Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Gösta Berlings Saga by Selma Lagerlöf (4/5) [re-read]

First published: 1891
Page count: 437

says: The hero, Gösta Berling, is a deposed minister, who has been saved by the Mistress of Ekeby from freezing to death and thereupon becomes one of her pensioners in the manor at Ekeby. As the pensioners finally get power in their own hands, they manage the property as they themselves see fit, and their lives are filled with many wild adventures, Gösta Berling is the leading spirit, the poet, the charming personality among a band of revelers. But before the story ends, Gösta Berling is redeemed, and even the old Mistress of Ekeby is permitted to come to her old home to die.

I say: I read this in Swedish for uni, which was great because the version I had read of this in my teens wasn’t the full version. It has been translated into English a few times and is in the public domain, so one should be able to find it somewhere for free (Project Gutenberg doesn’t have it, and at the time of writing Manybooks.net is acting weird and I can’t see).

The reason I’m writing the review in English is because I think this is so good I hope non-Swedish speakers pick it up. Of course, my comments on language may not be accurate for the translations, but whatever.

As much as I loved the language, and it was beautiful, lyrical and oftentimes poetic, Lagerlöf does have a tendency to overuse pathetic fallacies – which I don’t really mind, but they were everywhere. Lagerlöf’s prose is in the style of an old lady telling the story of a village to her grandchildren, and sometimes even addresses the reader with little commentaries on the plot and the characters. Usually I get annoyed with the overly familiar narrator, but Lagerlöf really makes it work.
Because there are so many characters in this novel, and because their lives entwine in such complex ways, it becomes difficult for me to properly retell what happens. Apart from Gösta Berling leaving his parish in fear of being publicly shamed and winds up at Ekeby where he and the other pensioners (a ragtag of old men who pretty much spend their days drinking, eating and partying) go about causing all sorts of mischief, everything else that happens gives a glimpse into village life in Sweden the end of the 18th century.

That is what made me love this; the simple, and all the same, complicated lives that are depicted.
Lagerlöf is one of Sweden’s greatest writers, and the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature, and although I’ve grown up hearing about her brilliance it’s nice to be able to re-read her works and form a personal opinion of them. I have more of her works on my shelves and hope to make it through her entire catalogue at some point.

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