Sunday, January 31, 2010

Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath

Kristin Lavransdatter I: The Wreath is set in Medieval Norway. Although I didn't know much about life in Norway in the early 14th century, I soon felt fascinated by this period. Undset deftly weaves in facts about life in this era when Christianity had become widespread, yet old pagan ways had not completely died out. It was a transition time when some priests still married and those who didn't, but had children (yep, plural) with their housekeeper were forgiven by the parishioners who figured "Yeah, I could see how he'd get lonely." It wasn't a completely tolerant time, but no Scarlet A's were handed out.

The story follows Kristin, daughter (i.e. datter as the suffix of her surname) of Lavran, from childhood when she's showered with fatherly love and given lots of freedom to her young adulthood when she is betrothed to a man she respects but doesn't love and falls for dashing Erlend, a handsome, callow rake. While many novels deal with such situations, Undset takes readers down unexpected paths in this first book of a trilogy.

I read this book for my online book club, and am so glad our leader chose it. I had never heard of Undset, though she won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The book reads fast. The descriptions are vivid and readers get such perceptive insights into all the major characters, whom one seem truly of their period rather than moderns placed back in time. I will get the next book in the series: Kristin Lavransdatter II: The Wife (Penguin Classics)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Morality for Beautiful Girls

Alexander McCall Smith's Morality for Beautiful Girls seemed like exotic African cotton candy. It's sweet and charming, but when all's said and done there's more air that substance. It's entertaining and devoid of a real detective story or complex characters.