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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

The best accont of childbirth ever written by a man

Is there any doubt but that Karl Ove Knausgaard's account of the birth of his first child is the best description by a male writer of the birth experience ever? He captures the pain, the mood shifts from elation to terror, the self-doubt, the reflection and prospection on life's journey, the time warp - all that goes into those frightening and beautiful days and hours - and I wonder what women who read this section will think, I'm guessing they will share in the amazement at how well he captures an experience in which he was a participant but largely an observer: as friend AF said of birth in a poem he wrote: You are the coach, but you are not in the game. But this wouldn't be My Struggle if KOK didn't make this universal experience into something deeply and painfully personal: after the birth he and Linda feel imbued with happiness, the world is before them - but it doesn't take long for things to turn south, and KOK feels increasingly isolated from others, feels the pressure to complete his second novel that seems to be going nowhere, insists on carving out time for his writing, which becomes a literally manic obsession - writing 20 hours a day to complete his novel, Linda calling him and screaming at him, threatening to leave, though this must have torn at him he persists, tells her go ahead and leave, he has to finish his novel: again, we see his "struggle" as that between his life as an observer (and chronicler) and his life as a family man and social being, between participating in the world and standing apart from the world, between fitting in and remaining unique. Eventually, he and L reconcile - and then we get another strange twist in the novel; we know that L has had bipolar disorder of some kind, been hospitalized, attempted suicide - and now we meet her father, who himself has been bipolar and seems to be a very strange, socially awkward man, very needy - he slips into their life and threatens to become a burdensome presence. In one of the oddest scenes in the novel, KOK observes the father asking Linda to sit on his lap, and he treats her like a five-year-old girl; KOK is almost ashamed to have witnessed this, and does not let L know he saw her acting the part (she is an actor, BTW). This is one of the rare moments when his directness and honesty are put aside in the interest of peace and propriety - though perhaps not for long.

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