Sunday, February 21, 2016

Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset

Despite serious setbacks, Gunnar’s daughter makes her way in the medieval world.

Vigdis is the proud spoiled daughter of Gunnar, a regional Viking chief. One day, handsome equally arrogant Viga-Ljot comes to the court, almost immediately getting into fights with people. He and Gunnar flirt, then he lures her into the woods and tries to seduce her. When she’ll have none of it, he rapes her.  Later, with growing dread, Vigdis and her loyal servant realize she is pregnant and hide in a remote cabin. The baby comes and Vigdis exposes the child. She thinks. The years pass and both Vigdis and Viga-Ljot painfully grow wiser, but still her hatred of him leads to tragedy.

Vigdis does not forgive. Undset uses deceptively simple storytelling and plain prose that is highly effective in creating a mood and an alien world. This is not the typical run of the mill romantic historical fiction – it’s about something other than boy meets girl. It’s about, Who am I? Am I tough enough for this tough world? And even though the novel paints a picture of medieval society, those questions are asked by people of every time. The encroachment of Christianity is presented very realistically, at first these foreign beliefs barely impinge on Vigdis’s consciousness, but Christian tenets start to inform a lot of the other characters’ decision making. It’s also about how revenge doesn’t actually make you feel any better.

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