Mar 03, 12
Read from February 22 to March 03, 2012
Wow- what a book! I think I’ve developed arthritis in my wrists from holding this tome too much over the past two weeks, that and thank goodness it was not a hardback because otherwise I’d have several black and blues across my face from dropping it while in bed.
However, it was all worth it.
Undset’s novel is actually three in one and I think it really should be read this way instead of breaks between since they are so seamless: The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross.
The Wreath was by far my favorite of the three because the setting and cultural traditions were so new to me. The story follows a young maiden in rural, 14th century Norway – Kristin, and you meet her father, Lavrans, and her strange, silent, and depressed mother, Ragnfrid. You’re introduced to the main theme of the trilogy here: motherhood as you learn just exactly why her mother is so morose. You are also introduced to all the religion in this book, which I normally hate but it’s such a part of the culture at the time that it didn’t seem heavy-handed. Kristin is betrothed to Simon, but hardly loves him and is sent to a nunnery until she is older, but meets Erland, a good looking but excommunicated man currently living 'in sin' with judge’s wife and their two illegitimate children. They begin a passionate romance that will propel the plot for the rest of the novels.
The Wreath had it all – medieval customs, death, witchcraft, attempted rape, illicit romance, a strange fairy in the woods, a shocking confession from Ragnfrid – it was fantastic. If you’re going to read only one of these three books, read this one.
The Wife sees Kristin become the head of her household at Husaby, give birth to 7 sons, witness the marriage of her sister to her former beau, Simon, and you become an intimate witness to her gut wrenching estrangement from Erland. This book was all about what it is like to be a mother – both the good and the bad. There is more death, illicit love, political intrigue, and arguments and you’ll find yourself at times wanting to slap Kristin as she tries to apply her religious code to others.
The Cross is quite depressing and as I neared the end of it I found that I didn’t want to read it before falling asleep. You’ve spent a good 800 pages with these characters, you learn to love them despite all their faults, and then Kristin commits a major breach of local custom that brings dire consequences. The black plague then comes to Europe and …. I’ll leave it at that ;-)