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Scandinavian Style by Sophie Pinkham

In art, books, culture, economics, literature, politics, review, writers on January 20, 2014 at 17:33

From: Scandinavian Style by Sophie Pinkham, N + 1 Magazine, http://nplusonemag.com

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 3,500-page, six-volume magnum opus, My Struggle, is made from the material of the author’s daily life. The book has been described as an autobiographical novel, sometimes with “novel” in scare quotes, to indicate its excessive truthfulness. Like the author, the narrator is called Karl Ove Knausgaard, and, like the author, he is a Norwegian writer who lives in Stockholm with his second wife, the poet Linda Bostrom. As Knausgaard has explained in many interviews, his intention in writing My Struggle was to be absolutely honest, no matter how much shame this might cause. Many of his relatives have been furious, and some have cut off all contact with him. His wife relapsed into manic depression after she read the first manuscript. Knausgaard’s decision to tell the whole painful, humiliating truth has been the subject of heated debate in Norway, where My Struggle has sold about one copy for every ten residents. (To date, only the first two volumes have been released in English; the third will appear next summer.)

For American readers, Knausgaard’s writing is striking in its freedom from telling details, well-wrought similes, conspicuous fine-tuning. His sentences don’t look like they’ve been reworked for months, and they haven’t: he wrote My Struggle fast, with minimal revision. He uses well-worn phrases that we tend to identify as clichés, and that elicit, in many readers, a desire to whip out the red pencil. In an otherwise positive review of My Struggle in the New Yorker, James Wood criticized the uneven quality of the prose and the use of clichés. But these are essential parts of the method. Knausgaard rejects chiseled sentences in favor of a cumulative effect, and the flatness, the openness, the sprawl provide the space necessary for his discursive treatment of everyday life, allowing the reader to exist inside the narrator’s mind, to see as he sees.

We never see Knausgaard engaging in any kind of income-generating activity, apart from writing novels and producing the occasional reader’s report for a publishing house. He doesn’t teach creative writing classes, or literature classes. He never talks to an agent, though he occasionally does interviews or goes to writers’ conferences. He doesn’t write book reviews for magazines or newspapers. He is not enrolled in a PhD program or a funded MFA program—welfare for American intellectuals. His wife, Linda, is a poet who never seems to engage in any income-generating activity at all. And yet they have an apartment in the center of Stockholm, and Knausgaard has an office—a room of his own. The Knausgaards are always eating crab and salmon, drinking good wine and cognac. They vacation in Spain, and never seem to worry about the financial welfare of their aging parents. Most shocking of all, they have an extravagant number of children—three—in the course of just four years. They never wonder who’ll pay for their children to go to college, probably because in Sweden and Norway, university is free. When Linda gives birth, Knausgaard ponders the existential aspects of this process, rather than worrying about the hospital bill. In Stockholm, as in New York, life is full of banality; but it’s a different banality, without credit card debt or massive student loans.

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Reposted with permission from: N + 1 Magazine

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