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Karl Ove Knausgaard - My Struggle Book 1: A Death in the Family
  • So I finished the first book in this 2,700 page memoir/novel from Norway. I read about it last year and the incredible furore it set off in its home country, which furore seems mostly to stem from the incredible frankness with which it was written—not that anything in this first book was particularly shocking itself (no terrible family secret, no crimes confessed, no incest, etc). But there was something compelling and shocking anyway. Something about the incredibly intimacy with which it was written. Again, that word, ‘intimacy’, makes it sound like the reader is taken into such close confidence that Knausgaard is willing to disclose deeply buried secrets. But it’s actually the lack of sensationalism that is so arresting. The whole book is written without any distance, without any judgment, without any dramatic perspective. It’s not stream of consciousness by any means but it does feel almost completely unmediated. You have no sense of how Knausgaard would like you to perceive him, or any member of his family. Everything is written about with the same clarity and lack of sensation that you don’t even know how you’d like to perceive them yourself. You’re left with the feeling that, well, they simply are—or were. Sometimes that’s boring but there’s a bravado in this technique that even when you’re bored (and I was especially bored in the first half, which involves lots of the inhabitants of various Norwegian small towns whose relationship to the narrator was not entirely clear to me) you’re compelled to keep going. I really liked it. I don’t know if I can draw any conclusions from it.

  • My brother had nothing but the highest praise for this book. I really want to read it. I am in the middle of a massive Balzac binge, though. Will report back if/when I do.

  • Oh, also, it’s named after Mein Kampf. No idea what to do with that.

  • I wondered about the title, before I had time to wonder about anything else.

    Is it kind of like reading a saga then? It seems like something the bloke would probably enjoy…he’s right into scandi crime fiction, which has a fair bit of that saga-like quality.

  • I’m intrigued, Zach—could you post an excerpt that you think is representative of the prose?

  • I suppose it’s a little like a saga. But it lacks the parataxis and lack of interiority that you’d see in a saga. Knausgaard is a very accomplished novelist—and a deeply feeling modern person too, deeply enmeshed in the world and pop culture. So there are stretches of rumination, of reporting his emotional experience in almost painfully specific detail. And lots of banality of course.

    I am finding it hard to copy out an excerpt from my copy, but here’s the first couple pages, and I think pretty representative: http://archipelagobooks.org/wp-content/uploads/MyStruggleBook1_excerpt.pdf

  • That all sounds Proustian enough to catch my attention.

  • I thought of Proust too, but also Tao Lin. But I don’t mean that as a diss; obnoxious a person as Lin seems to be, I can’t lie, the few shorts stories of his that I’ve read have stuck with me longer than I had expected or even hoped, considering that I read them in Vice while peeing.

  • I am currently calculating how long it would take to get through Proust if I only read him while peeing.

  • ADF you do know that Tao Lin is going to start posting here now, don’t you?

  • I don’t think the Tao Lin comparison is inapt. I think the difference—the reason that I never got any of the creepy crawlies that I often get when reading unrelentingly banal, descriptive prose about ordinary people being ordinary and inarticulate—is that there doesn’t ever seem to be any distance between Knausgaard and whatever version of himself he’s writing about; wherever he is in his life, he neither apologizes for nor discredits the perspective of his self at that point.

  • I started reading this. I’m liking it. Not really much like Proust, though. Much faster moving. Kindof reminds me of Gorky’s autobiography, but that might just be because I was going in thinking of biographical novellic things.

  • FWIW, Zadie Smith also made the Lin/Knausgaard comparison: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/dec/05/zadie-smith-man-vs-corpse/

    I am halfway through the second volume. Arlo is right, that it isn’t much like Proust at all. Definitely a strange breeziness to the prose that is at once unsettling and yet deeply compelling. And of course I was bowled over by the stuff about his father in the first volume. I don’t have much more to say about it, though. It kind of washes over me.

  • I am quite interested in reading this book, but I’m sort of concerned by the comparisons to Tao Lin who is just awful to me.

  • Likewise! But you should still give Knausgaard a whirl.

  • I’ll whirl the dude!