Thursday, July 06, 2017

[Books] Book Look: My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard

This book was (is?) a literary sensation in the author's native Norway and to some extent, throughout Europe. It is a highly detailed memoir of earlier points in Knausgaard's life and it is rather much about death. It is not fiction to the extent that any autobiography is not, so don't look for plot or action per se. It has been compared to Proust, generated numerous follow ups, and generally been as close to a cultural touchstone as a book can be any more. The splash on this side of the pond has been somewhat smaller.

We start with the author's rumination on death, segue into some childhood memories or essentially being dismissed by his rather unsympathetic and hostile father. In the next section he is a typically annoying adolescent, recounting his inane attempts at rebellion through drinking and music, and his first crush/girlfriend. Later, now a young adult, he must deal with the death of his father and the conflicting feelings it brought on. His father, who for so long was a powerful and occasionally terrifying figure -- finished the last years of his life in an alcoholic haze living in filth and squalor.

So we start and end with death prominent, in between we get pure observation. Knausgaard recounts scenes of his life in extreme detail. So much so that you must find a way to get sucked up into the detail if you are to read this book with meaning. Scenes are set with strong clarity so you can visualize enough to actually get the feeling of being there. There is an extended sequence involving the nearly slapstick efforts he and a friend go through to sneak beer into a New Year's Eve party where they are convinced they will meet girls. It is the sort of action of youth that most adults would identify with. If such narratives are to be compelling, the reader must identify and to Knausgaard's credit, most will, either in delight or pain.

In the end the summation of these scenes build a human character, or at least a realistic slice of one. The dismissive childhood, leads to the powerful desire for independence -- to deny the frustration of paternal dismissal -- then to a vow to be different towards his own children. At the end, as the remnants of the family gather we begin to see how the effects of coming-of-age never really leave us.

Should you read My Struggle? I'm kind of on the fence. It is the first of a six book series. None are short. All will be filled with very candid minutiae. Despite the probability that, in this rare instance, the slow-going over-detailing has it's rewards it's still too high a cost for me. I'd end up skipping ahead and that would defeat the entire purpose. But if you are serious about what's going on in literature, or you simply want to lose yourself in another man's life, for better or worse, you'd do well to take the plunge. In Knausgaard's keen observations you can;t help but see humanity.