So, I just finished Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle (Book One). I heard about it out of the blue about a month ago, when a stranger directed me to a review– which one, I can’t remember, but it made more than a few allusions to Proust, and focused on both Knausgaard’s and his French predecessor’s exhaustive attention to detail.
I suppose I need to read up some more on the project, which consists of a total of six volumes of autobiography. What immediately struck me, though, was its name: in Norwegian, Min Kamp, which obviously jars the reader with thoughts of a predecessor far less appetizing than Proust: Hitler, and his Mein Kampf. Until I find some reliable sources regarding this choice in title, however, I’ll just pass over that subject, since any speculation I make about it would be idle, and most likely unoriginal.
To the meat of it, then. I cannot possibly explain what makes this book so engaging. It really is just the story of growing up with a difficult father and getting on with an adult life marked with all the ambiguities and frustrations courtesy of such a parent. Reflections on nostalgia, the (meaning of the) everyday, cohabitation, and ordinary human imperfection. I’m tempted to say it’s more of a chronicle than a story, but stopping there would constitute a false move, or a betrayal. It’s as if Knausgaard’s created some sort of magical, contemporary expansion of one of those detailed 19th-century diaries that turn up and are used in history seminars as accompaniments to scholarly texts– only shorn of all the naivete and preciousness and over-eager avowals of trust in divine guidance.
A study in critical self-scrutiny, yes, but nothing akin to navel-gazing. And done in a style that doesn’t even come close to ostentation, but maintains an iron literary grip the whole way through– a feat that still has me wondering exactly what happened, how this guy did it, and how I can 1) get over my envy at the author’s skill and perseverance and 2) at least display equivalent amounts of sustained writerly diligence. Until my brain can sort through this phenomenon further, that’s about all I have to offer now– other than the charge to check it out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.