What a sensation Karl Ove Knausgaard and his six-book autobiographical novel series My Struggle has become. The New Yorker has posted about it. Knausgaard has been interview in Tin House and The New Republic, and created lines around the block when he appeared with Zadie Smith recently in Brooklyn. All for this, basically:
Across its 3,600 pages, Knausgaard recounts the banalities and humiliations of his life, the private moments of pleasure, and those dark thoughts that most people can’t bear to articulate even to themselves.
I’m reading Book 1 of his My Struggle series—the latest volume to appear in English, Book 3, has just recently come out—and enjoying it, a bit in fits and starts, although I admit to still be baffled that it has become such a sensation; not because there is not a strong quality to much of Karl Ove’s writing (in a strange way), but just, mostly, because of other factors—how exactly does a multi-volume autobiographical novel a la (the inevitable comparison here, I’m sorry) Proust create such intensity of response? Because it’s some sort of antidote to the Internet and everything else and how overwrought so much fiction is? Especially since Knausgaard has called it “a search” with a dismal result: “I didn’t find anything.” Even now, after all this attention, he says “It fills me with sadness every time I talk about it.”
The interest must really stem, then, from the confessional nature of it—I mean, there’s some personal stuff in there, like (in just the first couple hundred pages) premature ejaculation and less-than ideal portraits of many of his friends and intimates:
Answering a question about the hazards of writing about real people, [Knausgaard] looked genuinely pained, and said reactions from family and other people depicted in the books had ranged from “very, very generous to very, very angry.”
One of Knausgaard’s family has even called My Struggle “Judas literature.” Obviously, beyond a sort of morbid curiosity—or, rather, a part of it—there’s something of our love affair with memoir here, too. (Knausgaard told Tin House: “Over recent years, I had increasingly lost faith in literature. … The only genres I saw value in, which still conferred meaning, were diaries and essays, the type of literature that did not deal with narrative…”).
For me, I’ll keep reading, regardless. The pages are like quicksand.