Snake Pit

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: The Snake Pit. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.

Reason read: to continue the series started in October with The Axe.

In this installment of the Master of Hestviken series readers get to know Olav Audunsson’s past as he has returned home to Hestviken; most importantly, how his mother died when Olav was only a month old, which explains how he came to live with Ingunn’s family. Speaking of Ingunn, when we left her in The Axe she had given her illegitimate child (Eirik) away to be fostered and went with Olav to his family home. Happily ever after? Not really. Olav is tortured by the fact he cannot seek absolution for the slaying of Ingunn’s baby daddy. No one can make even the connection between Teit and Ingunn because it was Teit who disgraced Ingunn. Meanwhile, Ingunn as of late is either pregnant, miscarrying, or otherwise deathly ill. In fact, for a good portion of The Snake Pit Ingunn is very sick. Towards the end of the book after the successful birth of her daughter Cecilia (finally!) she lies bedridden for over three years, crippled by some mysterious paralysis. Yet, through it all, despite it all, deep down Olav still loves her.

As an aside, one has to forgive Undset’s language. In this current culture struggling with equality and inclusion, the reader must stoically ignore the misogynistic behavior and attitude of Olav towards his wife, the one he anticipates “will be in his power” because she is “weak.” Quite a bit of gender bashing occurs.

Author fact: Undset also published a diary called Return to the Future (also on my Challenge list).

Book trivia: Snake Pit is the shortest installment of the Master of Hestviken series. Additionally, characters from Undset’s other series make a small appearance at the end of Snake Pit. Lavransdatter’s father helps Olav get home to his wife.

Nancy said: Pearl said Snake Pit was a masterpiece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).



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