Kristin Lavransdatter (1920-22): Sigrid Undset


This is not the longest book I’ve ever read, though it comes close – trailing just behind World Without End and War and Peace, and probably The Lord of the Rings too, if we count that as a single book – but it certainly feels like the longest. I started it back in October, and since then it’s been flowing quietly along beneath the other books I’ve been reading like some great leviathan. Now and then I’ve put it aside for a bit, but its shadow has always been there, flickering at the corner of my eye. Finishing it feels like a major accomplishment. If I had a spare bottle of champagne, I’d be tempted to open it.

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The Visit of the Royal Physician (1999): Per Olov Enquist


Per Olov Enquist’s novel was a great success in his native Sweden, where it won the 1999 August Prize, and its critical acclaim continued with this English translation by Tiina Nunnally, which won the 2003 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. It was also one of the sources of inspiration for the very good 2012 Danish film A Royal Affair, which I enjoyed immensely. Enquist’s novel shares much of its atmosphere with the film. It is a stark, claustrophobic and disturbing account of the ménage à trois which existed at the Danish court from 1769 until 1772, between the mad King Christian VII, his English wife Caroline Mathilde (younger sister of George III) and the German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee, whose appointment as Royal Physician offers him all manner of opportunities.

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