You can view Jared Catchpoole’s review of the first book in the My Struggle Series here.
Reading is an inherently intimate experience. It is about one voice, that of the author, and one person listening to that voice. The relationship between the reader and author, drawn through language and form is directed by the singularity of the voice. Its uniqueness is what makes a novel distinguishable. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s voice is very much his own, but in some ways his life is a mirror of everyone else’s.
Knausgaard’s series My Struggle tells the story a very normal life. However, this one man’s normal life has a recurrent quality of familiarity. By relating everyday events in vivid detail and communicating the complexity of different relationships, Knausgaard’s life becomes a reflection of our own. As he says,
What is a work of art if not the gaze of another person?”
Knausgaard’s gaze then is fixed firmly on himself and his own experience. Initially this may appear egocentric, and to a degree it is, but ultimately Knausgaard willingness to be so open about himself, by revealing every shameful detail, connects more with the fallibility and fragility of life.
This is due in part to Knausgaard revealing his very human emotions. This is seen particularly through the ideals he holds for himself and the reality that stands in its place, something most people can relate to. Knausgaard captures so poetically the innate frustration of unsatisfied desire through relatively straightforward prose.
In terms of style there is undoubtedly an element of intuition with Knausgaard’s writing. Having pulled himself away from the things he had been taught about writing Knausgaard simply tells his own story. However, Knausgaard is never unaware of the thoughts and feelings of others around him. Rather, his own thinking seems measured and determined in reference to those closest to him.
I had been trained, like so many of my generation, to think abstractly, in other words to acquire knowledge of various schools of thought in various fields, to reproduce them in a more or less critical manner, preferably contrasted with other schools of thought, and then to be judged on that, but sometimes it was for the sake of my own insight, my own intellectual curiosity, not that this gave my mind cause to abandon abstraction, such that thinking was in the end wholly an activity played out among secondary phenomena, the world as it appeared in philosophy, literature, social science, politics, whereas the world in which I lived, slept, ate, spoke, made love and ran, the one that had a smell, a taste, a sound, where it rained and the wind blew, the world that you could feel on your skin, was excluded, was not deemed a topic for thought. Actually, I did think there to, but in a different way, a more practical, phenomenon-by-phenomenon orientated way, and for other reasons; while I thought in abstract reality in order to understand it, I thought in concrete reality in order to deal with it. In abstract reality I could create an identity, an identity made from opinions; in concrete reality I was who I was, a body, a gaze, a voice. This is where all independence is rooted. Including independent thought”
The reader is drawn to the book by the way everyday actions become immediately relatable. This is due in part to the richness of detail. The balance of philosophic thought processes and the rhythmic straightforward retelling of daily events delicately capture the essential paradox of our everyday lives. Once again this dichotomy translates across the page as Knausgaard recognises the ability that books have of putting those inexpressible thoughts and experiences into words.
As is always the case with books that seem to be ground-breaking, they put into words what for me had been suspicions, feelings, hunches.”
Whilst the first book deals with the intricate feelings and trauma that resound after his father’s death, the second books is concerned with love, friendship and fatherhood. Moreover, Knausgaard talks about his writing, the struggles he endures as an author and ultimately the moment he began to write the My Struggle series.
By writing down all the details of everyday life, all the banality, Knausgaard exposes the comparative nature of life. That is what makes reading My Struggle so interesting instead of laborious. Whilst this may not be the case for everyone that reads the book, Knausgaard’s ability to convey the feelings associated with his life together with his narrative voice makes the book relatable.
With all this is in mind it is important to remember the relationship between the author and reader. Knausgaard’s voice is not only his, but in some way, provokes the voice of the reader. Through his monologue and his thought patterns he prompts us to start thinking about our lives as well. The measure this book has on you may be dependant upon its ability to bring this to life. For some, I imagine, My Struggle will simply appear as the musings of an egocentric individual, for others, an encouraging exposure of the complexity of daily thoughts and feelings.
This also facilitates the notion of perspective. Knausgaard comments on the way perspective influences meaning and observes the ongoing similarity of human nature throughout history and the changes that our view undergoes at particular moments in time.
The world is always the same, it is the way we view it that changes… Everything depends on the seeing eye… The eye which gave meaning to the world was a constant possibility, but we almost always decided against it, at least it was like that in our lives”
Through all of this underlies the paradox of relationship and isolation. Interestingly, Knausgaard comments on the necessity of distance from oneself in order to be close to others. This closeness, as he believes is drawn profoundly through language.
Language is shared, we grow into it, and the forms we use it in are also shared, so irrespective of how idiosyncratic you and your notions are, in literature you can never free yourself from others. It is the other way round, it is literature which draws us closer together. Through its language, which none of us owns and which indeed we can hardly have any influence on, and through its form, which no one can break free of alone, and if anyone should do so, it is only meaningful if it is immediately followed by others. Form draws you out of yourself, distances you from yourself, and it is this distance which is the prerequisite for closeness to others.”
So far little has been said about what this book is made up of. Book two delves into the complexity of being in love, the desire and the longing, the fear and the feelings of entrapment. Whilst Knausgaard’s experiences are very much his own, the difficulty and joy of love, it’s ability to be all encompassing and consuming, appears to be in some way universal. And in the end this representation seems all the more beautiful.
Adversity binds people together and brings beauty and harmony into life’s relationships, just as winter cold’s imagination conjures flowers on the windowpane which disappear with the warmth” – Soren Kierkegaard