Found in Translation: Simon Willis finds his way through a Norwegian novel of enthralling candour
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, July/August 2013
ENGLISH TITLE A MAN IN LOVE
AUTHOR KARL OVE KNAUSGAARD
ORIGINAL TITLE MIN KAMP ANDRE BOK (2009)
ORIGINAL LANGUAGE NORWEGIAN
TRANSLATOR DON BARTLETT
Knausgaard has said that when he begins a book he doesn’t plan, he just goes for it. With his six-volume, 3,600-page "My Struggle" (yes, "Mein Kampf" in German), he really went for it. This is the second volume, a mere fragment of 500 pages, and his method shows. It’s a self-portrait of the artist as a family man done with bewildering spontaneity and looping chronology. It lives in the hazy zone between fiction and memoir. At times it makes you feel you’re in a maze.
The struggles are in fact multiple: to realise artistic ambition, to keep his distance from the claustrophobia of domestic life, to feel something beyond the boredom of conformity, and faithfully record the everyday. The book tells the story of his relationship with his wife Linda and his experience of parenthood, and one of the best and most provocative things about it is the cold eye he turns on his own household, saying things about his own family that we usually say of other people’s. Linda can be lazy and possessive, and their routine of park visits and school runs, Karl writes with enthralling candour, is mostly tedious. "What a stupid, fucking idiotic country this was!" he thinks—at a child’s birthday party.
Literary projects on this scale are always compared to Proust, but Knausgaard’s sentences are the opposite of his, direct and flat. As architects, they do have common ground. This book is a kaleidoscope of memory—hunting for houses, getting drunk at parties, having sex, reading, writing, swimming, cooking. Occasionally it slips into cliché (eyes sparkle, desires ache), but it’s a book as real as life.
Harvill Secker, out now
Simon Willis is the apps editor of Intelligent Life