It’s not clear whether the monumental six volume work My Struggle, written by Karl Ove Knausgaard (in Norwegian: Knausgård) – which consists of no less than 3,500 pages – is a novel or a memoir. And it really doesn’t matter all that much: Sufficient to say is that in a very surprising way it is both! It reads like a wonderful novel, and it is such an exploring, brutal, and penetrating memoir that is completely transcends the genre. Some people have suggested that it is a kind of literary reality show; it my opinion it is much, much more.
My Struggle has been is huge best-seller in Norway and the Scandinavian countries. It has also been a tremendously controversial series. There has literally been written kilometers of newspaper columns of reviews, opinions, and discussions about it, due to its brutal honesty and the way it lays bare the lives not only of Knausgaard himself, but also his wife, family, friends and colleagues. In this volume, for instance, he describes his grandmother’s incontinence and his father’s alcoholism. Readers in Scandinavia love him or hate him – many have been outraged – but almost everybody has an opinion. And it has been an enormously popular series. When the sixth and final volume was delayed, it created a media storm in Norway.
I belong to the camp that sees little or no sensationalism in Knausgård’s writing. Knausgård is a marvelous, sharp, and very critical on-looker who examines events and people without magnification, without blinds, and without editorializing. “Art does not know a beyond, science does not know a beyond, religion does not know a beyond, not anymore. Our world is enclosed around itself.” He sees and experiences, and he seeks to really understand what it is that he is seeing and experiencing, and how his own experiences are aligned or not aligned with what others experience as the same time. That’s what he sets out to achieve, and that’s what he tries to do; and he refuses to make things pretties and better, at the same time as he refuses to transform what he sees and lives by objectifying it.
In My Struggle: Book One, the story is about the author’s youth, his relationship to his father and family, and especially the death of his father. It is a breath-taking read – a strange, challenging, and very evocative journey. Karl Ove Knausgaard takes us into his world, his life really, in a manner that somehow feels to sharp and exacting that it almost forces you to reflect on aspects of your own life and relationships. It is as if he is able to penetrate something that is both personal and specific to him and his situation and at the same time generic and applicable to my and – I am sure – your youths as well. While reading, I was constantly surprised by how fascinated I was!
Pages fly while reading Knausgaard! Not only is the chronologically evolving tale and examination of his life intriguing and magnificent, but at the same time that and other tales are overlaid by the author’s continual struggle to be a writer in the present. “Modernist literature with all its vast apparatus was an instrument, a form of perception, and once absorbed, the insights it brought could be rejected without its essence being lost, even the form endured, and it could then be applied to your own life, your own fascinations, which could then suddenly appear in a completely new and significant light.”
My Struggle: Book One is utterly fascinating. It is excellently written, outstandingly translated by Don Bartlett, and deserves a very wide audience. He is a leading voice in his generation of Norwegian fiction writers. Knausgård has a fabulous ability to observe, examine and articulate in a stunningly self-aware manner. In my opinion this is a masterpiece!