Winter is here once again, and I’m struggling to remember the days when I had hours to devote to reading. But it seems like I appreciate books more in the times where I’ve not had proper sleep for weeks because of assignments, and what not. Is it kind of perverse that I manage to find most tranquility in the midst of the storm? Perhaps a little.
Anyway, now that I’m out of hibernation (yes, I see the irony) I’ve decided to finish of Kristin Lavransdatter! God knows why I want to make myself read the rest of it, but I feel like I’m obligated to, since I committed myself to the readalong. Although I only posted vague thoughts on the first part of the trilogy – The Wreath, I think it was? – I did keep reading over the summer! My bookmark tells me I’m in the middle of Chapter 6 of The Cross. It’s not so bad now that I’m gritting my teeth and pushing myself through it. Sometimes, I think I need more discipline as a reader – I need to learn to grit myself and read things I don’t love instead of being overly selective about my reading choices.
The last thing I wrote about Kristin Lavransdatter wasn’t entirely negative. I wrote:-
The deeper I fall into this book, the more I realize that Kristin Lavransdatter is a homage to beautiful golden-haired maidens; to majestic stain-glass windowed cathedrals, and tolling bells, and homely villages snuggled deep in the Norwegian mountains; to great storytelling; to humanity – its beauty and blemishes both. To Romance.
In hindsight, I think that’s what I wanted the book to be, and so that’s what it became. Forgive me for digressing once again (I always seem to reflect more on my own reading habits more than the books I’m reading) but really, if you think about it, books are meaningless without readers. Because no matter how wonderful and surreal and innovative stories are, they are – in the end – descriptions. Creative expressions of the world around us. And we, as readers, are the ones who give meaning to books through ourinterpretations/readings of them. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that:
(1) reading is subjective (2) every reader reads books through their own worldview/lens (3) one book can mean different things to every person who reads it.
Not the most lucid of posts, I know, but bear with me. To an extent, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to see books. Am I saying this because I’m hoping my final reflections on Kristin Lavransdatter won’t fall under the ‘wrong’ category? Perhaps. I sense a lot of defensiveness and justification in my thoughts towards Undset’s novel. At first, I was so excited at reading it, that I refused to be disappointed. When I’d made my way halfway through the book I convinced myself that I was forcing myself to see the book as something it was not (i.e. progressive, modern, . . . dare I say it? Interesting?). But I did like it for the reasons I stated previously. Despite its shortcomings it really does have its quiet, poignant moments.
And though I think many will disagree, in the end, Kristin Lavransdatter is a classic example of what Orwell referred to as a ‘good bad’ book. ‘One can be amused or excited or even moved’, writes Orwell, ‘by a book that one’s intellect simply refuses to take seriously’. Good bad books ‘form pleasant patches in one’s memory where the mind can browse at odd hours, but they hardly pretend to have anything to do with real life’.
Emily writes in her review of The Cross –
After making my way through the 1100+ pages of Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, not only am I puzzled about the decision to award this author the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature, but I am also completely mystified about what seems to be its enduring popular appeal.
Well, Kristin Lavransdatter reminds me a whole lot of another good bad book I’ve been reading recently (in an attempt to catch up with another readalong): Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Beats me how Mitchell ever won the Pulitzer Prize with Gone With the Wind; there are so many cringeworthy things about it. And yet for many readers, that book remains a timeless classic. Though I’m enjoying the ride immensely, I find Mitchell’s writing, with all its descriptions of Scarlett’s ruthless beauty and Rhett McMasculine Butler’s ‘rippling muscles’ laughable. Don’t even get me started on that ripped-bodice cover. Of course, it’s a bit of an unfair parallel, because Mitchell at least had the decency to provide us with fascinating protagonists. Kristin and Erlend are pale, weedy, feeble lovers in comparison to Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Buttler. But it goes with the general jist of what I’m saying.
Rhapsody in Books makes a good point about love and war, which also fits in nicely with my Gone with the Windparallel.
Passion in love and war are always appealing, even if vicariously. It makes us feel more alive. This roller coaster ride of extreme emotional states gives both a piquancy and a poignancy to the evanescence of life, so much more so than the quotidian concerns of daily chores and little errands. With passion, there is a difference to one’s life, there is engagement, there is full immersion.
Judging from the tone of many of your posts, there may be objections to the idea of reading Kristin Lavransdatter as escape fiction, (because what kind of book constitutes as escape fiction, when the escape is worse than reality?) but it also answers a lot of questions. Both Mitchell and Undset appeal to the nostalgic, romantics in us. They beckon at us with glimpses of long-gone worlds, and heartwrenching stories, and beautiful lands, and beautiful people.