Monthly Archives: November 2014

My Struggle

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s  A Death in the Family  is the first of six volumes provocatively titled My Struggle.  This first volume deals with Knausgaard’s early youth, and the death of his father but it’s the way Knausgaaard sets about this that makes it so evocative.  He wants to include everything; and in the same way as Borges’ Funes the Memorious never forgets anything he sees, nor does Knausgaard.  Or like Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose novels record the surface of the world in labourious detail, so Knausgaard’s preference is to present us with the quotidian and the incidental,  but it’s the accumulative effect of layers and layers of this that makes the novel so powerful, immersing the reader in Knausgaard’s soupy universe.  There are moments when I couldn’t help but feel I was walking beside him, or that he is writing about my life, certainly his descriptions of his first experiments with alcohol, his first crushes, the disappointing parties, the dreadful bands he played in and the music he listened to. And Knaausgaard is a pitiful mess, sometimes, certainly he is no hero, and his inability to raise himself above the everyday, something he occasionally does with philosophical digressions, is somehow charming.  He imbues everything, every gesture, whether opening a bottle of beer, rolling a cigarette, taking something out of a cupboard, laying a table, pouring a drink, with such filmic observational precision.    ‘What you see every day is what you never see,’ he says, but Knausgaard captures every detail.  It’s no wonder his writing reminds me of  Ingmar Bergman; the slow, slow pace of things, the deliberation, the angst.  This is full of angst. Poor Karl Ove. He cries throughout the second half of the novel, sometimes with embarrassment, sometimes without fear. But crying is good, and perhaps if Karl Ove weren’t so sensitive, he wouldn’t have produced such a fine book.  It is a masterpiece of its own genre, kitchen sink, real time, plotless and written in such simple language, it sometimes feels less than what is.  Because it is remarkable, and, if I still feel the same after I’ve read the second and third of the six volumes of My Struggle, this ranks alongside some of the most astonishing literary achievements of our times.

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