by Isak Dinesen
A book I\’ve had to read in pieces, it\’s kinda slow going. These short stories are thoughtful, romantic in the old sense of the word, and very introspective. I had to read them slowly because the style is very different from modern narrative prose- a lot about each character\’s inner thoughts and perceptions of the world and their past relationships to other people and their half-formed dreams of the future and so on- there is very little conversation and nothing much seems to happen until you get to the end when there is a often a sudden inexplicable connection to something else, which makes you sit up and take notice. The endings can be very odd, and often leave the reader with more questions- I frequently had a wait, what? type of response.
There is a story about an adopted child who naturally assumes himself to be from a grand family, even though he was raised in squalor, and the gracious airs he puts on affects everyone around him. There is a story about a pastor\’s daughter who helps her orphaned cousin (adopted into the household) fulfill his wish to run away to sea- meeting their disaster together. A young sailor rescues a falcon that tangled itself in the rigging, and later his compassionate act is repaid in a strange manner, when he runs afoul of some drunken men while trying to court a young girl in a town their ship stops at. A king muses on his past actions and friendships, rides down to the sea to speak to a hermit who used to be in his service, and finds something unexpected when a fish is presented to him for a meal. A young man falls in love with a beautiful lady at a resort (such establishments were called \”the watering place\” in these stories, which sounded quaint) only to find out all his assumptions about her position in life were wrong. And so on.
It\’s hard to describe these stories. They feel very old-fashioned, most are set in a time period well before Dinesen\’s own day, and I believe she meant to infuse them with an archaic feeling. They are often solemn. The viewpoints in them sometimes baffled me- not just the stern religious feeling and ideas about God, but also the rather stereotypical notion that poor people felt content with their lot in life and were simple, dull folk and that on the other hand folk born into high station felt an inherent nobility- even if they had not been raised in a grand household. Hm.
I\’m not sure if I can say I enjoyed these stories, but they certainly made me think and the mood in them is very tangible, like a dark landscape that presses on you. Many of them have a fantastic element just a bit removed from normalcy, which is more unsettling and surprising than delightful or wondrous. I feel like I ought to read them all over again just to puzzle out the characters\’ separate motives and try to understand what was the point.
In case you are unaware, Isak Dinesen is the author\’s pen name. She is Karen Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa. Which was a much easier read and has long one of my favorites, by the way.
Rating: 3/5 313 pages, 1942