When a popular teenage girl is found dead by a mountain lake, the innocence of an idyllic town is shattered.
While I enjoyed Don’t Look Back, I wasn’t hooked on the series. The mystery is very well-plotted and kept me guessing to the end, but the psychological complexity wasn’t there the way I wanted it to be. And the reveal at the end had some elements that felt forced and overly dramatic. However, I loved the Norwegian setting and the mention of Sigrid Undset’s The Wreath, one of my all-time favorite books, because I’m a nerd that way.
A young Norwegian woman pursues her painting in Rome, but when she gets swept up in a romance with a fellow countryman she finds her dreams derailed and her life shattered.
Review: Jenny is a realist novel from the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, one of my all-time favorite reads. It’s a somber story that reminded me of Theodore Dreiser and EM Forster, delving into the psychology of Jenny, an artist in her late 20s living a bohemian life and not sure why she’s not dreaming of settling down. When she meets Helge Gram, another Norwegian prowling Rome, she allows herself to be captured against her better judgment, and what follows is an exploration of a woman caught between expectation and longing.
I found Jenny to be startlingly fresh. Jenny and her roommate Cesca could have been me and my friends back when I was young and single, even though they were subject to more social constrictions than we were. Further proof that Undset is one of the 20th century’s greatest authors.
With Olav Audunsson facing the end of his lonely days, his children Eirik and Cecilia find themselves trapped in the repercussions of Olav’s as-yet unconfessed sins.
There was so much I loved in The Son Avenger, particularly Cecilia’s journey of wife- and motherhood with Eirik’s less-than-reputable childhood friend Jorund. She really came alive as a different kind of woman than the others I’ve seen in Undset’s work, with a rigidity that blossomed into self-awareness and even a kind of independence. She’s mirrored nicely with Eldred, the woman Eirik falls in love with later in the book, and together they show that the feudal system and all its concomitant restrictions on people were not enough to break at least two women.
Undset was writing in the 1920s, and I find her approaches to class and sex to be refreshingly ahead of her time. It would probably be stretching things to call her a feminist, but there is an egalitarian quality to her character depictions that questions the power dynamic between the genders in a way that feels radical for both her time and the time she’s writing about. But because she’s deeply Christian, she isn’t going to let go of the notion of necessary submission as a vitally important character quality. In many ways, her characters live out St. Pauls’s teaching that in relation to God, we are all feminine.
Turning to the men, I was less excited by how Undset completed the journeys of Olav and Eirik. I really feel like Olav got let off the hook for his crimes, but that could be my 21st century desire for openness and transparency, since Olav does, in a sense, lose everything. Grown Eirik didn’t resemble boy Eirik enough for me to be swept away in the continuity of his story, and the ambiguous ending that Undset creates for him doesn’t help matters.
I’m so glad I made my way through this series, though it will never eclipse my beloved Kristin Lavransdatter.
Medieval feudal lord now widower Olav Audunsson grapples with the sins of old that make each day a torment.
Review: In the Wilderness had a strong transitional quality to it. I am hoping that the next book completes his spiritual journey because I was really unsatisfied with where he ended up at the end of the book. All he’s done his whole life is justify his misdeeds by claiming his own rights, and that’s just what he’s doing near the end. At this point I’m actually kind of pissed off by his obtuseness and pride. Nevertheless, I trust Sigrid Undset completely so I’m keen to keep going. The book also offers tantalizing hints towards a storyline with wayward Eirik to play out in the final book, so I’m hoping for a strong finish.
Olav Audunsson finally brings Ingunn Steinfinnsdatter back to his ancestral home as his wife, each harboring a dark secret that threatens the happiness they dreamed of as children.
Review: The Snake Pit follows closely on the tragic events of The Axe, focusing on the far-reaching effects of sin in the lives of Olav and his childhood love Ingunn, now his wife.
I really don’t want to give too much away about the story thus far, because I loved how it unfolded in the previous book, and that makes it hard to write a comprehensive review. But as in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, Undset excels in showing how sin and unrepentance isolate the sinner from community, even the intimate community of marriage. She also shows the interconnectedness of deceit and grasping ambition with a psychological and theological complexity that you just don’t find very often.
I am loving this series, though I haven’t connected with any of the characters the way I did with my beloved Kristin. I’m okay with that–particularly as we get a nice cameo from Kristin’s father Lavrans and mother Ragnfrid near the end of the book!
Betrothed as children, Olav and Ingunn grew up together, but when Ingunn’s parents die, they take an irrevocable step that jeopardizes their futures and the social system that surrounds them.
Like that series, The Axe concerns itself heavily with matters of sexual morality and the toxic nature of secret sin, only this time we get the man’s perspective as well. Olav isn’t quite the ravishing seducer that Kristin’s Erlend was, but his seduction of Ingunn is no less rapacious, and the act twists and bends him towards other sins. And Ingunn is no paragon of virtue herself–Undset doesn’t stint on portraying her weaknesses, though in such a way as to make her totally sympathetic and relatable.
Undset really knows how to tell a gripping story. The historical detail never overwhelms the plot, and the characters are as complex as they come. My only criticism is that Tiina Nunnally didn’t do the translation. This one has some archaisms that interrupt the flow of the story, but honestly this is a very minor issue.
And I was pleased to learn, via Lars Walker, that yesterday, May 20, was Sigrid Undset’s birthday. I was so pleased to find I was reading one of her books in celebration of one of my favorite authors.
I don’t ordinary review cookbooks on my blog, though I am a pretty darn good cook. I love reading about food and trying new recipes, so when The Scandinavian Cookbook came up on Librarything‘s Early Reviewer program, I was hoping I’d score a copy. So glad that I did! This is a gorgeous cookbook with recipes that I’m dying to get cracking on.
The format of the cookbook takes you through a Scandinavian year, placing the emphasis on traditional dishes and seasonal cooking. The recipes are heavy on the seafood, with a few different kinds of fish cakes and a gorgeous looking gravlax. Each month features breakfast, a few savory dishes, an entree, and some luscious desserts. Accompanying the pictures are short paragraphs on culture in various parts of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, and beautiful full-page pictures from all over the region. I’m so ready to move there–I’ve never been but I could get lost in these pictures.
I posted the contest winner a few days ago but Tanya, whose number came up, has not yet contacted me. So I played Random Integer Generator again and came up with #6 (Yan). Since neither Tanya nor Yan gave email addresses, I have no way of getting in touch with them, so I spun again and got Tara in post #3.
The first one of these three people who contacts me gets the book.
As her seven sons grow to manhood in 13th Century Norway, Kristin finds her marriage tested by long-simmering resentments, and struggles with her passage into senescence.
This might be my favorite of all three Kristin Lavransdatter books, because I think Undset is operating at the peak of her narrative powers. She really brings to life a time in Kristin’s life that isn’t as readily appealing as Kristin’s passage into womanhood, and the novelty of Kristin and Erlend’s life together has worn off. In that way, reading The Cross is like experiencing a mature marriage, from what I can imagine. It’s no longer new, yet surprises and delight still exist if you have the patience to endure. Continue reading →