The Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset, who won of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928 ("principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages") is now available unabridged at Audible for the first time!
As a young girl in 14th-century Norway, Kristin is deeply devoted to her father, Lavrans, a kind and courageous man. But when as a student in a convent school she meets the charming and impetuous Erlend Nikulaussøn, she defies her parents in pursuit of her own desires. Her saga continues through her marriage to Erlend, their tumultuous life together raising seven sons as Erlend seeks to strengthen his political influence, and finally their estrangement as the world around them tumbles into uncertainty.
For the first time, all three Kristin Lavransdatter novels, The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross, are available in an accessible, modern, single-volume performance. Audible recorded the prize-winning translation by Tiina Nunnally, performed by Erin Bennett. Bennett does more than demystify the Norwegian names; more importantly she becomes Kristin's timeless voice, which the listener follows from cradle to grave. Despite - or perhaps because of - the rich detail about medieval Scandinavian morality and customs, there's no piece of Kristin's fictional life in the 14th century - her struggle to be her best self at every age - that doesn't resonate with contemporary women's struggles to "have it all".
If you are a nerdy stickler for historical accuracy, or if you are looking for a totally absorbing performance dominated by a single character's point of view, or if you enjoy the work of empyrean women authors - especially Hilary Mantel, Charlotte Brontë, and Elena Ferrante - here's your next great listen!
"[Sigrid Undset] should be the next Elena Ferrante...whose huge commercial success suggests there is a market for series in translation about fierce, complicated women navigating their culturally conservative European milieu.... If HBO is looking for its next miniseries, it should give Kristin Lavransdatter the proper adaptation it deserves. Rereading the trilogy this fall, I kept thinking of Olive Kitteridge, another powerful novel about a prickly mother turned into a worthy HBO miniseries. This trilogy includes illicit sex, affairs, a church fire, an attempted rape, ocean voyages, rebellious virgins cooped up in a convent, predatory priests, an attempted human sacrifice, floods, fights, murders, violent suicide, a gay king, drunken revelry, the Bubonic Plague, deathbed confessions, and sex that makes its heroine ache 'with astonishment - that this was the iniquity that all the songs were about.' " (Ruth Graham, Slate)
"[My favorite fictional hero or heroine is] probably Sigrid Undset's strong-willed, sensual, self-destructive and ultimately rock-solid Kristin Lavransdatter.... Kristin's eponymous trilogy bears many rereadings. Right away one somehow identifies with this daughter of medieval Norway; soon one compassionates her in her sufferings.... For all her faults [she] inspires love in many around her, including this reader. Her faith and loyalty make her quite beautiful to me. Like Murasaki and Dos Passos, Undset tells the story of a whole life." (William T. Vollman, The New York Times Book Review)
"We consider it the best book our judges have ever selected and it has been better received by our subscribers than any other book." (Book-of-the-Month Club)
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What an unforgettable novel! It transports the listener to fascinating medieval Norway, but the characters, especially Kristin herself, feel as fresh and vivid as anyone you would meet in your own life. Kristin's long and complex journey of self-discovery moved me in a very personal way - the narration is perfect. Highly recommended!
A formerly famous classic few have heard of
I work at Audible as an Audible Editor, so, yes! I would recommend this book to many, many Audible listener friends. In all seriousness, I loved this book for years, and recommended it personally many, many times in print before I had a chance to amplify it in audio.
MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Elena Ferrante -- serious, award-winning fiction in translation from a major literary talent.WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel -- deep dive into a historical setting in order to illuminate the point of view of a single, incandescent main character. JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte (as read by Thandie Newton) -- a novel (technically a bildungsroman) by a brilliant woman author, about the moral formation of a female character, loved by generations of readers.
Erin Bennett has a straightforward performance style that isn't overly dramatic; hers is a voice I could listen to for 45 hours with great enjoyment. She manages to convey the vicissitudes of Kristin's experience and all of the varied characters subtly but distinctively.. Also, she is spot on with the Norwegian proper names! Erin, if you're reading this: thank you! (I'd love to read your review of the audiobook!)
No, but that's just not the kind of book it is. (It's three novels in one audiobook, after all!) I see this audiobook as a meaty story that will reward listeners' time commitment with a rich experience.
Now I really want to go to Lillehammer!
- Christina -- Audible