I don't read much fiction. I say that with no pride, I think my life is probably the poorer for it, but I seem to have so many other things pulling at me in terms of my work and the thinking that goes with it, that I always edit out fiction-time in favour of non-fiction works. This probably means that I am a closet workaholic, maybe the fact that I have three regular jobs is also a testament to that! But life is short and interesting and many things pull at my curiosity so...
But recently I picked up a novel or sorts. It's not really a novel, more an autobiography told in novel form, by Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard called, My Struggle (Min Kamp in Norwegian and allusions to Hitler's Mein Kampf are intentional--the final book which is yet to appear in English, apparently contains a 400-page essay on the Nazis and the recent mass-killings in Sweden by Anders Breivik).
Knausgaard's struggles encompass life in all of it's brutal mundanity, and believe me, it is mundane--there is so much detail of seemingly inconsequential stuff but banality of life is really what he is after that and to cover a couple of areas particularly: his alcoholic father and death. Yes death.
In fact, I had no idea of the fuss around these six lengthy volumes, somehow I had missed the book-fever attention they had garnered. But I saw the cover with the authour's intense face looking out and the title smacking me in the facr and I opened it up and was hooked.
"For the heart life is simple. It beats for as long as it can. Then it stops. Sooner or later, one day, this pounding action will cease of its own accord, and the blood will begin to run towards the body's lowest point..."
That was enough for me and I picked up the book. Knausgaard is a novelist who tired of writing fiction and set out to achieve something different and it would seem he has done so in these books. In his native Norway, a country of 5 million, he has sold about half a million copies, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. This is writing not for the faint-hearted, there is no Oprah-fication aha moment, public confession, just unflinching reflection on his father's death and alcoholism, his falied marriage, his second wife's bipolarity and his conflicting feelings about fatherhood and parenting.
Death permeates the book, and while some would perhaps recoil from such a thread, especially when it is presented so coolly at times, it is what gives the book such depth and rhythm, you can feel it haunting the pages. He writes of people who witness accidents and notes,
“that which belongs to the body and is concrete, physical and material, this death is hidden with such great care that it borders on a frenzy, and it works, just listen to how people who have been involuntary witnesses to fatal accidents or murders tend to express themselves. They always say the same, it was absolutely unreal, even though what they mean is the opposite. It was so real. But we no longer live in that reality. For us everything has been turned on its head, for us the real is unreal, the unreal real.”
The first volume ends with his father's death and closes with these words,
"Now I saw his lifeless state. And that there was no longer any difference between what once had been my father and the table he was lying on, or the floor on which the table stood, or the wall socket beneath the window, or the cable running to the lamp beside him. For humans are merely one form among many, which the world produces over and over again, not only in everything that lives but also in everything that does not live, drawn in sand, stone, and water. And death, which I have always regarded as the greatest dimension of life, dark, compelling, was no more than a pipe that springs a leak, a branch that cracks in the wind, a jacket that slips off a clothes hanger and falls to the floor."
Lest you think it is all death and dying, well it is, sort of, there are passages of real insight and beauty about most things in life. early on he writes of his daughter's birth and launches into a short meditation on the human eye taking in Rembrandt's final self-portrait and his own daughter's eyes 'like two black lanterns.'
My Struggle is no picnic, or beach read, or perhaps it is best read on a beach with life in all it's beauty and mundanity unfolding before us, wherever one reads it, it should, in my opinion be read and the life sucked from all its pages.