Review: Marta Oulie by Sigrid Undset

Marta Oulie is a novel I chose on Netgalley and was provided to me courtesy of the publisher.  This is an English version of the 1907 Norwegian novel by Nobel Prize winning author Sigrid Undset.

“I have been unfaithful to my husband.” Marta Oulie’s opening line scandalized Norwegian readers in 1907. And yet, Sigrid Undset had a gift for depicting modern women “sympathetically but with merciless truthfulness,” as the Swedish Academy Marta Oulie: A Novel of Betrayalnoted in awarding her the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. At the time she was one of the youngest recipients and only the third woman so honored. It was Undset’s honest story of a young woman’s love life—“the immoral kind,” as she herself bluntly put it—that made her first novel an instant sensation in Norway.  Marta Oulie, written in the form of a diary, intimately documents the inner life of a young woman disappointed and constrained by the conventions of marriage as she longs for an all-consuming passion. Set in Kristiania (now Oslo) at the beginning of the twentieth century, Undset’s book is an incomparable psychological portrait of a woman whose destiny is defined by the changing mores of her day—as she descends, inevitably, into an ever-darker reckoning. Remarkably, though Undset’s other works have attracted generations of readers, Marta Oulie has never before appeared in English translation. Tiina Nunnally, whose award-winning translation of Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter captured the author’s beautifully clear style, conveys the voice of Marta Oulie with all the stark poignancy of the original Norwegian.  (read more on GoodReads)

 I was intrigued by this novel although I feared that it would come across as dated because it was written in 1907.  However, it felt timeless.  The writing was wonderful and simple.  I think that’s the main feeling that I got from this novel – that it is a timeless short story about a woman’s experience in life and love that is felt by woman even today, simply written because the message was so real that it needed no embellishments.

I enjoyed it, I read it easily and quickly.  I connected with some of the things she talked about concerning people.  They say in the blurb that the opening line is the great line of this book.  But it is one of a few great lines in my opinion.  I found the ending lines as captivating as the opening line.  I won’t share it here because it has an impact on you after having read the whole story.  But one line I’ll share here that won’t spoil anything is “Life is about people.”  It may not sound like much but in the context it made me stop and think a bit about the real truth in that.  I also enjoyed the setting and the details Undset gives about life in Norway and I was pleased that that too was not at all dated.  I have a Swedish friend who described her childhood picking berries in the forest very similarly.  It was a lovely read. I recommend this book to all those intrigued by it.


lilolia review rating 4 stars great



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