By Megan Willome
It took me about six weeks to get through Kristin Lavransdatter — the first time. But as soon as I finished, I started over. That was in 2019, and so far, I have not stopped re-reading it. I don’t ever plan to stop.
Yes, I do read other books, but part of each weekend is turned over to Kristin. I listen to the audiobook (so I’ll know how to pronounce all the Norwegian names) and read the giant tome, which is full of pencil scratches and bookmarks. And then I write poems. I can’t stop. I don’t ever want to.
Kristin is not the kind of book I expected to love. I don’t like long books, and Kristin is over 1,100 pages. I don’t like romance, and Kristin has romance. I’m not into historical books, and Kristin takes place in the 14th century.
Two things keep me coming back. Two things, and a third.
First, it’s a book by a woman, about a woman. I have been an exuberant girl and a lovesick teenager and an insecure wife and a terrible mother, and I’ve tried to be a person of faith. I have been wrong about everyone and everything. Of all the female characters I have loved, Kristin comes closest to being like me — deeply flawed, deeply loved.
Second, the introduction says one of the book’s themes is “the stubborn power of magic — the bewitching allure of pagan practices in a society that had officially but not wholeheartedly embraced Christianity.” I cannot get enough of this story’s interplay between the pagan and the Christian. The casual allusions to Norse mythology and outright superstition (some so small they take up half a sentence) live alongside a deeply Catholic worldview. I want to live in a world where there are elf maidens and pilgrimages, monks and witchcraft. Perhaps I already do and have failed to recognize it.
But mostly, I want to journey alongside Kristin. Her faults are legion. But her faults are what keep me reading. In the final chapter Kristin does something extraordinary, something a perfect and innocent maiden living a conventional life might never dream to do. Like Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, Kristin’s faults enable to her fulfill her destiny. And Nobel Prize-winning author Sigrid Undset is our Mrs Whatsit, giving us a heroine whose flaws come in very handy, even though Norway is a long, long way from Camazotz.