Karl Ove Knausgård‘s My Struggle has been quite the literary phenomenon here in Norway, selling more than 500,000 copies (it is a six-volume “novel”, but it is still one copy for every 10th Norwegian.) There has been much controversy about the book(s) – it is less a novel than an autobiography written by an extremely sensitive observer, pouring his soul into careful descriptions of minor scenes, much some of the indeterminable art films I remember from my youth, where the camera would linger forever on spiralling cigarette smoke or a car on a road, a boring sight but better than the dialogue, which often, in the words of Odd Eidem, sounded like “a line in a Norwegian movie or a scream in a church.”
Anyway, I haven’t read any of it, mostly because I don’t like literary bandwagons unless they contain wizards and can be read to children. But the books are now available in English on Amazon Kindle, and, well, I recently had a long flight, so now I have read the first one. And it is good – though long. As one commentator said, it seems Knausgård has mistaken the “Print” button for “Publish.” But it also, clearly, is a much needed catharsis for the author, a way of writing himself out of a childhood filled with much thinking and self-doubt. Sensitivity can be a burden, but coupled with an extraordinary ability of expression it can result in, well, lots of books.
I think the book, and possibly books, can be summed up very well with Philip Larkin‘s This be the verse, 1971:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
Having said that, I am not sure I wouldn’t electronically grab the next volume on the next long flight. If you were in the right mood, those old melancholy art films at least filled time. Knausgård himself has four children, so he clearly didn’t read (or heed) Larkin….