domingo, 27 de diciembre de 2009

Kristin Lavransdatter III: The Cross

"'Kristin, my dearest love,' begged Erlend in despair.  'Oh, Kristin, I know I've come to you much too late...'
Again a tremor passed over his wife's face.
'It's not too late,' she said, her voice low and harsh.  She stared down at her son, who lay in a swoon in her arms.  'Our last child is already in the ground, and now it's Lavrans's turn.  Gaute has been banished by the Church, and our other sons...  But the two of us still own much that can be ruined, Erlend!'"  (Kristin Lavransdatter, p. 973)

Kristin Lavransdatter (Penguin Classics, 2005)
by Sigrid Undset (translated from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally)
Norway, 1920-22

While I must have spent hundreds of Kristin Lavransdatter's 1124 pages trying to figure out whether inept storyteller Sigrid Undset was a bigger embarrassment to Scandinavian culture than lame-o pretentious pop star Bjork, I've decided to try to shy away from personal attacks now that Undset's historical fiction Beaches has finally reached its long drawn out tear-jerker of a conclusion.  Still, what exactly have I taken from this experience?  First, for all the people who seem to want to fawn over her for merely having created a birth-to-death portrait of a fictional woman with "realistic" flaws, Undset strikes me as an extraordinarily lazy writer.  Probably because she's so bad at dialogue, she spends endless amounts of time laboriously filling the reader in on what each character thinks and what each person looks like.  Very boring.  Second, Undset apparently never met a contrived situation she didn't like--in the key reunion between Kristin and Erlend in the passage above and in Kristin's final saintly acts when the Black Death comes to her convent, I was actually moved to laughter by Undset's cheap, Spielbergian theatrics.  No sense of subtlety whatsoever.  And even though The Cross was probably a slightly less annoying reading experience for me than either The Wreath or The Wife, I'm tempted to suggest that some of that sense of "improvement" was only noticeable due to the fact that the preceding books in the trilogy set the bar so low.  In short, a tedious and manipulative story unimaginatively told.  Refund! (

Sigrid "Woe is Me" Undset

Non-Satanic Devil's Advocates
I'll link other Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross readalong posts below as soon as I can get to them, but thanks to everybody who read along with Emily and me and/or visited the various readalong blogs to join in on the discussions.  It was a lot of fun despite the novel in question!  If you've read the trilogy, please let me what you think of it--and if you haven't, please be aware that a certain online bookseller giant's website (let's call it Big Mythological Warrior for the moment since this isn't one of those whorish book blogs that tries to pimp books for money) is actually full of raves of KL along the likes of the following:  "The saga covers every human emotion and possibility that can occur to a human being."  OK, I stand corrected!  I wasn't bored to death by Undset after all!!  Psyche!!!

Emily (Evening All Afternoon)
Amy (New Century Reading)
Claire (kiss a cloud)
Gavin (Page247)
Jill (Rhapsody in Books)
Sarah (what we have here is a failure to communicate)
Softdrink (Fizzy Thoughts)
Valerie (Life Is a Patchwork Quilt)

15 comentarios:

  1. Yikes, Undset wouldn't have stood up well under one of her own physical descriptions! I'm glad to be through with this, but I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself for sticking to it. :)

  2. That's funny; I talk about Other Peoples' Reviews in my post, too (which will be up in a day or so). I think what I learned through this experience is to trust my instincts: before I picked this up people kept recommending it and I kept thinking "an epic romance set in medieval Europe doesn't SEEM like something I'd like..." And oh, how right I was. LESSON LEARNED.

    So, what do you think? How far should I walk barefoot in sackcloth for having suggested it? ;-)

  3. You have made me laugh so, so hard, thanks Richard!

  4. *Sarah: Ha, excellent point! Ironically enough, I had to choose between pix of a youthful, attractive Undset and a dour, "mature" Undset before deciding on the latter as the more "representative" image of the author I had in mind. Glad to be through with KL, too!

    *Emily: Although I love the idea of an agnostic like you barefoot and in sackcloth over a wayward book suggestion, I seem to remember agreeing to the same suggestion a few months back! So there will be no repentance or punishment for either of us for a book that just didn't work out the way we would have both hoped. In terms of Other Peoples' Reviews, I briefly had 5 excerpts listed in my post right before I hit "publish" both because the opinions were so funny and because they were so wildly divergent from most of those expressed in the readalong. But I finally decided to edit the excerpts down to one because I felt like I'd picked on enough people in the body of my post! Anyway, thanks again for co-hosting this with me!

    *Simon: Thank you for being such a great visitor during the readalong! Your comments helped keep my spirits up even though Undset herself was such a drag, and you have no idea how much help that was getting me through this book. Or maybe you do! Take care.

  5. Haha! True, no subtlety AT ALL. You know, the only reason I didn't want to bash her so completely was for the sake of all the other even more horrible books I have read before. I don't want to give Undset the honours, and then quite simply let others think I liked those atrocities more! I know, I'm just too nice. Still, I honestly cannot reconcile Undset with the Nobel.

  6. I finally couldn't take it anymore. Happy now?

    The horror, the horror. . .

    (It was reading the Wikipedia synopsis that made me come to my senses. MOAR DRAMZ. EPIC DRAMZ. No thank you.)

    As far as Scandinavian literature goes, I recommend Bragi Ólafsson's The Pets.

  7. Here's my third post on K.L. (advance apologies: it's almost as long as the book!):

  8. *Claire: I'm sure there are plenty of worse books out there in regards to the writing, but the combination of artificially cheesy "drama," needless repetition, and extreme length make this one very "special" read in the Hall of Fame of boredom. I'm with you on Undset and the Nobel Prize, of course, but the Nobels are often criticized for being handed down for political reasons as much as aesthetic ones. Whatever!

    *E.L. Fay: Your decision to quit was eminently sensible--much more sensible than saying you "kinda liked" the trilogy back when you were busy being a reading masochist! All kidding aside, I too would have been sorely tempted to quit about halfway through The Wife if I hadn't been co-hosting the readalong. Why some people love this book so much might have to remain a mystery. P.S. Thanks for the tip on The Pets; a Scandinavian palate cleanser will certainly be in order at some point!

    *Jill: I've added your link. I'm sure your post, no matter how long it might be, will be infinitely more rewarding reading than Undset's middlebrow soap opera!

  9. As if you haven't had enough of K Lav! Today my post compares that book to The Dooms Day Book by Connie Willis, which covers similar time and subject matter:

  10. I read on Frances's blog that you're going to be reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Once you finish it, please explain to me exactly what the heck that book was about.

    (And also, a warning: skip the scene where the Japanese soldiers get captured and they execute that one guy. You'll thank me.)

  11. I finally got my post up today. Like I said in that post, I think reading one book in this trilogy would have been enough for me to get a feel of what medieval Norway was like.

    I'm also wondering about the Nobel Prize also -- but standards were different back then, I guess!

    I'm glad I participated in this read-a-long -- all of us going through this together...a special KL sorority/fraternity ;-)

  12. Before you take up the recommendation to read The Pets (although I do hear it's really good), you should know that Bragi Ólafsson played in the Sugarcubes with Bjork, so you may consider him "lame-o pretentious" by association, or possibly his literary and musical talents are entirely discrete.

  13. *Jill: I don't even need to read your Dooms Day Book review to know the book would be more "rewarding" than K Lav! However, I'll look forward to checking out your post later today. Cheers!

    *E.L. Fay: Not sure when I'm going to start The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but I bought my copy in Spanish since I heard the English version was truncated. Maybe the lack of missing pages will help. Maybe my slower reading in Spanish will hinder. Will let you know either way!

    *Valerie: Thanks, I got your link up! And thanks for participating in the readalong with us--all people who finished definitely deserve some kind of a masochistic fraternity/sorority pin or something! Will check out your post later today!

    *Isabella: Ha ha, thanks for the guilt-by-association warning, but I'm less opposed to the Sugarcubes than to Bjork solo due to my lack of familiarity with their work as a band (friends tell me they weren't so bad, but I'm not sure I want to find out)! Of course, now I suspect E.L. Fay of underhanded stealth treachery for recommending a Bjork-affiliated product to me! Got a great laugh out of your comment, thanks! :D

  14. Agreed, there was a lot of drama toward the end, but if you've known religious people even the most sincere tend to get that way. So I find it very believable. When people were dying by the thousands during Black Death, lots became deeply religious.

  15. *Hi Vidhu! Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment, but I really appreciate you taking the time to visit. I actually wasn't really bothered by the religious elements in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy; it was more Undset's storytelling style--and specifically her ability to manufacture a soap opera type of scene in every chapter--that rang false and grated on me. In any event, I see you've reviewed KL on your own blog so I'll be over to check that out this weekend. Cheers!