When stories surface--even if inaccurate--that employers have had to institute days where you aren't allowed to read a writer at work, just to try to get people to stop, you can hardly resist giving the author a shot yourself. Karl Ove Knausgaard won an award for his first novel in his native Norway, them moved to Sweden where he wrote his prize-winning second. In the process, he left behind an unhappy childhood, marred by a fraught relationship with his father, and an unsuccessful marriage. He married and had kids with a Swedish woman, of uneven mental stability, and eventually determined that he could no longer write fiction, turning instead to the extended (6 volumes so far) autobiographical form that has made him a publishing and cultural sensation.
Let me first note that chronology and express the same skepticism we've consistently displayed for memoirs. Even though the decision to write non-fiction came at the end of Volume 2, Mr. Knausgaard replicates memories and conversations as if he could recall them verbatim. One doubts it.
But suppose we suspend disbelief, for the purpose of the reading experience, and judge what he has written. To begin with, he's joyfully politically-incorrect. Starting with the title of his project -- My Struggle, which summons Mein Kampf-- to his opinions on manliness, immigrants, Swedishness, etc., he's set off fireworks throughout a society that treasures conformity.
He's also outraged the subjects of his story--family and friends--by exposing their lives, personalities, opinions, foibles, personal problems, etc. to public scrutiny. This exposure of the private has likewise scandalized polite society.
Meanwhile though, these are the very things that make the books so compulsively readable. A weird sensation hovers over the reader because we've been so conditioned by both the fiction he eschews here and the sensationalistic memoirs that publishers have pummeled us with in recent years. You keep waiting for something catastrophic to happen. The books chronicle the mundanities of everyday existence in such detail, that you can't convince yourself there isn't some kind of tragedy or scandal lurking around the next corner. In its own strange way, the ordinariness of the author's existence is dread inducing, at least at first.
Then, as you get into the rhythm of the work, you read for the brutal honesty with which he renders his own life and those of the folks around him. Not infrequently, you find yourself saying, "He can't say that!" For instance, there's a stretch where he suspects his mother-in-law of raiding the liquor stash while she's baby-sitting. Initially, you assume he's setting out to reveal his own paranoia. But when his suspicions are confirmed you cringe at what he's just revealed about his wife's mother. It's voyeuristic, but undeniably thrilling.
Still, if the books only contained this intensely subjective portrait of the author's life, they'd only be of passing interest. What really lifts the books is his observations about Swedish (and Norwegian) culture in the 21st century. One of the themes he returns to several times and demonstrates the validity of with the examples he takes from life, is the degree to which what we regard as largely religion-less societies are, in fact, places where Lutheranism has been so completely woven into customs and mores that formal churching hardly matters anymore. The culture is so thoroughly faith-based that, far from being unusually secular, it seems more intensely religious than much of the rest of Europe. For Knausgaard, one of the ways this manifests itself is in some considerable self-loathing, which might seem undesirable, but it's really a powerful desire to be a better person, which is entirely admirable.
-WIKIPEDIA: Karl Ove Knausgård
-BOOK REVIEW: Michel Houellebecq’s ‘Submission’ (KARL OVE KNAUSGAARD, NOV. 2, 2015, NY Times Book Review)
-SPEECH: The Invisible Wall (Karl O. Knausgaard, January 23, 2015, Oxfam Novib/PEN Awards for Freedom of Expression)
-VIDEO READING : Karl Ove Knausgaard reading at the Library of Congress (Archipelago Books, 5/08/12)
-ESSAY: The Inexplicable: Inside the mind of a mass killer. (Karl Ove Knausgaard, 5/26/15, New Yorker)
-ESSAY: Knausgaard on Angel Di Maria: Looks Like Kafka, Plays Like A Dream : "The first time I saw him play, I thought, That's my man." (Karl Ove Knausgaard, June 9, 2014, The New Republic)
-PODCAST: Karl Ove Knausgaard: Proust or poseur? - books podcast (John Crace, 12/25/14, The Guardian)
-PROFILE: Karl Ove Knausgaard: the latest literary sensation (Hari Kunzru, 3/07/14, The Guardian)
-PROFILE: In search of Karl Ove Knausgaard (Ryu Spaeth, The Week)
-PROFILE: Karl Ove Knausgaard: 'I have given away my soul': Karl Ove Knausgaard has written a six-volume literary epic based on his family and, in particular, his relationship with his father. It's a publishing sensation but half his family won't speak to him. So has it been worth it? (Jon Henley, 3/09/12, The Guardian)
-ESSAY: To Karl Ove Knausgård, Re: Your Tortured Feelings for the Gays (Matthew Gallaway July 11, 2014, Open Letters)
-INTERVIEW: Karl Ove Knausgaard interview: The acclaimed novelist on fatherhood, his funeral song and getting around to Finnegans Wake (Independent, 3/07/15)
-PROFILE: My hero: Karl Ove Knausgaard (Jonathan Lethem, 1/31/124, The Guardian)
-PROFILE: Karl Ove Knausgaard: Norway's Proust and a life laid painfully bare: Already a sensation at home, the author of a brutally honest autobiography is set to become an international literary superstar. But the candour of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle has shocked many – and alienated half of his family (Hermione Hoby, 3/01/14, The Observer)
-PROFILE: The double life of the writer with a family (Christina Patterson, 7/25/14, The Guardian)
-VIDEO INTERVIEW: Karl Ove Knausgaard talking to Andrew O’Hagan (London Review Bookshop, 11/03/14)
-PROFILE: Northern light : One of Europe’s most remarkable literary talents explains the autobiography that made his name (The Economist, Mar 15th 2014)
-VIDEO INTERVIEW: Karl Ove Knausgaard and Stephen Grosz in conversation (Lutyens & Rubinstein Bookshop, May 2014)
-VIDEO INTERVIEW: Karl Ove Knausgaard at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (edbookfest, Aug 12, 2014)
-VIDEO INTERVIEW: Karl Ove Knausgaard in conversation with Siri Hustvedt at the American launch of his book, My Struggle. (Archipelago Books, May 3, 2012)
-PROFILE: He Says a Lot, for a Norwegian (LARRY ROHTER, June 18, 2012, NY Times)
-ESSAY: His Peers’ Views Are in the Details : Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘My Struggle’ Is a Movement (LIESL SCHILLINGER, MAY 21, 2014, NY Times)
-ESSAY: How I Became a Knausgaard Truther: Did companies in Norway institute Knausgaard-free days in response to the popularity of Karl Ove Knausgaard's autobiographical novel My Struggle? It's a question that led to a search for proof that something never happened. (CASEY N. CEP JUL 17, 2014, Pacific Standard)
-ARTICLE: The myth about the Norwegian “Knausgaard-free days” is dead; long live the myth about “Knausgaard-free days” (Sal Robinson, 7/23/14, Melville House)
-ESSAY: It’s All Connected: What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia. (Katy Waldman, Slate)
-ARTICLE: A Hit Grows in Brooklyn: Publisher of Literary Fiction in Translation Stakes Out Success (EBEN SHAPIRO, June 13, 2014, WSJ)
-INTERVIEW: Completely Without Dignity: An Interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard (Jesse Barron, 12/26/13, Paris Review)
-INTERVIEW: Karl Ove Knausgaard Became a Literary Sensation by Exposing His Every Secret: Readers love him for it. He hates himself. (Evan Hughes, 4/07/14, New Republic)
-ESSAY: Me, Myself, and Hitler (Morten Høi Jensen, September 6th, 2015, LA Review of Books)
-ARCHIVES: Karl Ove Knausgaard (The Guardian)
-REVIEW ESSAY: Fear And Self-Loathing In Scandinavia: The Fiction Of Karl Ove Knausgaard (Ted Gioia, 5/28/14, Daily Beast)
-REVIEW ESSAY: “There Was Something Stupid in This” : Karl Ove Knausgaard’s epic autobiography is narcissistic, indiscreet, and a remarkable work of art. (Christian Lorentzen, June 2014, Slate)
-REVIEW ESSAY: Total Recall : Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle.” (James Wood, 8/13/12, The New Yorker)
-AUDIO REVIEW: The Audio Book Club Meets Karl Ove : Slate critics debate My Struggle: Book One (David Haglund, Dan Kois, and Parul Sehgal, Slate)
-REVIEW: of A Man In Love : My Struggle : Book 2 (LELAND de la DURANTAYE, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of A Man in Love (Rachel Cusk, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of A Man in Love (Stuart Evers, The Observer)
-REVIEW: of Boyhood Island (Anna Goldsworthy, The Monthly)
-REVIEW: of My Struggle : Book 3 (Dwight Garner, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of My Struggle : Book 3 (Rivka Galchen, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Boyhood Island (Stuart Evers, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of Boyhood Island (Thomas Meaney, Archipelago Books)
-REVIEW: of A Time for Everything (Alice Brittan, Open Letters)
-REVIEW: of A Time for Everything (Ingrid D. Rowland, NY Review of Books)
Book-related and General Links:
Copyright 1998-2015 Orrin Judd