The second volume in Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, translated from Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally finds Kristin newly married and pregnant, learning to adjust to her new home at Husaby. Although she finally has the marriage she longed for for years, she is miserable, consumed with guilt over her actions and fear that her coming son will suffer for her sins.
Yet, as it turns out, Erland is not as bad a husband as I had feared, nor is their early marriage an unmitigated disaster. He’s not a good manager, leaving much of the work to Kristin as he goes off to fight in various conflicts, and he’s not particularly attentive to the many sons that Kristin bears. But, with a few exceptions, he’s also not overtly cruel. He’s just … focused on his own stuff, which makes him not a great husband, but not an awful one, especially given the time. And, as the years pass, he’s even able to make some peace with Kristin’s father, Lavrans.
Still, even if Erland were a perfect spouse, Kristin’s guilt would probably not go away easily. She confesses and does penance and tries to get past it, but whenever anything goes wrong, she comes right back to the early years of their relationship. Matters become more complicated as her family becomes more closely connected with Simon, her previous betrothed.
One of the things I admired about this book was that Unset gives each character a vivid inner life. Even the characters who appear briefly feel like complex people, with ideas of their own. Although much of the book focuses on Kristin’s inner journey, we spend enough time inside the minds of other characters to understand their point of view. None of the characters are wholly good, but they have comprehensible reasons for their actions.
The book is at its best when it deals with daily life and with characters’ relationships. The depiction of Kristin’s first labor is particularly memorable. There are some political subplots that I found hard to follow and, until late in the book, too far from the book’s emotional core to be worth sorting out in detail. But, other than that, I was glad to spend time in this world, as painful as it sometimes was.