Olav Audunssøn and Ingunn Steinfinnsdatter were betrothed as children and raised together as foster children. They are madly in love with each other, though Ingunn was raped by another man while Olav was absent. A child came from that event, Eirik, which Ingunn gave to a foster family. But Olav sees the depression Ingunn suffers from and brings Eirik back to Ingunn and adopts the boy as his own child.
Now they are returning to Olav’s ancestral home and Olav looks forward to settling in and putting the past behind them. Here, no one knows about the shameful, unwanted pregnancy or Eirik’s actual parentage. But a moment from the past haunts Olav – something he hasn’t even confessed to his priest.
Olav is the last of his family line and he and Ingunn would like to have children of their own, but Ingunn suffers from a series of miscarriages and stillbirths. Olav is convinced it is punishment for his secret.
Ingunn does finally deliver a child from their union – a girl, Cecilia. But Ingunn doesn’t recover after child birth, instead she grows sicker and bedridden,, but lives in her weakened, sick state, for years. With his wife bedridden, Olav finds himself desiring and taking one of his servants, but he has to send her away when she begins to show that she’s carrying his child. Ingunn, no fool, knows what is happening and holds no grudge, apologizing for hanging on so long and, on her death bed, insists on meeting the infant.
Olav’s world, three children from three different circumstances, is conflicted.
This is the second book in the Olav Audunssøn four-book series. As with the first book, I really felt comfortable in this fourteenth century world. Author Sigrid Undset (and translator Tiina Nunnally) captures the nature of a kind-hearted man who truly loves and is devoted to his wife (despite some later actions) and is trying to do his best in a world that is moving beyond him in some ways, and pulling him backward to a world of different morals.
This isn’t an action-oriented novel and it isn’t a historical fiction romance. This is great human interest drama set during a time of change for Norway. The themes of fidelity and commitment and community expectations is still as timely today as when this was written (in the 1920’s) and for the period in which this takes place. Olav seems almost unusual in his commitment to Ingunn and her rape-produced child. And his response to the man who raped her is more than relevant given the news as write this … actor Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on live television for what Smith thought was an insult to his wife.
So Olav seems almost too good to be true, then he he has his own affair while his wife is an invalid. While Ingunn forgives him and almost seems to encourage him to follow his manly urges. But as readers, we’re torn … ‘he’s been so good, so faithful, how could he? ‘ and ‘totally acceptable in the circumstances, especially if his wife is okay with it’.
I am really caught up in this high middle ages drama and I look forward to the next two books.
Looking for a good book? Olav Audunssøn: II, Providence by Sigrid Undset and well translated by Tiina Nunally, is great period fiction and shows, once again, that humans haven’t changed all that much over the centuries – even our societal mores have held relatively stagnant.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Olav Audunssøn: II, Providence
author: Sigrid Undset
translator: Tiina Nunally
series: Olav Audunssøn: II
publisher: Univ of Minnesota Press
paperback, 280 pages