on 12 May 2014
I've read the two previous volumes, which aren't obligatory but it's probably advisable to read the work in order. It's hard to know why Knausgaard's series is so gripping, but it is. Here, he recounts his childhood on an island. Nothing super-dramatic happens, but the narrative carries you along. His relationships with his family and friends, sexual awakening of a sort, all these are described, as well as the rather strange, isolated environment in which he's brought up. The whole series has been highly praised and in my view deserves the praise it's been given. Let's hope we English-speakers don't have to wait too long for the rest.
on 12 October 2015
Most of the reviews of Knausgaards narratives use the words empathy or 'relating to'. Many books deserve these testimonies, but I think that Knausgaard's writing is more sophisticated and intriguing than just this. The reader actually becomes him, and in this respect, the book becomes strangely three dimensional. The reader hears what the writer hears, sees what he sees, but more importantly feels what he feels as if he occupied the exact same space in the exact same time as Knausguaard describes. I am quite widely read and I have never before had this experience when reading a book.
I realise that I have thus far said nothing about the content of the book. It is about the period of his boyhood, growing up on a Norwegian island, just living through an everyday childhood. He has a severe and abusive father who certainly colours his experiences, but I cant help wondering if the large space that descriptions of his fathers brutality occupy in the book represent the actual times he was cruel; in the same way that his mother is depicted as the epitome of sweetness, despite the evidence that she stood by and watched as her children lived in terror of their father.
I dont doubt that Knausgaards father's brutality diminished his child's confidence and spawned a self hate in him; for this is what the book is really about, male shame. For all the critisism levelled against Knausgaard for exposing his family and his friends, the person who is so, painfully and rawly exposed by his writing is himself. This, I am sure, is where the fascination for these books really lies. It is also a reminder for those of us who also grew up in the 1970s and 80s of the richness that is found in a childhood where we ran wild, developed distinct personalities and had the opportunity to make and learn from our own mistakes.
As the title suggests for the 3rd volume in the 'My Struggle' cycle Knausgaard revisits childhood. 'Boyhood Island' opens with the family arriving on the island of Tromøya in August 1969, when Karl Ove is a baby and ends as they leave the island with Karl Ove now a teenager. I defy anyone who reads this book not to think of their own childhood, the successes and failures, fears, times of embarrassment, friends and enemies,not to mention your first boy/girlfriend and broken heart.If you have read 'Death in the Family', the first volume, you will already know that Karl Ove had a very difficult relationship with his father and this one paints the picture of this relationship in detail. Knausgaard writes with complete honesty and makes the most mundane events and situations interesting and compelling, leaving me - and I am sure many published authors feel the same - wondering 'how does he do it?'
I found this volume the easiest to read and it would be a good starting point for anyone who hasn't read the other books. It is a continuous narrative and there are, as I expected, long paragraphs but 'Boyhood Island' is more of a straight narrative, with very little moving around in time and only on a couple of occasions does the Karl Ove of the present make an appearance. It is hard not to become completely absorbed by the story, reading time extended as I thought 'just another page or 2 and then I will do the ironing, cook dinner, or whatever'.
As I finished 'Boyhood Island' I immediately wanted to read the next book, but as there is about a year before I will be able too I returned to 'A Death in the Family', even though I had another couple of novels on the go at the time.
For anyone who hasn't heard of 'My Struggle' before the first 2 voumes are 'A Death in the Family' and 'A Man in Love'. They read like an autobiography but are actually novels. How much is fact and how much is fiction? Only the author and those close to him really know but he did upset quite a few family members by publishing the cycle.
I bought the Kindle version as it meant I could carry it around to read but couldn't resist getting the HB as well to go with the others!
on 20 August 2015
Certainly the weakest of the volumes published thus far in English, but sets context for the Karl Ove we meet in the other volumes. As a memoir of childhood it is not especially striking, although many people will see parallel with their own childhood. I think I am about four years younger than the author, and was brought up in 1970s Northern England, and I see an uncanny similarity in many of the events and experiences of my own childhood.
The opening is rather worrysome, as Karl Ove narrates events he could not have witnessed being only a baby. Mercifully this is conscious on the part of the writer, seeking to underline the fallability of this kind of endeavour. I am reminded of the first line of Andre Gide's autobiography, Si le grain me meurt: 'Je naquis le 22 novembre 1869. Mes parents occupaient alors, rue de Médicis, un appartement au quatrième ou cinquième étage, qu’ils quittèrent quelques années plus tard, et dont je n’ai pas gardé souvenir' [I was born on the 22nd November 1869. Back then my parents lived in an appartment in the Rue Medicis on the 4th or 5th floor, which they would leave several years later and of which I have no recollection.'. Gide, like Karl Ove, questions whether autobiography can be reliable, regardless of our intentions, from the word go.
Still, as Karl Ove grows, so too does the pace of the narrative and it becomes compelling. We miss the self conscious narrator of the other books quite a bit however. In the rest of 'my struggle' it is Karl Ove's desire for self knowledge which is so gripping, and his desire to understand the meaning of his life through his experiences, both active and passive. There is simply less depth and ambiguity to a child's sense of self.
Of course, it is probably a deliberate choice to present this volume more about the the surface of things, as that is truer to the experience of a child, and feels more authentic.
As such however, we experience his tyrannical father rather two dimensionally - how he was perceived or existed for the young child, rather than speculating about his motivations and seeing him through the eyes of others who might be more illuminating.
We do however get an idea of Karl Ove's sense of self awakening - his sense of his superiority based on his intellect being worn away, insight into the introverted, emotional, and intuitive character who, especially as a boy/man, is rather different from the masculine archetypes around him, and which creates a feeling of isolation and alienation. We also see the romantically impetuous Karl Ove which characterises later relationships.
In 'A man in love' the writer opens up his inner world to us and has the courage to present the self doubt and flaws which typically go unexpressed in all of us - for example, the relationship with his young children and his second wife. Rightly, as a book of childhood this perspective is not open to us. It is less rich as a result, but does contextualise Karl Ove, the adult. It is judiciously placed third in the series In that case, rather than at the beginning. As with many of us in Western culture and Karl Ove, so few of our childhood relationships persist into adulthood, and it is right we only learn about the child once we know the man.
on 4 October 2014
This is the third book of Karl Ove's I have read and I loved every chapter, every word, every thought contained in it. As he is the same age as my son I recognise the similarities between a child of the 70's growing up in Norway and a child of the 70's in the UK because this is the story of everyone's childhood, the intense feelings, the growing realisation that boys and girls are different and the ways in which they differ, the importance of your relationship with your parents but how they are somehow outside your world. Like Zadie Smith I need his next 3 books to be translated, come on Don Bartlett and thank you so much for the first three.
on 6 May 2014
This is my first Knausgaard. I liked the lucid prose and was pained by the childhood knots and embarrassments and Karl Ove's fear of his bullying father. And then there are the fresh, as-if-it-happened-yesterday descriptions of romps in the forest, the friendships interwoven with pre-teen complexes to do with acceptance/rejection, the landscape of a Norwegian island, holidays on his grandparents' farm, the first, awkward sexual experimentations. And the question which nags as you read - his mum was so nice, why couldn't she rescue him from his dad's rages? (The father did keep his more sadistic outbursts for when she wasn't around). But then isn't this why childhood can be so painful - you don't disclose your deepest fears to anyone? But with the immediacy of childhood, Karl Ove can be feeling stuck and deeply despondent and then suddenly he is out there on his bike looking for discarded porn mags with his friend Geir, very much in the moment. Excellent writing in many ways.
Why not five stars? Well, I have to admit that there were a few paragraphs which interested me less, with their detailed long descriptions and I skim-read them. But when I focused back in, it was always worth it and the scenes came alive. The final impression is of a most vivid portrayal of this boy's childhood, his acute sensitivities and his resilience, and it cannot but resonate with many aspects of any reader's childhood too.
‘The life around me was not meaningful. I always longed to be away from it, and always had done. So the life I led was not my own. I tried to make it mine, this was my struggle, because of course I wanted it, but I failed, the longing for something else undermined all my efforts.’ This, in a nutshell, is what the My Struggle cycle of four books is about, though at 3,000 plus pages altogether, this lends itself less than any other work to any nutshell characterisation.
Boyhood Island is the third of four volumes which, while they can be read entirely independently, purport together to tell the story of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s own life. Ostensibly autobiographical, the books appear to have been fictionalised in areas, or at least in the detail, though in the main it checks out. But the point is that Knausgaard’s life is no different from that of any average denizen of the modern, developed world, save perhaps that a writer is free from some of the professional constraints most people find themselves labouring under. His life is meant as an ordinary life, with a more or less fraught relationships, the search for professional success and meaning, friends, marriage, divorce, and so on. His struggle is everyone’s struggle.
Boyhood Island returns to Knausgaard’s childhood, this time his earlier years spent on the island of Tromoya (somewhere in southern Norway). Inevitably this overlaps with the first volume, A Death in the Family, especially because much of it is about the author’s fraught relationship with his violent, authoritarian, and unpredictable father. Again, Knausgaard makes the point that children’s everyday reality is unfiltered and therefore often vested with greater power and meaning. The adult sees things through the prisms of experience and self-observation, and to return to one’s childhood is to attempt to recapture its more pungent actuality, to reconnect with life itself.
As in the other books, Knausgaard’s writing proceeds by open and rarely-closed parenthesis, one subject or anecdote recalling another one, and so forth without always closing the first. This volume is perhaps more conventional that the other two in that it is more tightly framed chronologically, though, and that it smacks of a typical coming of age story. The book touches on the child’s school experiences, his friendships, first loves, and difficulty in relating to his parents. It is a reminder that children live in their own universe, aware but dimly of the adult’s world and interested foremost in other children and children’s things (like a dog to other dogs and doggy things, writes Knausgaard). Apparently there are more books to come, but I expected Knausgaard to continue the tale from A Man In Love, and I felt this volume was a little less original than the first two. It is no coincidence, finally that the cycle title, My Struggle, or in Norwegian Min Kamp, is the same as Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Obfuscation, misdirection: these are also part and parcel of this dense, rich, and fascinating work.
on 1 January 2015
Karl Ove's early life, through to around the age of 13, recounted in the style that will be familiar from the first two volumes of My Struggle. As ever, he is brutally honest about himself. He is a child who is bullied by his father, but who is also always ready to burst into tears, when his essays are not read out in class, when he is substituted on the football pitch, when he loses the sweets he has bought to an attack by girls, or indeed has a one to one fight with a girl towards the end of the book, where he loses yet more face.
But it brings to life with exceptional vividness a period of life when small things matter enormously, when we start to find our way in the world of school, of friendship and with the opposite sex, and when the traumas we suffer will mark us for life.
Anyone who liked the first two volumes is unlikely to be disappointed.
And this US hardback edition is a pleasure to read….
on 30 March 2014
If you haven't yet read Knausgaard's fictionalised autobiography, begin immediately! Part 1 is 'A Death in the Family'. I cannot wait for Part 4. I have not been this engaged and provoked by a living writer for a very long time. This is not light reading: he is a deeply serious artist. Yet it is also, often, very funny; and just, well, real, in a way that makes most contemporary writing seem like a pale reflection of life.
on 13 January 2016
This book reminded me of things I felt growing up. I had almost forgotten. Moments were so poignant it brought tears to my eyes. I also realised that I was not alone with my thoughts growing up, that Karl Ove also felt things I thought were only true to me. Great book.