Posted by: Sally Ingraham | December 27, 2009

Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross

Kristin Lavransdatterby Sigrid Undset
Translated by Tiina Nunnally

I got sick on Christmas Day, which was a bummer since I was at my parent’s house for a rare and brief visit. Instead of going for numerous beach walks and drinking copious amounts of coffee at the cafe that two of my sisters work at, I was forced to stay in bed. The upside of this is obvious – I got some reading done. In an ill haze I blundered through the last 224 pages of Kristin Lavransdatter, and after tossing the tome aside I mysteriously felt significantly better!

I think that I can safely say that I liked part three – The Cross – a great deal more than part two, and perhaps even marginally more than part one. The writing didn’t improve, and Kristin didn’t become more likable with time, but I was kept very slightly more entertained. While Kristin continued to battle Erland and resent his haphazard approach to life, she at least didn’t shed as many tears. She finally finished nursing her sons and they grew up into handsome and somewhat interesting characters. Unfortunately, Undset replaced the frequent fits of crying with gratuitous descriptions of the boys physical attributes… Simon passed away sooner than I was expecting (sad…), and a great deal of episodic drama ensued. This kept the pages turning, but doesn’t say much for the quality of the writing. (After all, I had trouble putting Twilight down too, in spite of the horrendous writing…but let’s not go there!) I cried a bit when Erland died, but it doesn’t take much to get me to well up. Kristin’s reaction to her eldest son’s late arrival at the death bed dried those tears right up, however! Despicable. I thought the tale of Kristin’s son Gaute’s conquest of his bride was hilarious, and the final scenes dealing with the Black Death victims grossed me out.

This sporadic list of reactions stems from my inability to really form any concrete thoughts about the book. As a whole I generally disliked it, but I’m not sorry I read it. The more I think about it the more it amuses me – or to put it more accurately, the reading experience was amusing. Getting to know Kristin was like getting to know someone who you think of as a friend, even a fun and interesting friend at first, but one who quickly envelopes your life with their own drama, sucking you into it until you’re nearly suffocated, and certainly frustrated. The type of friend who, while you’re living in the same town you can’t seem to avoid, but who you’ll forget as soon as you are able to get away. The type of friend who will become a funny story later – Remember that girl, what was her name? Kristin? Wow. She was ca-razy! I can imagine myself discussing her over a few beers with my saner girlfriends, smiling ruefully, shaking my head.

I suppose that is what has made this read-along so much fun – we are all in a support group together, gathered in a safe place where we can discuss Kristin behind her back, form battle plans, learn how to walk away from the relationship intact! It’s been a wild ride, and I entertained feelings of nausea at some points, screamed, threw my hands in the air. Now that I’ve escaped her clutches, though, and my feet are back on the ground (and thankfully in my own century!!) I can’t help but feel that it was worth it, in an odd twisted way. I am extremely satisfied that I finished the book!

Thanks again to Emily and Richard for hosting this group read. It’s been an adventure!

Previously: The Wife, and The Wreath.


  1. “After tossing the tome aside I mysteriously felt significantly better!” My thoughts exactly. In fact, I look forward to reading the intro to KL sometime this week and then sending this turkey to my dad for him to try and ditch on e-Bay. P.S. My vote for most unintentionally funny moment: Kristin slaps her maid Frida for being an old nag who lusts after young men and then gives her a hard time for “bleeding into the dough” (p. 1034). Priceless!

  2. I love your last paragraph – I feel exactly the same way!

  3. Sarah, I laughed out loud at your characterization of Kristin as that crazy girl one remembers later with a shake of the head. So true! Thanks for sticking with this monster; hopefully future readalongs will extend the camaraderie while losing the lackluster writing.

  4. Richard – Hahaha. Yes! That part was definitely funny. I think I went bug-eyed for a moment thinking about how hard Kristin had to have hit Frida, but her comment about the blood in the dough made the whole episode, as you say, priceless!

    Jill – Can’t wait to read your review – you’ve got so much of the background story researched! I, in my laziness, truly appreciate it. 🙂

    Emily – I have very high hopes for our future group reads! Glad we’re all getting a last laugh out of Kristin. 🙂

  5. Lol! I just commented over at Emily’s blog how someday we’ll just look back at Kristin and laugh about the whole thing! 😀

  6. Claire – I saw that, and it made me giggle! 😀

  7. I think you summed it up perfectly with “As a whole I generally disliked it, but I’m not sorry I read it.” Books like this are meant for group reads! It’s kind of similar to the experience of watching bad horror movies with a large group of friends. 😀 And I’m really amused by the fact that we were all scratching our heads by the end wondering how Undset ended up with the Nobel Prize for this puppy.

  8. softdrink – I agree, and your ‘bad horror movie’ scenario is perfect. 🙂

  9. I would have to agree with much of what you say. For me, the book improved greatly after Erlend’s death, although, yeah, the black plague stuff–eww. Fitting way for her to die, though. 🙂

  10. Amy – I actually didn’t think she was going to die of the plague. I’d forgotten that she was definitely going to die, so I kind of thought that everyone she knew would pass away and she’d be left alone! 🙂

  11. LOL, yes, Kristin as an annoying friend is something I mentioned when we were reading the second book. I probably would have felt less that way if I hadn’t read all three books so closely together!

    It was good going through this read-along together; those of us who finished should have special KL medals made up :-).

  12. Valerie – I remember you saying that – it stuck with me. I agree about the medals!

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