The Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, has made compelling fiction out of the raw materials of his own lifeby Joanna Kavenna / March 27, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
Knausgaard’s latest book takes us back to his 1970s childhood in southern Norway ©ISTOCK
Boyhood Island (My Struggle: 3) by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Harvill Secker, £12.99)
Boyhood Island, by the Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard, is an impressionistic “autobiographical novel,” the third in a six-part series, describing the life of the author, or at least the life of a putatively real person called Karl Ove Knausgaard. The first two books, published in English under the Proustian titles A Death in the Family and A Man in Love, are narrated by the adult “Knausgaard,” as he deals with the death of his father and the birth of his own children. He lives in Stockholm and, amazingly, has money to write. Yet he is illat- ease and argues constantly with his wife. He spends the days placating his children when really he wants to compose a great novel. He is trapped in shyness and finds it hard to speak the truth.
Boyhood Island takes us back to Knausgaard’s 1970s childhood. He lives with his parents and his older brother on a housing estate in southern Norway. His father has a vicious temper and Knausgaard is afraid of him. The adults are a ragged bunch of mostly middle-class hippies, imbued with vague notions of social reform but content to live affluent bourgeois lives. Knausgaard does well at school, kisses a girl, quests avidly for the admiration of his peers, throws a stone at a car, wonders if he is wearing the right kind of flared tracksuit bottoms and fails to discern a host of abject nuances that are evident to the adult reader.
This is the sort of quiet subjectivism that is normally doomed to go unread, or destined for a sketchy cult following at best. Where is the unique selling point? The competitive dispersal of trauma? Nothing happens! Over and over again! Yet Boyhood Island is being published in English by an imprint of Random House, one of the UK’s largest publishers, and on the cover we are told that Knausgaard is an “international literary sensation,” while review excerpts explain how “daring,” “maddening” and “powerful” his work is. Knausgaard has even been lampooned in the media, damned as a provocateur and renegade. It is like Georgio Morandi quietly painting his delicate still lives and then finding himself being denounced in the press as a national outrage, with everyone talking about that crazy artist, Morandi and his maddening pictures of bottles, bowls, how dare he? International notoriety ensues. But how? And why?