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

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Friday, May 6, 2016

The chronology of My Struggle

Trying to recollect or reconstruct the time scheme of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, which is not by any means a straightforward chronology of his life. Here goes: Book 1 (in the British edition it was called A Death in the Family, pace James Agee. a title that KOK never used) is about his teenage years and then mumps well forward to the death of his father (and grandmother) both severe alcoholis, when KOK was an adult but, I think, not yet married w/ children; Book 2 came much closer to the present day as we see KOK as a successful Norwegian writer, living in Sweden with his 2nd wife and their two children, and in part reflects back on his first marriage and his early years as a successful writer. Book 3 goes deepest into his childhood, the earliest years, a time when his father tormented and frightened him at every moment. Book 4 is about his years just after high school (gymnas) when he was teaching in a remote northern high school - and experience somewhat like Teach for America except that it takes kids right out of high school rather than right out of college college, but in either case w/ little to no preparation. And Book 5 is about his time in the writing academy, and, later, in the university in Bergen as he commits to a life as a writer, meets other aspiring writers, and has his first literary success. Friend WS (not William Shakepeare) is right that Book 5 is the least appealing, so far (there's one more to come) in the series and certainly would not be a good starting point for a reader fresh to his work - it depends very much on our knowledge of KOK's life and character and on the lives of other characters that he knows or encounters: his parents, brother, and uncle in particular. There's perhaps a little too much name-checking and uninspired recollection of first publications, of encounters with other later-to-be-slightly-famous writers of his cohort - and I'm amazed at how little KOK examines the break-up with 4-year-girlfriend, Gunvor. That said, there is definitely a cumulative pleasure to these volumes - and the effect would be lost entirely had KOK decided on a straight-ahead chronology: rather than plodding through the events of his life in chronoligical sequence we gather the whole picture slowly, in fragments, much like the mosaic work I recently have praised in Kate Atkinson's novels (or Virginia Woolf's, for that matter). Know the horrible outcome his father endured, for example, and remembering KOK's uncontrolled weeping at the death of his hateful father, colors our understanding of all of his family relationships (and personal "struggles") that we read about in subsequent vollumes.

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