Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard - a review

My Struggle: Book 1My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgård

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the interest of full disclosure, I gave up at around page 336, so I did not finish the first volume. Thus, my review is based only on the first 336 pages. ONLY.

My Struggle started wonderfully strong with the premise of the human death and its relation to all things. The prose was strong, philosophical almost, and thus my initial impression of this book was highly favorable. I recall comparing it to Henry Miller's finest writings.

However, little did I know that the book would soon take a turn for worse.

Karl Ove writes in a casual, almost pensive style I can relate to. The first part of the book deals almost exclusively with his childhood, and the story opens promisingly enough to capture my interest. A dysfunctional household, escapades with friends, young age drinking and smoking, his desire for girls, his struggles at school. Sure, I could relate to all of that. Except, Karl Ove achieves no breakthroughs, no emotional growth, and, in the end, he becomes just a punk for the sake of being a punk.

And then, somewhere around page 200, he writes that he hardly remembers anything from his childhood. Seriously? I just spent the last 200 pages discovering minute, unimportant facts about his childhood written in an unnecessary detail. He clearly contradicts himself here.

Fast forward to part two of book one, the part largely written in the present time. Karl Ove continues to be not much different from the young punk I disliked, except that now he has literary ambitions. He knows that what he is writing is not good enough, yet he does not change. When his father dies, Karl spends too much time contemplating death, and not really dealing with it.

While I'm at this point, I would like to admit that I, too, often contemplate death. The finality of it gives me a certain comfort. I think of it every time I ride my motorcycle, for example, fully aware that the next second could be the last. It gives me an introspective view on my life thus far, and, in turn, makes me appreciate life. There is no fear, just an awareness. Karl Ove, however, writes as if he was whining, which disturbs me.

His writing examines minute details of life which do not add anything to the story. In theory, he is writing an anti-novel, perhaps using the banality of everyday moments to show how unimportant those things are in the grand scheme of things. But this is where he fails. He makes no discoveries, no profound statements, no breakthroughs. His life is just not interesting enough for me to care about.

Henry Miller, for example, wrote in minute details about his life, but his life was interesting. It was full of art, women, adventures . . . Miller loved life and lived it to the fullest. His writing reflects that. Karl Ove's, in comparison, is just "Bleh" and does not add anything to broaden my horizons.

Knut Hamsun wrote similarly, but he had his insanity to add an extra dimension. He made sense. Karl Ove just takes an inventory, whines a little, takes more inventory . . . "Do something with this!" I wanted to scream at the book.

At times, My Struggle read like a writer's exercise in writing. If you had written, you know the times when you sit down at the computer (notepad, typewriter) and want to write, but nothing good comes out. Then you sit there and start writing about mundane things, little snippets of recollections, little memories, and it does not really go anywhere, but it causes your fingers to move and your mind to focus. Most authors do that. But most authors do it as an exercise and not as a writing project.

In short, as a reader I feel cheated. I was given a brilliant example of writing with the opening, but it was later replaced with the mundane reality of Karl's world. Frankly, I do not see what all the fuss is about, and I cannot comprehend why the critics praise this work.

View all my reviews