from Nick DiMartino Shelf Awareness -- a review of My Struggle: Book One
Review: My Struggle: Book One
My Struggle: Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Don Bartlett (Archipelago Books, $18 trade paperback, 9781935744184, May 1 release)
It’s a lucky reader who gets buried alive in this Norwegian literary avalanche. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book One is a free-wheeling, funny, smart, provocative, 471-page chunk of narrative that just keeps on coming, a flashback-laced plunge into one man’s life, memories within memories rattled off like a simpler, friendlier modern-day Proust, but instead of dissecting elderly dukes and princesses, perceptively and comically describing middle class teenagers and young married couples with kids.
This compulsively-readable Norwegian magnum opus, the first of six volumes, all scheduled to be translated and published by Archipelago Books, opens with a savagely witty exposure of our cultural need to keep death out of sight. Out of that dread Knausgaard launches his tale. At the book’s center is Karl Ove himself, telling his own story in a montage of memories, primarily as a sixteen-year-old with illegally-obtained beer on New Year’s Eve in Part One, and in Part Two, as an adult accompanying his brother to the home of his grandparents, to remove a houseful of his father’s bottles and alcoholic debris to prepare for his father’s funeral.
Bravely dog-paddling into all this river of language, the reader encounters the dozens of characters that populate both Knausgaard’s life and these pages, his bungling, domineering father, his aloof but devoted brother, his elusive mother and both of his wives, his best friends, his first crushes, his uncles and aunts and cousins, and most of all his incontinent, repetitive, alcoholic Grandma, once torn between her love for two brothers, now consumed by her clinging son. Looping backward and forward in time, through the angst of adolescence, the exhaustion of childrearing, the flickering changes in his parents as they grow apart and decide upon a divorce, Knausgaard records hyper-realistic impressions with scalpel precision.
It’s a life transformed into words. That My Struggle is so often warm and funny belies all the stereotypes of bleak, humorless Scandinavian writing. Sidestepping obvious melodramatic plot-points, Knausgaard builds his emotional momentum out of the ordinary, making a profoundly moving climactic sequence out of cleaning an obscenely dirty house, out of a mother and her two sons drinking in the evening, reliving their memories. With exhilarating faithfulness to reality, Knausgaard relentlessly exposes himself as he ponders his book’s own creation – “The only thing I have learned from life is to endure it, never to question it, and to burn up the longing generated by this in writing.” – Nick DiMartino
Shelf-Talker: The first of a six-volume Norwegian epic, Knausgaard lays out his life in hyper-realistic detail in a flashback-laced narrative piled thick with memories, laughter and anguish.