My Struggle – Book 1
by Karl Ove Knausgaard
2012 / 448 pages
I’d heard a lot about this book here and there, many places, in part because so many reviewers think it’s so great, but also because it’s quite different. I suppose it’s a fictionalized autobiography or extended memoir, and although the emphasis is on the non-fiction parts the book is categorized as fiction.
It’s obvious he was influenced by Proust – it’s heavy on detail with not the slightest tiny note of irony. Knausgard is telling us how his life is and how his life has been for him, what he’s done, seen, learned and felt – mostly about his father. The whole series is 6 volumes long, it’s not chronological and it’s beautifully written in a kind of transparent style, open and vulnerable, honest, – maybe melancholic or sad, maybe Norwegian (who knows? and the translator is to be commended!).
The novel starts out as a kind of meditation on death and moves to his adolescence for a hundred pages or so. Although it seems to deal with Karl Ove’s teenage angst and desire to fit in somewhere, the background presence is his father who is divorced from his mother with whom he usually lives. These pages were just totally uninteresting to me – a teenage boy wants to drink and play rock ‘n roll and write and get into the pants of girls- sigh.
Then comes Part 2 which just shines with a section for his life today living in a small apartment with a working wife and caring for three children while trying to write novels. After a hundred pages or so of his life today he moves on to his father’s death. This is a frame story I suppose but it doesn’t bookend the inner tale – the subject of death does.
He’s pretty critical of a number of things, his father especially, his grandmother, himself – and much of the book is a quest for self-understanding. But the overall feeling as it ends is one of acceptance –
Knausgaard seems to ramble quite a lot, digress and philosophize and rant as he tells the story which is . He remembers – he remembers a “LOT!” but this is more of a memoir than an autobiography, imo. It doesn’t have to be exactly precisely accurate – just his remembrance of what happened and his feelings – his interpreatiaon of it.
Chaos and unpredictability represent both the conditions of life and its decline, one impossible without the other, and even though almost all our efforts are directed toward keeping decline at bay, it does not take more than one brief moment of resignation to be thrust into its light, and not, as now, in shadow. Chaos is a kind of gravity, and the rhythm you can sense in history, of the rise and fall of civilizations, is perhaps caused by this.
And page 196:
You know too little and it doesn’t exist. You know too much and it doesn’t exist. Writing is drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows. That is what writing is about. Not what happens there, not what actions are played out there, but the there itself. There, that is writing’s location and aim. But how to get there?
A couple reviews from The New Yorker: