cover image My Struggle: Book One

My Struggle: Book One

Karl Ove Knausgaard, trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. Archipelago (Consortium, dist.), $18 trade paper (471p) ISBN 978-1-935744-18-4

Knausgaard's perplexing autobiographical third novel (after A Time for Everything) is by turns a coming of age story%E2%80%94told in fits and starts%E2%80%94and a philosophical exploration of what it means to be a son, brother, and writer. The first in a series of six, this work is at its melancholy best when ruminating on how to survive in a world too minutely examined to trust or love: on the first page, the narrator's focus shifts in a moment from a sentimental note on the life of the heart to an outline of the physical processes of bodily decomposition. And though Knausgaard's sprawling story is rife with vital energies%E2%80%94flitting from the discoveries of childhood to the meditations of a more mature man%E2%80%94death's presence is palpable throughout: Karl's attention is constantly drawn toward the vanishing point of his late estranged, alcoholic father. A profusion of quotidian ephemera%E2%80%94from binge drinking to cigarette after cigarette%E2%80%94serves to highlight the incommensurability of death in light of the banality of life. Though light on plot (or perhaps heavy on it, depending on a reader's estimation of hyperrealist saturation as constituting a storyline), Knausgaard's gorgeous prose and enthralling reflections make this tome a rewarding struggle. (May)