Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Karl Ove Knausgaard. Believe the Hype?

No question that the Karl Ove Knausgaard hype is in full effect.  The Norwegian memoirist is everywhere from guest writing spots in The New Yorker to the lecture circuit.  For those not in the know, Knausgaard has penned a massive memoir called, of all things, My Struggle.  It’s a six volume odyssey, each volume clocking in around 600 pages.  I just finished Book 2 and, if I’m honest, 1200 pages in, I’m still not sure what I think.  In fact, after Book 1, I decided that I wasn’t going to commit to the full monty.  But a couple stellar reviews by friends, and coming across it on the library shelves (shocked that it wasn’t checked out), I decided to give Book 2 a go.

My struggle with Knausgaard is this - On the one hand, he’s an excellent writer.  His prose has flow. He’s easy to read.  He continually gives great insights into the little moments of life, all the while struggling over larger philosophical conundrums.  

On the other hand, the narrative structure of these books is all over the map.  There isn’t a conventional narrative thru line.  There are thematic thru lines, but if you’re looking to sink into and be pulled along by a swiftly rushing narrative current, Knausgaard will frustrate.

Book 2 is all about parenting. Knausgaard struggles with the perception of himself as a stay-at-home father.  He struggles with his wife as they deal with parenting challenges.  Though he dives head long into parenting, it cuts against the life he wants to lead as an artist. This dichotomy is at the heart of Book 2.  He has to fight to carve out a space that allows him to write.  As I read Book 2, it vividly brought back many of the challenges and triumphs of raising young children. 

But the narrative is loose.  The book opens at a kid’s birthday party.  We’re at that party for a good 80 pages, and suddenly we slide into ruminations on Kanusgaard’s own childhood, and suddenly we careen into his first meeting with his wife, and all of a sudden we’re finding about his leaving Norway to come to Sweden.  Some of these narrative excursions are 10 pages, some 50 pages.  You never know how long of a ride you’re in for.  You never know if a thread will come back. 

For all the great writing, and there is plenty, sometimes the book is hard to pick up without that solid narrative thread to pull you in.

Will I read Book 3? It might be a game time decision.

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