Writing It Raw: A Review of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, Vol. I

My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard is the first in a six volume memoir-cum-novel about all the things that a person might think and feel and know but is usually afraid to admit to anyone, much less publish in a book. If you really think about it, it’s difficult to speak honestly about family, love, and sexuality without falling into sentimentalities that ultimately distort their uncomfortable truths. (Maybe there are no single truths to tell about these things, after all, just disappointments, shame and secrets?) Knausgaard sets out to break down these sentimental notions and tell his story raw. Who would have thought that it would be so damn fascinating?

Knausgaard anchors his first volume around the theme of his relationship with his father, the theme with which the book opens and closes. In between he tells the story of his childhood and teen years in agonizing detail, punctuating the narrative with jags of fascinating reflections about the nature of death, time, parenthood, and creativity. Knausgaard’s  experiences are, at face value, ordinary, like the experiences of most people, but like all lives, his is haunted by knots of fear, doubt, ambivalence, selfishness and desire. This is where he works his writerly magic, by attempting to put all of that on the page along with the trappings and tedium of everyday life.

Knausgaard’s series has been a publishing sensation in Norway. Now, through translation and glowing reviews, an increasing number of curious readers from outside of Norway are jumping onto this bandwagon. I don’t know if we’re dealing with a U.S. and U.K. cult classic in the making or something bigger than that. Knausgaard has gotten into trouble for his brutal honesty in Norway, and the title “My Struggle,” which is the same as Mein Kampf, has raised eyebrows and hackles. (There’s nothing Nazi about the book, by the way.)

The second volume has just been published in English and deals with love and Knausgaard’s relationships with women. I’ll definitely read it.

Completely Without Dignity: An Interview with Karl Ove Knausgaard” from The Paris Review.


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