The Paris Review has a great, longish interview with Karl Ove Knausgård, the Norwegian writer who recently published a six-volume autobiographical novel (two of which are out now in English) revealing pretty much everything about his inner life, his family and personal history. He goes into some intense places. The novel is amazing. Not quite like anything you’ve ever read. It oscillates wildly between the mundane and the epiphanic, the bad and the unbearably good.
Can you talk about how you remember the past when you’re writing?
Writing is recalling. In this matter I am a classic Proustian. You’re playing football for the first time in twenty years, for example, doing all those movements again, and it makes the body remember not only the strangely familiar movements, but also everything connected to playing football, and for some seconds, a whole world is brought back to you. Where did it come from? I think that all our ages, all our experiences are kept in us, all we need is a reminder of something, and then something else is released.
When I started the novel, I imagined our house, myself walking towards it, it was snowing, it was dark, inside was my father and my mother, and I remembered the feeling of snow, and the smell of it, and the feelings I had toward my father at that time, and toward my mother, and there was the cat crossing the road, and on the other side of the river, the lights from a car. The silence in the woods. My friend, Jan Vidar, he was there somewhere, and the girl I was mad about, and the way I thought of him and her, and the light from the window kind of glowed, and I remembered an episode from the ski slope, and opened the door, and there, on the floor, the shoes from that time, the smell, the atmosphere.
My memory is basically visual, that’s what I remember, rooms and landscapes. What I do not remember are what the people in these room were telling me. I never see letters or sentences when I write or read, but only the images they produce. The interesting thing is that the process of writing fiction is exactly the same for me, the only difference is that these landscapes are imaginary. These images are related to the way you think of a place you never have been, where you imagine everything, the houses, the mountains, the marketplaces. Then, the second you are there and see how the place really is, the weight of its reality crushes your imagined version. But where did that version come from in the first place?
The first volume was reviewed by James Woods in the New Yorker:
Above all, this is a kind of writing that accommodates variety—narrative and essay, the concrete and the theoretical, the general and the metaphorical (that image of our lives like boats in a lock, waiting for the sluice gates to open). As in Proust, we get surprising and vivid shifts when we move from reflection to example (that quick narrowing, from thinking about the sociology of death to an actual corpse, the author’s father). There is something ceaselessly compelling about Knausgaard’s book: even when I was bored, I was interested. This striking readability has something to do with the unconventionality of “My Struggle.”
There’s also a long excerpt from the second volume, A Man in Love in the New Yorker.
I was also going to link to the New Inquiry’s review of the book, but I keep getting a warning that the site might be unsafe … so I’ll just have to leave you to find it at your own peril. Instead, I’ll share one of my favourite passages from My Struggle. The ending of the first volume sticks particularly well, the protagonist seeing his dead father’s corpse for the second time:
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.
That image at the end of the jacket slipping off a clothes hanger keeps opening up, moving.
Oh, and of course: the #Knausface meme.
Photo: Asbjørn Jensen, publicity shot