Group Read, June 2015: Independent People
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... or "ling"?
... or "norn"?
How many others here have been to Iceland?
"Ling" was a common word for heather in Scotland, but I've never heard of "bigging" before even though my dictionary tells me it is used in Scotland for "building".
Just started the book and finding it a little slow to get in to, but I'm hopeful of getting slowly immersed.
One chapter totally caught me by surprise despite the fairly slow pace up to that point, so hang in there! If you're not used to Scandinavian literature and the pace it (and life!) moves at then you might just have to let yourself go with the flow.
Besides the great setting and interesting happenings, I'm loving the small insights into humanity that Laxness works in (without bashing you over the head with philosophical thoughts).
I'm just coming up to halfway and Volume 2. I do feel that the philosophy is something we're constantly reminded of however... the way it's shoehorned into the story and the dialogue doesn't seem too subtle in places which is a real contrast with the rest of the prose I feel.
annamorphic, I also thought that first chapter was beautiful... a really creative way to segue into the next section. What until you see what happens to these siblings!
>15 arukiyomi: I also didn't know about the war's impact. I actually wasn't sure of the time period at all until WWI came up. That really grounded the book for me and gave it some wider context.
The following topics may contain spoilers for those who haven't finished, so feel free to skip this part until you've finished, but I have a few things I'd like to write down while I'm really thinking about them.
1) I found the advent of cooperative societies to be interesting in contrast to the severe independence of Bjartur. I kept wondering how this philosophy was going to fit with the Icelandic independence that Bjartur represented, admittedly to an excess. I guess the work ethic of the people is what would make a cooperative system work in the first place? Also, I suppose the harsh elements made this a necessity. I'd be happy to hear any insight into this topic. What sort of political system does Iceland have today? I also noticed in a quick google search that Iceland became independent in 1918, so I can imagine this topic had great significance for the people of Iceland when this was published in the 1930s.
2) I loved the relationship between Bjartur and Asta. I thought it was interesting that they were both stubbornly independent in their own way but ended up really needing each other and loving each other. I thought that it was so humanizing for Bjartur's character for him to love the child best that was not even his.
3) What did you think of the supernatural element, especially in terms of the sheep that kept getting killed and maimed? Did you need to have an alternative "real" explanation in mind, or did it fit with the story and setting to just believe that there was a devil or spirit that interfered in their lives?
4) I was also interested in the mixing of folklore and superstition vs. Christianity. I was surprised when I figured out the time period because of just how much misinformation there still was about Christianity. That alone made me feel like I was reading Kristin Lavransdatter or The Long Ships, i.e. the beginning felt like it had almost a medieval setting.
This book is written like poetry in many places, just amazingly beautiful, and yet the story is often very hard for me to read.
Just finished this off this evening. For me, Bjartur is, unfortunately, a flawed character. He goes on and on about being independent and makes things incredibly hard for those around him as well as for himself in his pursuit of this ideal. However, later on in the novel, he does something which makes him completely dependent on others and there seems no real rationale for him to do so.
For fear of spoilers, I'll not say what it is at the moment, but it seemed weird to me that Laxness would allow such a wonderfully crafted character to do such a thing.
Growth of the Soil remains for me the best Scandinavian novel I've read, followed by Kristin Lavransdatter. Bjartur's story will be on the podium at third. A full review on my website soon in good time.
If there is a Scandinavian novel that's actually better than Kristin Lavransdatter, the book that's constantly on my mind as a comparison as I read Independent People, then I really have to read it before I die. Maybe in a few months, after I've recovered from the current read, I will nominate Growth of the Soil for a group read.
>17 japaul22: I assumed it was Helgi who was killing the sheep given his involvement in the sightings of the monster in the barn and his disappearance as soon as the legal investigation was announced. Bjartur's subsequent indifference to his fate implied he had the same suspicions.
>19 arukiyomi: I agree this seemed out of character. We're all entitled to one or two brainstorms in our life, but Bjartur's stubbornness to this point made any change of attitude unlikely. Maybe it was his reaction to all that he'd lost for no gain to that point, but there didn't seem to be any indication of a change of heart until the closing pages.
I thought this was a flawed book, with real greatness at its heart but a slow beginning and a very weak ending.
I, too, assumed that the sheep incident was done by Helgi. The rest of the book was too down-to-earth for me to accept this one, bizarre, incident as "supernatural".
I am wondering if Christianity was really so misunderstood, or was it a particular problem of this one family, living in the dark ages -- never going to church or receiving any kind of formal education, so the religious teachings are filtered through the faint memories of a doddering old woman.
>18 annamorphic: I was also frustrated by Bjartur's extreme philosophy, never doing anything but what was good for the sheep and wished that the camper could have taught the children some of the other basic homestead skills! Nonni and the Grandmother could have been fishing or churning butter or keeping a kitchen garden of vegetables or picking/preserving berries instead of spending hours and hours knitting.
>19 arukiyomi: Are you referring to the house as the unrealistic action of Bjartur? I am not so sure it was out of character -- it was part of his dream of being an independent man that could, through hard work and perseverance, make his farm successful. After all, he did take out a loan to buy the land in the first place.
He was just too unworldly to understand that building a house takes 150% of the time and money that you expect it will take. And he also had awful timing -- borrowing at the peak, just before the bottom fell out of the market. (And his friend that was trying to persuade him to take the longer mortgage through a different bank was also ruined, so it's not as if Bjartur's case was unique).