Note: This review is of the third and final section of Kristin Lavransdatter.
To me, the final section of Kristin Lavransdatter is probably the most disjointed in terms of the variety of events that occur and the overall flow of the story being told; but it's also one of the most interesting. For starters, there's a lot that happens. Kristin and her family are now working the farm at Jorungaard, and her sons are starting to grow up. Perhaps more significantly, Kristin and Erlend are starting to grow apart somewhat. Erlend has become all too aware of his failings as a husband and a father, a problem that is only further exacerbated by the fact that he simply is not a farmer and has no skill in farming. Kristin, on the other hand, grew up at Jorundgaard and knows exactly what is required to run a successful farm. Perhaps without intending it, she belittles Erlend for his lack of skill and for his inability to adapt to the family's new situation.
Unfortunately, things do not improve between them, and in one extremely misguided moment Kristin tells Erlend that he is not fit to take her father's place as head of the farm. Erlend seems to have had about all he can take and promptly heads off to the one small estate left to the family to live alone. After some time, Kristin finally swallows her pride and goes to see Erlend, the result of which visit is an eighth son. This is probably one of my least favorite moments in the story. Kristin has been pregnant so often by this point that after her seventh son is born, she begins to yearn for the feeling of a child growing within her. After her visit to Erlend, she seems far more excited about the fact that she will have another baby than she is about the improved relationship with her husband. So obsessed does she become about this child that she ignores Erlend's request for her to stay with him and returns to Jorundgaard under the assumption that Erlend will have to return now that she is pregnant again. Erlend does not. And Kristin has the baby and subsequently loses the baby a few months later. Her husband still does not return, although it's difficult to fault him entirely since both seem to be suffering from a severe case of miscommunication: Erlend believes that Kristin isn't interested in staying with him, and Kristin believes that Erlend should be obligated to return to Jorundgaard. At last, Erlend is forced to return when Kristin is accused of infidelity (since by all appearances, she got pregnant when her husband wasn't around). Erlend returns just in time to insist on Kristin's honor but then is tragically wounded in a fight and dies shortly after. It all happens rather quickly.
From this point on, the story seems to wander a bit as Kristin tries to find her place as a widow. Her two older sons decide to join a monastery (the younger of the two is more or less blind and unsuitable for life as a warrior or even as a husband in that society, and his elder brother decides to stay by his side). The third son takes over the farm and gets married a few years later. His wife is a hard-working woman, eager to make the farm profitable, and Kristin decides that she is unwilling to live in a home that is really no longer hers. She ultimately decides to leave Jorundgaard and join a convent near that of her two sons. While in the convent, the Black Plague strikes Norway, and Kristin commits herself to nursing the ill. Ultimately (and to be honest, not surprisingly) she becomes ill herself, and the book closes with her death. The end of a long and very complicated life.
As far as an overall recommendation, I have to say that I liked the book, and I do recommend it as a whole. But I should point out that by the time I reached the end of it I realized that I didn't like Kristin. She's a difficult character in many ways. While she was fresh and fascinating in her youth, she became pigheaded and contrary in her adulthood -- very unfortunate qualities that, while realistic, can make for a character who is slow to change or to recognize the need for personal improvement. So, as a word of warning, at the end of the day you are reading Kristin Lavransdatter for the quality of the book itself: great writing, unique characters, extremely complex story development. To me, at least, you are not reading it because you're going to like Kristin Lavransdatter the character. And that may or may not be a good thing.
***The image at the top is (from what I could find) of a statue of Kristin Lavransdatter that was erected in Norway in honor of the character and of Undset's immense achievement in writing the book. Undset received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928 for Kristin Lavransdatter.