While members of Norway’s royal family were off attending a royal wedding in Luxembourg on Saturday, some Norwegians may be spending the weekend back home with a new biography on Queen Sonja. The 536-page book has attracted mixed reviews but is full of photos from the queen’s private collection.
The book, from Gyldendal publishing company, was released last week and predictably received lots of publicity in Norwegian media. Its hefty price of NOK 449 (USD 75) probably won’t dampen sales among royal fans, with Norwegians accustomed to high book prices, but some critics were disappointed.
They claim author Ingar Sletten Kolloen, otherwise known for several acclaimed biographies, was remarkably uncritical in his work, prompting newspaper VG to claim he “could have done better than this.” Kolloen did include the “the most important aspects of Sonja’s life,” from her childhood in Oslo’s fashionable Vinderen district as the daughter of a clothing retailer, to falling in love with then-Crown Prince Harald and now, guiding the youngest heir to the throne, granddaughter Princess Ingrid Alexandra. But VG found the book “boring” and other critics think it lacks anyone’s voice but the queen’s own.
It functions, some claim, as “an official self-portrait,” with a thorough and factual account of details that many Norwegians already are familiar with. Readers get her version, for example, of her first meeting with Harald in 1959 and many other important events.
It’s perhaps easy for many Norwegians to forget how the couple had to wait nine full years before marrying in 1968, because a marriage between the heir to the throne and a commoner was anything but common at the time. Sonja Haraldsen and Crown Prince Harald had to win over political objections and royal qualms, not least from Harald’s father, the late King Olav V.
He finally approved the match, and they were both already 31 years old when they married, rather senior at the time. Then Sonja arrived as Norway’s new crown princess at “a cold palace” which didn’t even offer her office space. Palace staff are said to have acted like they’d lost the battle to get a royal spouse for Harald, and Sonja was not warmly welcomed. The couple’s engagement luncheon was not a festive occasion, according to Kolloen, who noted there was “barely a skål,” or toast to the couple’s future.
At their wedding dinner, however, King Olav said he was sorry that he hadn’t understood how difficult the nine-year wait had been for both of them. And the couple themselves decided that their own children shouldn’t face such a hard time when choosing their own spouses. That clearly helped clear the way for their son, the current crown prince, to choose a single mother as his bride and his sister, Princess Martha Louise, to choose a controversial author.
If Sonja had given up on finally being allowed to marry Crown Prince Harald, Kolloen wrote that she may be a retired teacher today. Instead she continues to represent Norway around the world and she and her husband celebrated their 75th birthdays this year along with 44 years of marriage.
There’s some insight into the couple’s different personalities, with Sonja far more energetic and eager, and Harald more reserved and duty-oriented. There have been “marital challenges” along the way, according to the book, but for a royal couple, Kolloen writes, it’s not so much the romantic joy that determines their success but how they complement each other with different strengths and weaknesses.
There was praise from critics and others for Sonja’s decision to deal with the subject of her older sister’s suicide in the book, since suicide remains largely a tabu in Norway. Some advocates of more openness around suicide think the book can help, since the queen also reveals how she wondered for years whether she could have done more for her sister: “The answer is always the same, ‘yes, there’s always more you could have done.’”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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