Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Nook Book Club: Kristin Lavransdatter, Part I: The Wreath

I have two confessions to make as I begin this "check-in" on our reading of Kristin Lavransdatter-- appropriate for a novel full of confessions and secret revelations, don't you think? First, I am about 100 pages from finishing the entire three volumes. It has been an engrossing novel that has held my attention throughout! I really meant to just stick to the pace I had proposed, but we took a mini family vacation, and I've had more down time than usual, so I had more time for reading. I promise to try not to reveal anything about the story, though! Second, we are in the middle of painting our kitchen, so this first installment of our book discussion might be more of just an invitation to share thoughts/comments. I think this appropriate, though, considering that the most fruitful discussion will come once the novel can be seen as a whole. (Photo to the right is of a medieval Norwegian church.)

In addition to referring back to my previous post on Part I, and inviting comments on those points, I thought it might be helpful to group any thoughts/discussion into four areas.
  • The Plot : Anything surprising? Confusing? Interesting?
  • The Characters: What do you think of them? I can't nail it down to only the first part of the book, but I find Undset's description of the internal spiritual/emotional life of her characters deep and compelling.
  • The Cultural/Historical Setting: So much here. I'm particularly fascinated by the interplay between superstition and Catholicism. Did anyone else notice that after writing these books Sigrid Undset converted to Catholicism? It makes sense; it is hard for me to imagine some of the dialogues that pertain particularly to personal experiences of faith to come from someone who is merely looking "from the outside in" in a historical manner.
  • Personal responses to the book: Is this book making you look at life in a different way? Making you appreciate/think about anything differently? Kind of a random response, but I thought I'd note it because it was something I mentioned to Michael-- I may have a slightly romantic notion of what it would be like to live, and in particular, eat, in a traditional society. However, as I read this book I pondered the fact that there is nothing really romantic about eating rancid butter, going without protein for months on end, or having to scrape around forests for bark and moss when the winter months grow long and the supply barrels are low. Just as I have to tip my hat to the goods that modern medicine have brought about, there are genuine goods of health and human flourishing that the ability to ship food over distances and store it for longer periods of time.

This Wikipedia article provides a short summary of each section of the novel; particularly helpful are two charts of characters, one of of the fictional characters and one of the historical characters (kings, etc). As the book goes on and the family relationships become more important in the plot, this is quite helpful, especially when all the names begin to run together!

Unfortunately this is all I'm going to be able to manage for now... I hear Daddy and the boys coming back from a Home Depot run to buy more spackle and painting supplies...and someone is crying... so I'm off! Remember that our next chat on Part II of the book will be June 22.


Menueys said...

Thanks for hosting this "book club" :) I've not read much for fun lately. I don't know that I've ever read so long a book. I'm pretty captivated, though, and think I'll finish!

I was dismayed once I looked at the table of contents and realized the "part 1" I'd read was only 1 of 3 of the "big" Part 1 ;) I was hoping it was just disproportionately short, as I wanted to be done in time for June 1! But I quickly made up time and am now feeling sorry for Kristin. Sad for her. Hopeful that she'll be wise and honor her parents, who clearly love her so much. Neat to read of her relationship w/ her dad. I have a sense of dread for what her future will hold. I wish she could have spent more time with Brother Edvin. I'm having a bit of a hard time keeping up with characters... I can't pronounce most of the names, and I get the less integral characters a bit mixed up, or I forget who goes with whom. The towns/manors are another story! But I think I'm doing OK.

Carla, I, too, am often caught up in idealism and want of a more "traditional" life, but this book has made me grateful for many conveniences of our present day. What's up with all the lofts? I think my copy had a note in the back about their architecture but I didn't really grasp it. Thanks for posting the photo of the Norweigian church.

It's late but I wanted to chime in and say how I'm enjoying the book! Hope others will chime in, too :)

earthie said...

I, too, have only read part one of part one! But I will catch up quickly once school is over.

I'm definitely interested in this strange interplay between superstition and Catholicism. Is Lady Aashild really a blend of these things, or is the talk about her just that? Why can't Kristin share the prayers with anyone else, if they aren't weird?

When Sira Eirik yelled at Ragnfrid with, "In all your prayer and fasting, you have thought only to force your will upon God" I was forced to recognize myself! haha. Shoot.

A friend warned me that this book was like Anna Karenina except without the nice happy story line of Levin and Kitty. Is that true? I'm not sure I want to get invested in this girl... I already like her better than I liked Anna, which means her downfall will hit harder.

Carla said...

M~ I think one of my favorite moments in the first part of the book was Kristin's interactions with Brother Edvin. So much of what he said to her was "right on."

Regarding superstition and Catholicism--something I was reflecting on today in daily Mass was the contrast between our secular culture and the pagan almost "animist" culture of pre-Christian Norway. The world was full of spirits and invisible powers at work; when Christianity came to them, it wasn't a question of if supernatural things or beings existed or happened, it was a question of which. It is so different for us today. So much of the world lives an effective, secular atheism. I think much of this is due to the fact that their culture was immersed in and vulnerable to the natural, wheras we can seem to live in isolation from the natural world (although we all know that if we eat and breathe, this can never be a complete isolation).

Earthie-- never read AK, so I can't compare it. I appreciate the nuances of Kristin; of all the characters really. I really feel as if no one character was a "cardboard cutout" figure, if you know what I mean-- no one was one-dimensional. Each character has flaws and strengths; even a murderer (won't give away who, although there are a couple) can't be completely dismissed because of his integral part in one element of the story.

Okay... so I already finished the book!! :) Can't wait to discuss it "in its wholeness" with you all!