A life, a story, an agony: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle

Posted: March 16, 2015 by Jollymore in On Books
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

One must wonder how Karl Ove Knausgaard finds the time to live a life to write about. His detail is so fine and so often mundane as noticing suddenly that the sun is setting and lighting up the sky over the fjord. Yet launching into the story as he tells it, you’re nearly shedding tears of thanks to him, letting you into his life, his pains, his fears, artistic musings, and philosophical flourishes. This book and the five that follow it are not for the faint-hearted reader.

It is early for me to prognosticate, but I see a big prize at the end of this tunnel, one with an N on its snout.

Want to get to know someone perhaps better than your best friend? No, perhaps better than a spouse, or maybe better than you know yourself? Well, dig in and be patient. You will get to know Karl Ove Knausgaard well, very well.

Book 1 of My Struggle focuses on KOK’s father: how he feared and hated him in adolescence. How he evaded dad usually without success since KOK carried dad with him everywhere in every enterprise he attempted. That’s not unusual for a son, or for a son with a dominant father and absent or semi-absent mother such as KOK seems to have had. She was nice, but not around a great deal.

As he grows older, KOK declares more independence and after high school leaves town to return only for his father’s funeral. Often the narrative is intense: KOK spends 35 pages getting ready to drink to drunkenness on his 14th New Year’s Eve; he spills ink over five pages discussing the role science has played in our conception and expectations of art, and writes a third of the book on preparations Ingve, KOK’s brother, and he perform in advance of the funeral. And, hey, we never (at least in Book 1) get to the funeral, or ready for the funeral, for, first, the brothers must clean the house of their secretive, alcoholic, and now deceased father who commandeered his own mother’s house in which to devolve, disintegrate, and die. KOK’s grandmother is left in the sorriest state of affairs. That is what we must deal with.

What a mess. What a tragedy. And through it all, the author is open, plain-spoken, truthful, and compelling without pulling sentimental punches or taking unfair advantage.

Knausgaard earns his reader’s respect, wins it fairly with Norwegian hard work and a keen eye for minutiae which tell the story so well. It is as if he continuously tells us—were he Californian or American—where he was, what he was doing, who he was with, and what he was thinking when Oakland burned, when the Bay Bridge collapsed, or when the Trade Towers fell. Knausgaard’s fire, earthquake, and terror attack are personal, but that does not mean that all of us haven’t suffered the same.

And that commonality is what Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle exalts.

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