Lucia Tang on 'Kristin Lavransdatter' and feeling herself again during the pandemic

It’s always cool to get a non-spam account following you on Twitter out of the blue but it’s especially nice when it’s a really good writer. That person was Lucia Tang who “tweets, often about medieval mystics and women’s artistic gymnastics” and I read one of her essays today, entitled “The Pandemic Made Me Feel Removed from My Body—This Book Put Me Back“.

My knowledge of medieval times is sketchy at best, so Medieval Norway wouldn’t be my specialist subject on Mastermind. But Lucia’s account of Kristin Lavransdatter, a trilogy of novels by Sigrid Undset, and feeling like herself again through reading, is vibrant and poignant. Here’s a short excerpt:

By the time I started reading Kristin Lavransdatter, the fearful, high-wire intensity of the move had faded to a dull memory. My adrenalinated gratitude at pulling it off safely had calcified too. What remained was a sense of roteness, as if the nerves had been abstracted out of me. I wasn’t scared anymore, or sad, or anything—I was a wind-up toy. I tried to take care of myself, drinking eight glasses of water a day and marking each of them in an app. I cycled between a series of easy Instant Pot stews and ate without tasting them. Three days a week, I made time to exercise, dancing along to ballet barre videos on YouTube without feeling whether my legs were turned out or my feet made the right shape. I stopped often between combinations to check my phone.

Reading Kristin Lavransdatter, though, took me back to a time when my body wasn’t just an automaton but organ of feeling. That’s because Undset clings so closely to the concerns of her protagonist, reporting her every sensation with tactile precision. Across her three volumes, Kristin’s existence unfurls in densely textured detail. From the lusterless quiet of my sealed apartment, the vividness of Undset’s language disoriented me, like a bottle of too-strong perfume.

Good writing hits me in the chest like a punch made of butterflies and that’s how it felt reading this essay at breakfast this morning. The adjectives just hit different (see, I’m a wordsmith too!)

Medieval book related: Codex Argenteus: the mysterious Gothic Silver Bible

Lucia related: An interview with Lucia Tang

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