I’ve been spending quite a lot of time recently in the company of the rather worried looking fellow in the pictures above. Fortunately though, we have not actually inhabited the same physical space. From what I have read so far of the six volume series of novels that make up My Struggle, that would not have done much for any limited hopes I may hold, to be thought of in any sort of positive way.
These autobiographical novels certainly spare nobodies blushes as he systematically tears apart virtually everyone that he encounters. In fairness, in the very act of belittling, undermining and yes humiliating virtually everyone he encounters, he also exposes his own flaws in an incredibly honest way. The reaction to the books in his native Norway has been sensational, with over 450,000 copies being sold in a country with a population of fewer that five million.
I’m currently around halfway through, “Boyhood Island” the third book in the series, so that’s around 1400 of the 3600 pages done. What keeps me turning the pages of what could be the most epic piece of extended navel gazing in literary history? Well, that is a surprisingly difficult question to answer but it may be the beautiful way the banal business of a day is described, nothing appears to be left out.
His life is opened up to us in minute detail, a simple walk to the balcony of his flat to smoke a cigarette whilst taking in the view of the humdrum street life below could take four or five pages to describe. Much of the drama comes from the events that many of us deal with everyday. The wish to fit in with others whilst simultaneously being annoyed or frustrated by them, the urge to follow your agenda yet being pushed into the bidding of others, the pleasure of times with good friends and the frustration of time spent with those that you have little feeling for. Much of the book deals with the troubled relationship that Knausgaard had with his father. This is at the centre of the story, even when his life has moved well beyond the confines of their life together in Norway.
Of course the big topics of love, birth and death are encountered along the way. Knausgaard, is able to put us firmly in his own head as he deals with the torments and joys, which result in these situations. I doubt that many of us will have had a conversion with any friend or family member with the depth of honesty that these books contain. I guess that the then is the underlying attraction of the books. Nothing is left to guess at or wonder about. All of his thoughts and actions, be they mundane, humorous or humiliating are explained, no matter how that leaves us thinking about the author.
The fifth segment of the book is just about to be released in hardback in its first English translation. So, soon I will have to decide if I should push on with volume four, or wait to have a run at four, five and six when they all available in paperback. It won’t be easy to cast aside the grumpy but captivating Norwegian who has been my companion over recent weeks.