It is Norway in the thirteenth century, a land rent by unremitting warfare and feebly lit by Christianity. Olav Audunsson was once an outlaw; now he is a man of wealth and stature. But he is haunted by the memory of crimes for which there is no easy atonement and by losses that may never be redeemed.
Undset was born in Kalundborg, Denmark, but her family moved to Norway when she was two years old. In 1924, she converted to Catholicism and became a lay Dominican. She fled Norway in 1940 because of her opposition to Nazi Germany and the German occupation, but returned after the end of World War II in 1945.
Sigrid Undset received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. Most of the praise was for her medieval novels, including the trilogy about Kristin Lavransdatter. This trilogy has been translated into more than 80 languages and is among the world’s most read novels.
I am definitely looking forward to the Tiina Nunnally translation due later this year. I think I preferred the first two parts of this tetralogy, but that could be in large part due to this slow and unclear translation. I am still enjoying the story enough that I am not able to stop reading, however. On to part 4!
The penultimate volume of Sigrid Undset's Master of Hestviken tetralogy, In the Wilderness finds Olav Audunsson mourning the death of Ingunn, his wife of about 20 years. In her absence, all ties he has to the world, to Hestviken (his family estate), to his daughter Cecilia, and to Eirik, the bastard son he has raised as his own, seem faint and weak. When two merchants visit him to make a business proposal, Olav finds himself on a voyage to England, where he experiences temptation, and extraordinary revelations of his own inner struggles and the state of his spirit. Olav has a chance at redemption, but he rejects it out of pride, and when he returns home again his life has taken on a semblance of normalcy despite the emptiness he feels toward everything. Olav adopts a young girl named Bothild Asgeirsdatter, who befriends his daughter Cecilia and adds a little light to his life, just before the countryside erupts into chaos when a Swedish lord invades Norway. This is probably the shortest of all the books in this series, and most of the story goes by fairly quickly, though there are a few slow moments. As is true of all of Undset's works, the book richly evokes its time, place and characters; the landscape and culture of medieval Norway come to vivid life under her pen.
I found much to love in this book, the third volume in the tetralogy, and also much that aggravated me.
The lovely elements: a lengthy trip to England and the delight of seeing a place I know better than Norway through Sigrid Undset's and Olav Audunsson's eyes; a great deal of Latin and even communication through that medium; Olav's participation in historical events at the end of the book, as Sweden attempts to invade Norway and the vivid and human descriptions of battle that reminded me of the Illiad; the way God meets the needs of Olav and Hestviken in a barren period of his life, despite Olav's listlessness.
The aggravating elements, really, boil down to one thing: Olav is quite passive through this entire volume. He has no real plans, desires, or intentions. The one time he conceives an intention -- to take monastic vows -- he ends up abandoning it. He does nothing but drift around in the book; his only decisions are to maintain the status quo. And yet, it's not a status quo that makes him or those around him particularly happy. It makes for laborious reading and a low point in the series -- but not without some bright spots as mentioned above.
Highs and lows in abundance here. Olav just can't get a break but his own stubbornness has something to do with the situation... Undset really plumbs the depths of man's misery here. If the prior book was about Ingunn's trials and woe, here Olav gets his due and then some. His disappointment in his son, his isolation, whoa. But then there is the battle which Undset really uses well as a break from the misery for a bit of excitement and martial joy.
This third volume of Sigrid Undset's THE MASTER OF HESTVIKEN enhances the saga of a medieval manor heir Auden Audensson, The Master of Hestviken. . Readers have to be aware that this saga is not for the faint hearted or the causual reader. You have to be a serious reader to undertake such a challenge. Undset was converted to Catholicism after her marriage to a previously married Italian man she had an affair with during her time in Italy. She took her conversion seriously. This saga is abundant with Catholic imagery and spirituality. As converts often are, she ventured beneath the veneer and found the good stuff often hidden from general view. The reader must be prepared to be educated in her venture. She is not an idealist, however. She weaves this spirituality into the lives of astonishingly human characters, not stripped of their human struggles to grasp their spiritual nature despite being bound by their humanity. If the reader is open to this challenge, they will be rewarded with both a great story, and a introduction to a spirituality that is not beyond them, but which, instead, is, perhaps, closer to them than they might like to admit. I give it five stars for a reason. It is a damn good book.
Loved it! I am sorry to think I only have one book left in this masterpiece. Olav really wrestles with his past and with mistakes made and so many years he has let go by without confessing his grave sin. This is a man who knows who God is and who desires Him, but at heart, is to cowardly to face Him with all his failings.
I am sure that if some of the penance required during those times were still used today, the already tiny confession lines would be even smaller. At least people would be aware of their sin.
This book also delves into the relationship of Olav with his son, who is not really his son. I can't wait to see where this goes in the last book.
An excellent, though sad story. I felt emotionally exhausted sometimes reading through the morass of human emotions, but the writing quality was always beyond reproach. I had to read in small doses to keep from getting too disheartened. I kept wishing the characters would make better choices. Made me think more deeply about my own choices...
I'll have to come back and fill this in - now I must begin the fourth and final book - however I have to note that chapter 3 (the shape shifter Ingunn) was most surreal & fascinating - this book deserves a second reading though I doubt that my understanding would improve much - this wilderness is indeed thick with mysticism, Mary worship (understandably so especially for men having to shift from pagan gods to Christianity) and man's struggle in understanding and submitting to God (I cannot help but think that Mary, Mother of God, proved a much more approachable and comforting concept than the Triune). Again SU excels in bring medieval Norway to life - she herself seems a mass of contradictions (a Catholic feminist?) - one thing I am sure of is that her intellectual powers far exceed mine - odd how SU is so capable in writing from a man's perspective - difficult for me to think of any man undertaking the task of writing about a woman's inner angst - right now I am not able to think of having read a male author who has accomplished that feat. It seems so presumptuous. I am not sure whether Olav's greater frustration came from misunderstanding his women or misunderstanding his God. Olav ignored his women to his soul's peril. - now onto The Son Avenger
The beginning of this book is somewhat laborious, however it is worth it to stick it out to the end. I guess my initial thoughts are that the Catholic Church has a long history of inflicting guilt on people. This book, set in medieval times really sets out what sin and guilt will do to an otherwise "good" person--if you can consider a murderer and adulterer to be a good person:) (it's too bad birth control wasn't available in this time and place. It certainly could have helped these characters avoid the worst of their troubles! ) At any rate, the relationships between Olav and his wife, lovers, children and extended family/friends is a story for all ages. I especially enjoyed the part of this story where the author described the battles between the Swedes and Norwegians as well as the travels of Olav to England.
In the Wilderness is the fourth in a four novel series following an eight year old boy named Olav through his coming of age, unhappy marriage to a chronically ill wife, and now, well into his forties, through a war between his native Norway and Denmark. In between are his reflections on a moral issue he wrestles with. The translation was done in about 1930 and uses many archaic words and phrases, and all are in very archaic English. Also, as I read more, I find these novels to be light on plot and therefore overly long. They are like Wagner's Ring Cycle. What took Wagner four operas and about seventeen hours to tell, Verdi or Puccini could probably have cut down to one slightly longer than normal opera of about three hours. I will only be reading the last book to see how Sigrid Undset leaves Olav.
I started this book in Norway last summer. I can see why Sigrid Undset won a Nobel prize. It is very well written. For me the strength of the book is the psychological study of Olav Audunsson. If I had it to do over, though, I would have started with volume 1 of the series. There were too many background facts I didn't have to understand the plot and characters as well as I would have liked. And I couldn't find a good synopsis of the whole series online. I was also a little disappointed in the ending. It was more like just the end of another chapter. But I guess that's what you do when you're writing a series.
This novel is the 3rd of four, and they should be read all together and in sequence. It is also necessary to read a proper translation, not one of the translators who tries to modernize the novels and reduce them to their more simplistic elements. All that said, I've throughly enjoyed the story, albeit tragic, of the two lovers Olav and Ingunn. This third novel in the series focuses on Olav and is a psychological study of who the young boy has become in these, his middle aged years. While I as always thoroughly enjoyed the writing style and description, I found this novel a little less engaging than the previous ones. I am very eager to see how the story completes in the final installment.
After the dreariness and tragedy of the previous volume (The Snake Pit), Olav leaves Hestviken and travels to England where he has quasi-mystical experiences that help him process his loss. But he is still not willing to face and manifest the deeds buried in his past. Thus, he hardens, even as he exhibits at the exterior level, the probity of Christian life.