the book is much the same.

    "...this sense of an everpresent menace lurking nearby provided a nice grounding for some of the more lyrical landscape descriptions and such." Yes. I did not think about this initially as I focused on the descriptions of natural beauty, but yes. Especially that sense of peril for women.

    Also found the relationship Kristin's parents more interesting than Kristin's own. Perhaps as Kristin moves into maturity, I will find her more interesting or sympathetic? Hmmm.

  16. Chick-lit, right, with a heavy dose of adolescent hormonal angst thrown in. I do like Undset's descriptive writing and the depth of historical recreation.

    As others have said, I found myself more connected with Lavrens, Ragnfred, Fru Aashild and other characters than with Kristin and Erlend. I'm hoping Kristin gains some solidity for me in "The Wife".

  17. *Emily: Liked that sad trombone effect, but let's make a pact not to be awkward about our awkwardness if Kristin turns out to be less than expected ("less" meaning "more overwrought"). If it gets better, everyone wins, right? Cheers!

    *Lena: I agree with you that it's not bad to be criticizing away, but I think Emily and I would have just preferred some meatier fare from Undset for part one. And it's been great hearing that so many people like you have been excited to move on to part two despite the reservations that have been voiced. You're in for a treat when 2666 arrives, though, and I hope you find that it will have been worth the wait. Until then, thanks for weighing in here!

    *Rebecca: While I'm glad you're getting excited about reading the trilogy, I guess I'll have to try and express my dislikes more strongly next time so people pay more attention to my own readalong anguish. Too funny!

    *Sarah: Yeah, I thought Brother Edvin was a very interesting and well-rounded character. Some more back story on him would have been nice. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the both of us, by the way!

    *Frances: Definitely more peril for women. As to whether Kristin will become more interesting or sympathetic, I can only echo your ruminative "Hmmm." Hmmm. Maybe it's time to break out those comic books we once spoke about?!?

    *Gavin: I'm not sure why but every time I think about your crack about a "heavy dose of adolescent hormonal angst," I suddenly pine for the days we were all discussing Bolaño's The Part About the Crimes during the 2666 readalong. Now there was a text worthy of debating about, my friend! In the here and now, I'm glad you're enjoying the descriptive and historic elements in Undset's writing, which aren't all that bad as even I would agree. Happy reading!

  18. I completely agree about the conventionality! I wasn't expecting such average writing and such an ordinary storyline. Also missing the brilliance of 2666.

    But the ending left me hopeful. Kristin's slow descent into reality (seeing Erlend's flaws and her despair during the wedding) excited me enough to see where it leads. So on to the next book! (Also, am quite hoping to read more of Lavrans and Ragnfrid.)

    I don't mind romance much, nor melodrama, but romance and melodrama can be really positives when handled well. Not this time, though. However, yes, I'm waiting for the romance to not be center-stage in the next volumes.

    To you and Emily: don't feel awkward about having to host this. I can see everyone's enjoying the discussion. I, for one, while I didn't love this first part of the book, still liked it enough. Also, I planned on reading at least one book by all Nobel-prize winners anyway (part of a personal project), so am very glad to be reading this, and with your company. :)

  19. I have heard that it only gets better, so I'm not too worried about that. I agree that I was overwhelmingly frustrated by Kristin towards the end, which is why I'm so late to posting this, but I decided to take another approach in my post. I'm definitely looking forward to part 2!

  20. *Claire: Sorry for the delay in getting back to you about your comments, but the story elements you mention make me cautiously optimistic about part two as well. And thanks for what you said about Emily and me not needing to feel awkward about hosting this--we're both enjoying the conversations (and the company!), too, but it would have been nice if Kristin had been more engaging so far is all. Anyway, glad you're reading along with us and looking forward to Woolf in Winter in January already!

    *Lu: It can only get better in part two, right?!? I look forward to reading your post, especially since your blog title sounds so interesting, but I'm a little all over the place in my blog visits these days and running behind myself. Cheers!