Min Kamp/My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgård
This post is a continuation of the theme my feelings about Scandinavian Literature.
After almost six years living the life of an expat Norwegian, I am seeing Scandinavian culture thriving in the media, spearheaded by Stieg Larsson. I proclaim to the world that Scandinavia was the best place in the world, yet I don’t live there. The least I can do is to know what is going on in my home country’s literary scene.
I started on the plane to Bergen, on my most recent trip home, by reading a very long and intelligent article on the biggest fish in the Norwegian literary pond at the moment, Karl Ove Knausgård.
<– this handsome fella
He had just released the sixth, last and biggest volume in his series “Min Kamp”, which translates to My Struggle in English. (And, interestingly, “Mein Kampf” in German). There are a lot of diverse feelings about Knausgård going on in Norway. Many people love him. Many people hate him. Many people, with the Jante Law at the back of their minds, accuse him of delusions of grandeur (six volumes! about himself! and they are huge! He must really think he is special). I decided I would give him a go. So I picked up the bottom book from the (really rather huge) (also all unread) stack of Knausgård in my parents’ book-case and started reading.
And actually kept reading.
Only three days later, I finished. And I felt a bit odd.
It was the first time I had read a Norwegian book in about six years, and I wasn’t entirely sure I liked it. Neither the book nor the experience. But as I had started out with the intention to better my impression of Scandinavian literature, I resolved to think about what I wasn’t sure about, and whether it was the book or the fact that it was Norwegian.
The novel is written in first person. The main character is a Norwegian writer called Karl Ove Knausgård, who lives in Stockholm. (Capital of Sweden, Norway’s greatest enemy). It goes on to chronicle, in mammoth scale (both physically, lyrically and emotionally) the experiences of growing up in a medium-sized Norwegian town in the seventies, through a series of flashbacks (or more like spotlight-backs. They are all very long), mostly describing Karl Oves very strained and conflicted relationship to his dad, and the events surround his fathers death several years previous to the “now” of the novel. And it is, in many ways, a novel about death and how it affects people. Which obviously makes for bleak reading, and food for thought.
The publicists of My Struggle claim that the novel opens with “a dizzying description of death”. With that, I concur. The description in question is actually beautifully written, poetic. Knausgård really has a way with words. Which is lucky, seeing as he is a novelist. However, what is his saving grace as a novelist is, in a way, also his undoing. He relies all too much on his ability to write elegantly constructed sentences with elegantly constructed words to feel the need for much happening. The form; impeccable. The content; maybe not so much. It is simply a very poetic, longwinded description of his first everythings. Kiss, love, drunkenness, girlfriend, best friend, brush with death, family problems. Though there are many truly beautiful passages, and the novel contains a sublime and lyrical usage of the Norwegian language, it falls short over a tome of 500 pages. There is just no excuse to include a longwinded description of a bag of oranges in which said bag of citrus is compared to an elementary school science book illustration of molecules in a book that is already too long and too blah.
(Incidentally, I should mention that throughout the novel I pictured the main character being played by Michael Fassbender. Which I suspect helped alleviate the blah a little.)
first volume of My Struggle is being released in English in May this year, and I have conflicting feelings about this (as about every thing else, it would seem). On one side, this novel might be an amazing insight to what life in Norway actually is like, outside of the crime fiction world, on the other hand it might simply be too obscurely Norwegian with too many obscure Norwegian references to too many obscure Norwegian things for anyone not having grown up in Norway to appreciate it. I will leave that up to the English-speaking readership and the statistics. But my first foray into the Norwegian literary scene was, by grand total, a disappointment, and sadly confirmed my general view of Scandinavian non-crime fiction. However, as I am not giving up that easily, and have a suspicion that there is, in fact, a lot to be found under that umbrella, so my next project will be Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time, another winner of the Nordic Council’s literary prize.