on 23 March 2015
For huge swathes of the novel this is really dull, not a patch on the first book in the series, and that had its 'longeurs'. The interminable conversations with other Scandinavian poets and novelists remind me of scenes with Jack Kerouac and the 'deadbeats' he hung around with and their endless aimless conversations.
While his unpleasant wife was giving birth the book burst briefly into life burst into life before resuming its dismal progress.
Knausgaard's egoism knows no bounds. He expects us to empathise with his dreary life without making the effort or having the skill to make it interesting.
I think this is seriously overhyped.
on 20 October 2014
I read this in the US hardback edition (available directly from Archipelago books) which was an experience that, as with volume 1, worked out well.
There is nothing in this second volume to equal the account in the second half of the first volume of Knausgaard going, with his brother, to visit the house in which his father died, where his grandmother now lives (with her mind unravelling) and which has been completely trashed by his alcoholic father over the previous three years.
But there is a great deal to enjoy, and I suspect remember: the full horror of finding it a struggle to cope with three children and of the politics of the family and the couple - and dealing with a mother in law who is drinking while looking after their first child for them part-time; a New Year's Eve party with friends (in which they all say their life has been going down hill and they are in their 30s); becoming a house husband; talks with his friend Geir and the differences between Swedish and Norwegian behaviours (of which I had previously has no idea - Swedes are civilised and controlled; Norwegians a little wild and let it all hang out); readings of his work and interviews; and reflections on Norwegian literature (which I expect I will soon forget!)….above all Knausgaard's determination to work (write) come what may - and come what may in terms of the consequences for his wife and his children…and Knausgaard in love, lacerating his own face with a broken bottle when an approach to the woman who will become his (second) wife has gone awry at a residential writer's workshop (and he is already married at the time)….
This remains a work like no other, and it remains a puzzle to me how the mundane details of life can provide the material for a work of fiction that holds the reader's attention…But I have now read two long books and expect I will soon set out on the third...
on 11 December 2014
I am presently bogged down in the description of a family group with small children whose every word is listened to by the writer, and transmitted faithfully to the reader.
The first volume, 'A death in the Family' was compulsive reading, with wonderful atmospheric restructuring of boyhood and a father-son relationship, where you could taste and smell the small town dreariness of Western Norway - reminiscent of Ibsen's youth. I wasn't struck by the apparently exact recall, believing that we can all bring up that degree of detail if we concentrate hard enough both at the time and in the memory. I'll have to get over my desire to spank the children and speak seriously to Mr Knausgaard about his child-rearing before I can continue with the series, which, I believe, is infinitely worthwhile.
Karl Ove Knausgaard's struggle to write his follow up novel continues in `A Man in Love'. Once again memories and events are described in minute detail and he moves between various times in his life, `A Death in the Family' centred on Knausgaard's relationship with his father and `A Man in Love' centres on his relationship with Linda, who becomes his second wife. This relationship is described warts and all, the arguments, the breaking up and making up. It can't have been easy for the authors second wife to read such honesty within the pages of this novel. I particularly sympathised with his experience of a children's birthday party.
At the end of this novel Knausgaard writes about writing the events which make up Volume 1 `A Death in the Family', about how painful it was but that it was something he just had to write. By the end of this novel I had a better understanding of how this cycle of novels came to be written, an understanding of how he views fiction. I am also aware of his opinion on reviews (he doesn't read them) and literary prizes.
I am as guilty as anyone of lumping the Scandinavian countries together, it was quite an eye opener to learn how different Norway and Sweden really are through the eyes of Knausgaard, there are times when he is far from complimentary about his adopted country.
Like Vol 1 this is written as a continuous narrative, but I did find it harder to read, for a start it is quite a bit longer and unlike Vol 1 it is not divided into 2 parts. It took me a while to really get into it but I got through around the last 100 pages in one sitting and found myself wanting to read Vol 3. Would be authors could do worse than read these books I am sure they would recognise many of the experiences that Knausgaard describes, although it might well stop some from even trying.
Before I reached the end I had already bought his novel `A Time to every Purpose Under Heaven' which is referred to several times, although I haven't got round to reading it yet! Only read this if you read and enjoyed 'A Death in the Family' and be prepared to set aside some undisturbed 'me time'.
on 5 April 2014
These aren't books like any others you've read, constantly surprising and fascinating, and dangerous, and sometimes beautiful. It's life without the artificialities of fiction or memoir. His sheer strength of purpose, his thoughts and opinions, his vivid descriptions of people and places, his very long accounts of the most ordinary social occasions, which become hallucinatory, in the end lead one to the inescapable conclusion that he's some kind of genius. I'm so much looking forward to the next instalment.
That said, don't buy the British hardback, it's sadly a typical example of current British book-making, ugly airport novel, bulky, cheap paper, horrid meaningless design, with a catchpenny title and huge 'international bestseller' headline. Compared with the American edition it's so embarrassing.
on 6 August 2016
This novel will not be to everyone's taste. It is intensely thoughtful, heavily reliant on reactions to people, actions, the protaganist's vulnerabilities and so on. It requires the reader to quickly and fully sympathise with a male perspective on life, casting aside notions of masculinity. Once you commit, you witness a series of ordinary chores and encounters that each have a resonance with our own experiences. Of course, it would be advantageous to read the first in the series. Knausgaard's subtle and precise language choices infuse the book with its own vitality. I have enjoyed both the first and second and look forward to the remainder.
on 22 March 2015
I think this is the best of the three Knausgaard volumes that I've read so far (I started with Book 3 and then read Book 1 - not a bad order to tackle them, as it happens). Having read about his childhood and his father's death, this volume covers fatherhood, though in fact we miss out a period that would have covered his first marriage, which we hear little about. Maybe that comes in the next installment, I'm not sure. Or maybe even Knausgaard can't think of much to say about it.
Why should we want to read about this rather ordinary life? That's the great mystery of Knausgaard: he manages to keep us reading while describing, in great detail, the boring routine of everyday life. This is reality literature: a rambling account of everything we all do all the time, detailed descriptions of making a cup of tea, boiling potatoes, changing a nappy, pouring a drink ... it's mostly banal, often dull, but also strangely compulsive and occasionally brilliant.
This book reaches new heights with a lengthy account of the birth of their first baby. It's by far the most moving part of the story so far, perhaps because the birth of a child is of course more moving than making a cup of tea, but also because Knausgaard captures the intensity of the whole thing quite brilliantly. I'd be surprised if any author has done it better.
But of course, not many authors have tackled these subjects before. Or at least, if they did they weren't published. This is what makes him so different: he wrote a 3,600-page novel detailing an ordinary life, and he actually got it published!
Knausgaard has been compared to Proust, with some justification, but Proust never wrote about this kind of thing. Where in `La Recherche' is the artful description of boiling potatoes? Nowhere, because Proust never made a meal in his life. And he didn't get married or have kids. In fact this book is the least Proust-like of the three volumes I've read so far, but none the worse for that. No writer will ever improve on Proust, because Proust is about a time and a place as well as being the ultimate expression of literature as an art form.
What Knausgaard does is to update the lengthy autobiographical concept for modern times: to capture, as Proust did, the essence of what it means to be human, but to do it not through a privileged, high-society existence, but through a life much like everyone else's. And it works: this is his genius.
However, there are a lot of boring bits in `My Struggle', and Book Two is no exception; Towards the end there's a conversation between Knausgaard and his friend Geir that lasts for 30 pages and becomes a device for dumping a whole load of opinions onto the reader, similar in a way to the rambling dialogues on religion and philosophy in `The Brothers Karamazov', which might not be a coincidence, as Knausgaard often mentions Dostoevsky.
It's because of this sort of thing, and all the times he writes `ha ha ha!' and all the other lines that should have been left out, that I can't give this five stars. But even so, it's good in its own unique way, and I intend to read the next installment, after a short break, perhaps.
on 17 April 2015
I am at a complete loss in understanding why anyone would want to read Knausgaard. His writings, especially this one - well, I am not going to read any more, are utterly banal, uneventful and overly verbose.
In Scandinavia he has been compared to Proust, but where Proust was educated and moved in circles of high culture, Knausgaard is....well, no big deal. This is not about criticising Knausgaard really - he just writes everything he thinks without being particularly original or learned or .....well, no it is about the reader and about our narcissistic culture.
What can you possibly gain from reading plain descriptions of the eventless commonplace? Where are the dreams, the inspiration, the goals? Should't we think about the pulp, the trees, the waste of energy?
on 27 January 2016
‘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.
A Man in Love is the second 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.
A Man in Love zooms in on the author’s relationship with his second wife, the Swede Linda. At first dazzled by Linda and entirely fulfilled, Knausgaard finds that the magic wears off as he gets used to married life and young children put pressure on his couple. Debates about the time and dedication each must invest in child rearing takes the place of unquestioning mutual devotion. And once again, Knausgaard labours to recover the sense of meaning he thought he had found in his everyday life.
Much else happens, ranging from the semi-tragic to the entirely comical. Knausgaard’s writing, indeed, proceeds by open and never-closed parenthesis, one subject or anecdote recalling another one, and so forth without always closing the first. His narration has a rambling, Russian-doll structure that creates the impression of a table-corner or pub-counter confession, and gives it the aura of a friend’s confidence. The book is occasionally long-winded, but it is never boring nor heavy-going. Perhaps my only criticism of this second volume is that actually Linda does not come across as very likeable. 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 23 February 2015
I know there are at least six books in this series but only 3 have been translated into English so far and having now read all three I personally found this one by far the most gripping. Knausgaard is a literary genius with a very unusual approach. Not everyone's cup of tea, I'm sure, but like many others I have found his biographical musings addictive. A hard-won achievement for a writer who has already become a sort of legend .