The Wild Orchid and The Burning Bush, by Sigrid Undset
The Wild Orchid and The Burning Bush, (Original Norwegian titles: Gymnadenia, Den Brændende Busk) were published separately, but both tell the story of Paul Selmer. Thus they are often referred to as a double novel.
Paul Selmer and his family live outside Kristiania (Oslo). His mother is divorced; a strong woman who takes care of her family and runs a small shop on her own. We follow Paul from youth to manhood in the first book, and from manhood and on in the second book.
In The Wild Orchid, Paul marries Björg. He is fond of her, but he has a very hard time putting the memories of his first love, Lucy, completely aside. She left him in a way he could not fully understand.
As his marriage with Bjørg develops, and his religious ponderings and interests in the Roman Catholic Church strengthen, the tensions in his marriage build up. As he joins the church his conflicts with his mother in law intensify as well. He finds her scheming for her daughter to leave Paul. Married life becomes increasingly difficult.
The Wild Orchid gives a deep and very interesting portrait of a modern man around the year 1900. It shows us all the various roles Paul has to play, and the contradictions and constrains inherent in the "role set" of a modern, searching man. He is attracted to religion as well, and struggles with it.
The sequel to The Wild Orchid, The Burning Bush, tells the story of Paul Selmer from his young married days to his ripe and somewhat disillusioned middle age. The First World War has started, and Paul has problems in his marriage.
Then the love of his childhood, Lucy turns up again. She is now poor, deserted, and has several children. To begin with Paul only feels sorry for her. But then the passion long buried, deep inside him, begins to surface again. And when Lucy's husband tries to kill her, Paul throws him downstairs, breaks his neck, and lands himself in very deep trouble.
He has to stand trial for his actions, but manages to somehow get through it, to a large extent due to the testimony that Lucy gives. But now the memories of what has happened start to work on him, and make him turn more and more away from Lucy. To those around him Paul seems a strong and saintly character, but inside he sees himself as something quite different.
The Wild Orchid and The Burning Bush are interesting and very good books addressing human problems still present in the lives of many. They are, of course, excellently written and deep books. They are books about love, lust, marriage problems, religion, and the challenges posed by daily life and relations - stories of real life. A tale told with love, humor, and understanding by a great author. The two books are highly recommended, and should be read together in sequence!