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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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Like reading your own diary?: Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle

One of the comments someone offered about Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle is that it's like opening someone else's diary and finding out that it's your own. So true! Even though my life is in many, many ways entirely different from the life - his own, obviously - that KOK chronicles with great detail, wit, honesty, and insight across these volumes (I've just started reading vol 3, Boyhood) - so much of what he captures is my experience exactly. His writing, in a sense, helps each of us - or at least many of us - open the doorways to our own seemingly forgotten or inaccessible memories. I'm thinking particularly of the long opening section of Boyhood in which he recounts his days at approximately age 6 (starting age for public school in Norway then, maybe not now) and the hours he spent exploring the woods and fields near his home, engaging in daredevil stunts with other kids, playing pickup sport, playing with matches, all, to me, so incredibly familiar. KOK's been mocked sometimes for over-attention to detail and trivia - this volume includes the passage where he contemplates a bowl of Cornflakes, which has provoked some mockery - but seriously he is engaged with every aspect of a child's experience and perception and in the process of creating a monumental literary interpretation of consciousness, from the grand (sections on the nature of death and of memory) to the mundane. A dark theme in volume 3, and thankfully an aspect with which I do not directly identify, is the ever-present menace of his strict father - a disciplinarian and for that matter a nasty bully. In this volume we see primarily the fear, as KOK experienced as a young child, the constant tension of wondering when his dad would snap at him, punish him, threaten the family peace. We see much more of this in volume 1, which gives us a context for the dark hints that open this volume. It remains, so far, a mystery as to why KOK mourns his father so profoundly in the second half of volume one - one might think he would bid him good riddance - but I think in vol 3 we begin to see that his mourning for his father is a mourning for the family life that could have been but wasn't, a mourning for his lost childhood.

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