Tuesday, June 11, 2019

195. Gosta Berling's Saga

Gosta Berling's Saga
Selma Lagerlof
1891
Around 450 pages












It is very exciting for me to see a female writer on the List, especially in this century, as they are few and far between. Still, I have always struggled with the Swedish writers on this List and unfortunately, Selma is no exception.

It's hard to summarize the plot of this novel, as it is more a collection of strange events than a cohesive narrative. At the center of most (but by no means all) of these adventures is Gosta Berling, a defrocked minister (fun drinking game idea: take a shot everytime someone refers to Gosta as "defrocked") who is ousted from the church for drinking so much. He lies in the snowdrift waiting to die (a common strategy for the characters in this story), but is saved by the Mistress of Ekeby. She lets him become one of her pensioners in her manor. Some weird shit goes down.

What an odd story. One moment our characters are dealing with smallpox and abusive fathers; the next moment a wood nymph is walking around town with her tail between her legs. Lagerof has a unique voice; it is remarkably old-fashioned, flowery, and at times very amusing. There is a great passage at the beginning of the story where she describes an argument between the hills and the plains over how the landscape should look.

And truthfully, the beginnings of the chapters were my favorite parts. Her style really shone in introductions, but I wasn't entirely interested in any of the weird plots she was recounting. There was just too much of a disconnect for me to empathize with any of the characters, as I had a hard time understanding the "rules" of the world she was creating. Maybe the point was that they weren't any rules, but the confusion of what was going on definitely hindered my enjoyment.

Still, the novel isn't short and Selma's style can begin to wear after a bit (there is only so many times that you can read a plea to Eros before it gets a tad old). Unfortunately, it is still the best Swedish novel I have read, and thus gets three stars.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

In 1924, the novel was adapted as a silent film, starring the then unknown Greta Garbo.

Selma Lagerlof is the first female writer to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

UP NEXT: New Grub Street by George Gissing. Five more until the big 200!

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