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

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why we read Karl Ove Knausgaard's life story, My Struggle

Volume 2, A Man in Love, in Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, moves slowly backward in time, from the near present (ca 2009, KOK having just finished writing volume 1) living in Malmo with 3 children, back to living in Stockholm with only the oldest child at about age 1, back to their first married days in Stockholm ... and no doubt further. Very interesting how KOK peels the narrative back in layers; as readers who've come this far know, he writes in extremely long segments, not particularly interested in transitions nor in back stories, the focus is very intensely in the author/narrator, also named Karl Ove Knausgaard, and you can be very deeply engaged in one of the scenes he's narrating in one period of time - say, his "break" from child care when he goes off for his hour of solitude to read Dostoyevsky in a coffee shop, loses track of the time, dreads coming home very late, buys some extremely expensive groceries - along with a self-analytic discourse about how money means nothing to him, when he's got it he spends in absurdly and then will live in near-poverty for months and not really mind - brings the groceries home and passes the "tenant from hell," on the stairwell - and from that goes back to telling about their early encounters with this woman when they first moved into the building some years back, and, bcz KOK does not dwell on transitions but just jumps into the new "layer" of time, it takes us a while to realize this was not an interruption in the narrative but a true narrative shift and now we are back a few years in the chronology, until the next shift. Why do we read so intensely and care so much about KOK? He's a difficult guy to like - very dark and misanthropic, bitter about others and about the many supposed slights he endures - in this section, he's very conscious of how he's perceived as a Norwegian - Americans can't really get this, but in my memory the Sweden's thought of Norwegians as like country hicks - maybe slightly analogous to New England prejudice against Southern drawls? - he's got a chip on his shoulder and by his own account is extremely anti-social - and yet - partly bcz of the brilliant volume 1, we know the difficulties of his family and why he protects himself against involvement with other people, afraid of being overwhelmed, perhaps, by his feelings (his tearful breakdowns at the death of his semi-estranged father, tears for what might have or should have been), and also highly ambitious and protective of his time and his sensibilities as a writer. In that way, this is a writer's book in every sense - writers can identify with his need for protection and his need for silence and his need to observe: he's Proustian without the Proustian advantages of wealth and class (albeit in better health, and probably wealthy now).

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