My Struggle: Book One introduces American listeners to the audacious, addictive, and profoundly surprising international literary sensation that is the provocative and brilliant six-volume autobiographical novel by Karl Ove Knausgaard. It has already been anointed a Proustian masterpiece and is the rare work of dazzling literary originality that is intensely, irresistibly readable. Unafraid of the big issues - death, love, art, fear - and yet committed to the intimate details of life as it is lived, My Struggle is an essential work of contemporary literature.
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"And death, which I have always regarded as the greatest dimension of life, dark, compelling, was no more than a pipe that springs a leak, a branch that cracks in the wind, a jacket that slips off a clothes hanger and falls to the floor." -- Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, Book 1
First, let me say something about this novel (and I'm assuming the next five novels) that is both simple and genius. This is a weird book. It captures the reader because it falls into a funky zone between memoir and fiction. He is telling secrets. Opening the dirty closets. Cleaning the shit out of an old house. It is exhibitionism of sex, shit, death, life, etc., but it is also a clear reflection. So much of the power of this novel for me is a direct response to how clear I see myself in his exposure. I read about his relationship with his brother, his father, his girlfriends, his mother and I see myself. I see his thoughts on music and art and I think, hell, that is me too. I know it isn't, but that is the trick. Knausgaard uses these forms, or creates this form, in his novel that he fills with his own memories and history and soon you are seeing yourself in these same locks.
Early in his novel he mentions that great literature is structure or form first. He talks about this about half way through the book:
"For several years I had tried to write about my father, but had gotten nowhere, probably because the subject was too close to my life, and thus not so easy to force into another form, which of course is a prerequisite for literature. That is its sole law: everything has to submit to form. If any of literature's other elements are stronger than form, such as style, plot, theme, if any of these overtake form, the result suffers. That is why writers with strong style often write bad books. That is also why writers with strong themes so often write bad books. Strong themes and styles have to be broken down before literature can come into being. It is this breaking down that is called "writing". Writing is more about destroying than creating. - p195
Add this to Knausgaard's view of time and I think we get a hint at how he writes, and perhaps, what makes this novel so great:
For, while previously I saw time as a stretch of terrain that had to be covered, with the future as a distant prospect, hopefully a bright one, and never bring at any rate, now it is interwoven with our life here and in a totally different way. Were I to portray this with a visual image it would have to be that of a a boat in a lock: life is slowly and ineluctably raised by time seeping in from all sides. Apart from the details, everything is always the same. And with every passing day the desire grows for the moment when life will reach the top, for the moment when the sluice gates open and life finally moves on. At the same time I see that precisely this repetitiveness, this enclosedness, this unchangingness is necessary, it protects me. - p 33
Eugenides captures this construction perfectly in his review in the New York Times:
"Knausgaard’s life is a grab bag of events and recollections, and he uses whatever is handy. He doesn’t lie or make things up (so far as I know). But the selection process he subjects his memories to in order to fulfill the narrative demands of his writing rises to a level of considerable artifice. Other writers invent; Knausgaard remembers. His raw materials are more authentic (maybe), but the products they create no less artful."
Knausgaard's history is the water he fills his locks with. The paint he paints his story with. It isn't history. It isn't biography. It isn't even memory. It is art imitating life.
- Darwin8u "I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^"
A Perfect Reading for This Book
Any additional comments?
I haven’t anything brilliant to add to the question of whether this Volume 1--and the five volumes to follow--is some masterpiece or not. It’s evident that one either finds Knausgaard’s long stories and direct prose compelling…or one can’t stand them at all. No middle ground. Personally, I found the first volume great--life stories oddly both familiar and yet entirely new--and surprisingly witty and even laugh-out-loud comic in spots. But I know a lot of people are driven mad by the admittedly slow pace. The frequent critical comparisons with Proust aren’t all that far off. But I mainly wanted to post a review to be sure that anyone tempted by the book itself isn’t put off by the previous negative reviews of Eduardo Ballerini’s reading, which I found just about perfect for the material. It can be “laconic” at times (to use a word that gets an analysis in this volume) but has a good pace and perfectly catches the book’s tone. It’s great that Ballerini seems to read at least the next two volumes.