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

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

We know Karl Ove Knausgaard "better" than we know ourselves

At the end of volume 2, A Man in Love, on Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle we are essentially back at the place we started some 600 pages back: KOK is now a father of three, re-settled in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, a more placid and laid-back place than Stockholm, they've left behind the horrible neighbor who had been threatening and tormenting them, they now have 3 children, which KOK had earlier thought would be a solution to their marital and family problems, they're now out of the literary mainstream, and KOK is much more successful as a novelist, quite sought after by the press and for various workshops and so forth, his relation with his best friend, Geir, now involves long phone conversations rather than long dinners (and drinking bouts), and it's even more obvious that their careers are on different trajectories. Sadly, KOK seems no happier than earlier; atypically, he glosses over some of the trauma his family is enduring - most notably, the obviously severe depression that Linda is going through, leaving KOK to do all the child-rearing and housework as well as earning a living for the family of five. He is obviously deeply resentful - in one weird an poignant scene a group of Japanese tourists point at him and take photos, it's so odd for them to see a dad minding 3 small children - and he feels this oddity and exclusion. No doubt some of this will be material that he delves into one of the next volumes. The structure of this volume is very thoughtful and powerful - what seems almost random and meandering at first now pays back handsomely - we we come back to the young father (actually, he's 40) and family man and now, looking back across volume 2, we know of all the "struggle" that brought him to this point, midway through his life, and looking back further, to volume 1, we know that issues from childhood that have made him who he is: his "struggle" against his father and against his own alcoholism and binge drinking. By this point, I think all readers will feel that they know KOK as well as, maybe better than, they know even their closest friends - maybe better than we know ourselves! - because of his courage as a writer and narrator, his insight, his memory, which he sometimes makes light of, and his clear and sometimes poignant writing. Of course in "knowing" a literary character better than we "know" ourselves, we gain tools, resources, insights, and a vocabulary that helps us to know ourselves and others.

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