My Struggle Book 5 by Karl Ove Knausgaard (tr. Don Bartlett). Archipelago Books. $27.00, 626pp.
Respected, parodied, revered, despised, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle has been with us for just four years. Few in the English-speaking world knew the Norwegian’s name in 2012, but in just four years he has come to seem so omnipresent that NYRB critic, author, and beloved contrarian Tim Parks recently chastised us against “the impression of [Knausgaard's] huge and inevitable success.”
There is some truth there. He has not sold in numbers that would put envy on J.K. Rowling’s face—there is a degree of hype—but with U.S. sales of the first four volumes of the series likely topping 200,000 copies, Knausgaard is certainly far more successful and better-known than all but a handful of authors of the last few years. And now that we have Book 5 the end is in sight; the method behind the entire cycle has at last come into view. It is time to take stock.
At the start few would have predicted Knausgaard’s extraordinary success, but there were signs. James Wood rhapsodized Book 1 in The New Yorker in one of his best reviews of 2012, drawing on a beloved Walter Benjamin essay to examine Knausgaard’s fascination with death. In support of that first book Knausgaard gave well-attended events in New York City, and he received a lengthy profile by The New York Times. Surely if you swing a cat in many metropolitan areas it will collide with a few authors who have attained similar notoriety; still, it was a promising beginning.
In the next year excitement was building. People in the know knew: this investment could pay off big. So the storied New York press that had managed to make a killing off of Roberto Bolaño’s two massive novels decided that Knausgaard would be the next translated author to benefit from its largesse. A deal was struck: paperback rights to Farrar, Straus & Giroux, hardcover rights to the small Brooklyn publisher that discovered Knausgaard. Now backed by the same marketing machine that put a billboard of Jonathan Franzen on Times Square, the Norwegian’s feet began to leave the earth. The most important book review in North America gave Book 2 a rave. The Paris Review ran its first interview with him, this one on its website. This time The New Yorker ran an excerpt, with a lovingly crafted blurb by James Wood. Zadie Smith claimed in the NYRB that she could hardly go to a dinner party without talk of the Norwegian popping up.
And there I was with them, aching to put my love of Book 2 into words. To this day, having read five volumes of the series, it may still be my favorite of all. One night I dashed off a blog post for a little website:
This is the story of Knausgaard falling in love with his wife, and, well, it’s quite amazing. Knausgaard’s description of being carried away by a romance must be experienced! It alone makes the book stand out from the rest of the pack for me. . . .
In addition to all that, Knausgaard strings out for the length of the entire volume this utterly hilarious and tabloid-level fascinating story of his neighbor from hell, this Russian whore who plays incredibly abrasive techno “music” in the middle of the night and with whom he and his wife have this on-and-off feud for months. That last is such perfect Knausgaard: the ultimate sort of fascinating anecdote that that bottom-feeding reader in all of us just loves to hear, and the sort of an anecdote that Knausgaard tells like nobody else can. (Oh, and on that subject, the section where Knausgaard’s wife gives birth to their first child is simply AMAZING; it is long and drawn out and excruciating and simply shows realist writing at its very, very best. I think I almost fainted.)
I wrote that little post knowing I was somewhat late to the party. I had not been among the earliest adopters of Karl Ove. I had demurred from Book 1 until the fall of 2012. Then, after I had raced through that book in a week, I kept watch for my galley of Book 2, and when it arrived on February 6, 2013, I was thoroughly enchanted.
By the end of 2013 I was firmly on board, as were the New York City literary establishment and numerous influential critics and readers across the United States. Things were moving in an astonishing direction for My Struggle. The future was bright. But perhaps no one quite realized what awaited us with Book 3.
In 2014 they again brought Knausgaard to America, but this time they did it big. Big. Zadie Smith and about 400 eager beavers awaited him at McNally Jackson Bookstore in Manhattan, the largest event the store had ever seen. (I believe this was where Smith made her infamous declaration that she needed the next volume like crack.) Time magazine called him “Norway’s Proust,” the beginning of a spate of unfortunate Knausgaard/Proust comparisons. The New York Times style section asked Knausgaard to write an essay on the subject of his own fame. It also ran two book reviews, an honor reserved for the season’s biggest releases. At the end of the year, four separate New Yorker critics declared Book 3 one of their favorite books of the year. Everybody, it seemed, was writing about this book, including me. In 2014 I published a lengthy interview with him in Tin House, and I registered my opinions of the latest volume in the San Francisco Chronicle. While generally positive, my review was mixed:
Book Three is in many ways an enjoyable read and a solid addition to the series, but it is not up to the standards of the first two books. The original publication schedule of My Struggle saw the author pumping out Books Three through Six in a single year—something like 2,000 pages of writing in just 12 months! It’s a staggering performance, but the prose in Book Three is clearly less developed than in Books One and Two, over which Knausgaard spent considerably more time. One misses the rich philosophical musings that added such a satisfying depth to Knausgaard’s taut, absorbing stories from his life.
So much for 2014. A year later, Book 4 ignited another media storm, but something was beginning to change. The wear on the runaway, diesel-powered Hummer that was the Knausgaard media sensation was beginning to show. For one thing, Knausgaard clearly was not the biggest translated author in the building: Elena Ferrante, whose fame had been growing with each volume of her Neapolitan Quartet, was inarguably selling better than him, and had she abandoned her anonymity to conduct a major America tour she likely would have stolen the Norwegian’s shine. Additionally, readers were tiring of My Struggle’s idiosyncrasies. Did he really need to write down every last detail of his life? Maybe some revision would have helped trim the fat? Isn’t all this obsession about losing his virginity a little childish? In some quarters, a strange sort of feminist critique of Knausgaard was emerging: would anyone read it if a woman wrote 3,600 pages about her life? Even those who weren’t offended by Knausgaard’s gender or his excessive navel gazing were succumbing to fatigue after four years of augmenting hype. It did not help that Book 4 had the flimsiest plot yet—young Karl Ove tries to get lucky—as well as the series’ weakest prose. Now I was not alone in beginning to wonder if Knausgaard’s amazing literary dare had begun to go sour. As I wrote in my review of Book 4 in the San Francisco Chronicle:
As a doomed effort to write himself out of a trench of his own creation, Book Four achieves a kind of success in spite of itself. Nobody but a hack critic on deadline would mistake it for literary genius, but as a scramble from the moody engine-revving of Books One and Two to the Götterdämmerung of Book Six, it feels right, filling us in on the necessary details and doing a pretty compelling pastiche of adolescent angst along the way. You can’t help but be impressed at Knausgaard’s capacity to hit the ground running and not let up. Sure, there’s plenty to quibble with here, but I’ve never witnessed a man sprint the middle distance of a marathon with such blind terror.
I was tiring of My Struggle. I was not sure if I would even read Book 5, and it did not help matters any that in my interview with Knausgaard he had told me that he wrote Book 5 in a matter of weeks and could not stand to read it any longer. Was it possible that it was even worse than Book 4? Such was my mood that by the time a galley of Book 5 appeared on my front porch early in 2016, I dutifully tweeted a photo, more out of a sense of nostalgia than from anticipation.
I let the book sit for a month, and it might have sat much longer were it not for the intervention of a good friend. Regardless, pick it up I did, and as I began to read it something was happening. The prose had gotten better—not to the polished level of Books 1 and 2, but a clear improvement over 3 and 4. More than that, this felt like a book whose narrative was playing in a different league than the previous two volumes. This wasn’t a hodgepodge of memories from childhood. It wasn’t an egregiously padded People magazine article about an adolescent desperate for sex during his gap year. No. This was a story with a serious sweep. It was the a quotidian epic of a young man’s entire twenties, the years in which a young writer struggles to find his way. At last we were witnessing a conflict worthy of this mammoth title. This young writer’s life went to some excruciatingly dark places. There were no easy answers. Perhaps Knausgaard’s third decade really was a thing that justified four volumes of backstory and careful positioning. Yes, and in fact, Book 5 began to feel akin to that moment when one steps out of a thick grove of trees to see that a major ridge has been reached, suddenly beneath you stands the land you have just traversed, the hidden method to the trails you had just laboriously walked now revealed.
* * * *
Without a doubt, any effort to write 3,000 pages in just under three years will involve a degree of chaos and intuition. Knausgaard has acknowledged this, but he has also consistently stated in interviews that there was a plan behind My Struggle. Books 1 and 2 deal with his present-day life, Books 3 and 4 go into his deep childhood, Book 5 connects back up with where we started, and Book 6, Quixote-like shows the author seeing himself in the mirror of his fame.
Nonetheless, a severe gap separates Books 1 and 2 from Books 3 and 4. The former are all about the feeling of middle age. Death, marriage, and one’s children are their primary concerns. They are obsessed with Knausgaard’s fear that his life is losing its vitality. These first two books are also filled with essay-like digressions where the author works out his feelings on these subjects. Despite the philosophical tone, these books are page-turners because of the engrossing narratives that give these sizable volumes rhythm, structure, and a rakish energy. The case is much different with Books 3 and 4: being all about the experience of childhood and adolescence, they lean heavily on anecdotes and reminiscences of the crazy things that inevitably happen during these years. Being episodic and immature, their efforts to capture the mindstate of childhood leaves little room for the philosophical riffs on things like the experience of time or the place of death in modern life.
By the time one finishes Book 4, the series feels bipolar: a ruminative, middle-aged man versus a troublesome child. It is not clear which Karl Ove will win out, nor how this dissonance will be resolved. And so it is a sizable achievement that Book 5 provides the connective tissue. Covering Knausgaard’s college years and young adulthood, it examines the years where he has the worst of the alcohol-induced blackouts that have been foreshadowed since Book 1. For all the ignominious behavior, these are also the years where he begins to truly accept responsibility. Karl Ove begins guiding his life in a thoughtful and deliberative manner.
Book 5 also has what feels to me like the most significant hinge of the series to-date. It is just two pages tucked in to the bracing final stretch of this 600-page book. Knausgaard’s father is living in the house of his senile mother, where we know he will eventually drink himself to death. His son has not seen him for two years. He did not even attend Karl Ove’s wedding, which the son has felt as an unthinkable betrayal. Still nursing this wound, Karl Ove visits out of a sense of duty, and his dad decides to tell him that he is going to die. Not of alcohol poisoning but of cancer. It is a flat-out lie. Karl Ove immediately realizes this is a sick joke, a pathetic attempt to wrest sympathy by any means. The subject is dropped. The son sticks around a few minutes more and then leaves. In the spectacle of this grown man living in filth with his mother, this man who can barely unseat himself from the couch to open another beer for himself, and then this final, damning lie, something changes in the relationship. The tyrant who has threatened Karl Ove for his entire life is but a shadow. When Knausgaard stands up to leave in disgust, the power dynamic of the relationship reverses. The most terrifying and damaging figure of his entire life is no more.
* * * *
It is just two pages, not imbued with any sense of greatness, a moment that derives its power from the hundreds—really thousands—of pages of angst that precede it. Book 5 is replete with this sort of subtlety.
As the volume starts Karl Ove is enrolled in the Writing Academy at Bergen, where he expects to become a writer and fall in love with a young woman named Ingvild. What happens instead is that Karl Ove finds that he is the worst writer in his class, and Ingvild falls for his brother, Ygnve.
Perhaps not by coincidence, it is during this period that Karl Ove’s failures with alcohol reach a nadir. He routinely drinks to the point of absolute loss of control—the blackouts that have been foreshadowed since Book 1. When this happens, Karl Ove is fortunate if the worst thing he does is to steal a bike to pedal home, or fall asleep in the front seat of an unlocked car. But oftentimes he does unfathomable things that begin to build a boorish reputation for him. The worst of them comes at the end of the first section of Book 5, when the alcohol-drenched younger brother hurls a glass right into Ygnve’s face, then runs away and is discovered the next morning asleep in the halls of a nursing home. He is arrested. As if that were not shameful enough, his arrest falls on the day of the graduation ceremony from the Writing Academy. He instead spends that day and night drying out in a jail cell.
There is great courage here, and a seeming masochism, on the part of Knausgaard the author to portray this enormous failing in such true and vivid detail. Among the many reasons Knausgaard may have had for raking these coals, this scene is essential to the shape of Book 5: it is a long, difficult climb from this ultimate indignity to the milestone successes that mark Karl Ove’s young adulthood. Eventually he finds stable employment, he falls in love and marries, he develops close friendships with people of considerable literary talent and ambitions, he starts to make a name for himself in Norway’s literary scene. At last he attains the culminating success: the publication of his first novel.
As Karl Ove is moving uneasily toward the cusp of maturity, Knausgaard begins to re-introduce the relationship with the father. It is lightly done—Book 5 is not a volume where the father features heavily—but the relationship is clearly present throughout, and the deterioration cannot be missed. By the time we get to those two pages, the two pages where Karl Ove realizes that the tyrant of his childhood is now as weak as a kitten, the crosscurrents have been set. We can see Karl Ove’s independence growing, we can see the influence of his father shrinking. When we get here the import of the moment is unmistakable. Months later, when Karl Ove next sees his father, “for the first time in my life I felt stronger than him, for the first time in my life I didn’t feel a trace of fear in me.” The next time Knausgaard sees him—the last time he reports ever interacting with his father—the old man will be a complete shadow of his former self, already well on the road to an alcoholic death.
* * * *
If the relationship with Karl Ove’s father is like a powerful undercurrent that is continuously felt throughout Book 5 but largely unseen, Knausgaard’s transformation into a writer is front and center on almost every page. In fact Book 5′s greatest achievement is to give us an uncommonly truthful account of a writer struggling to acquire a language.
Early on in the book we witness the unexpected moment when Knausgaard first reads Paul Celan, who we know will become a major influence (indeed, Celan looms over the massive, thousand-page Book 6 and its book-within-a-book on Hitler and the Holocaust). When Karl Ove discovers him in Book 5, he immediately knows he is in the presence of something special. The poem he reads is “Death Fugue,” and Knausgaard’s writing instructor, Jon Fosse, tells the class that in his artistic project “no one had gone further” than had Celan. Karl Ove realizes that he has virtually no idea what Fosse means by this, and this is the clearest demonstration yet of everything that remains hermetic to him about the literary world. Nonetheless, though he does not understand a word of “Death Fugue,” he remains fascinated by its spectacle, so much that it occasions one of the most touching moments of Book 5.
Karl Ove is in love with Ingvild, but she does not want the uncultivated young man and instead takes up with his infinitely more urbane older brother. Although he has not yet been informed of Ingvild’s decision, Karl Ove senses something is amiss and begins to suspect that he is losing her. At last one night she arrives unannounced at his student apartment, hoping to explain that she has feelings for his brother, and not him. Knowing what she has come to say, Karl Ove does anything he can to prevent her from speaking. Suddenly he decides to force Ingvild to sit through a painfully awkward reading of “Death Fugue,” which of course has none of the desired effect. It is a quintessential moment for a young writer: that aching desire to share with someone the profound impact a text has had upon us, which results in absolute failure. For in this childish and inexpressive phase of the writing life, we have no ability to communicate what we feel about a text like Celan’s. Moreover, Karl Ove has misjudged Ingvild: she is not the type of person to be moved by Celan’s poetry. So it is a complete fiasco in every way possible. Karl Ove has no girlfriend, he has no writing community, he has no ideas to write about or the skill to make them exist. He has nothing but this poem, and this dismal attempt to share it with the one person who he thinks might understand.
It is a moment Book 5 specializes in: those incidents of young adulthood where one’s immaturity is heightened in the very act of attempting to appear mature. Those moments where the world tells you: it is not so easy to grow up as you would hope. Although this is an experience common to most, it is arguably more acute for Karl Ove in that he has never fit in with a crowd. His failure to mature is driven home at the Writing Academy, where he soon realizes that his attempts to pose as cool and cultured come off as laughable trifles that the other students in his class would never mistake for actual maturity. In his utter helplessness to escape his own childishness, Karl Ove achieves a pathos that he lacks in Books 3 and 4. He is harshly critiqued and painfully slighted by his fellow writing students. Ygnve constantly shows him up. And he has thrown at Ingvild the weightiest, most adult thing he has access to, only to find that she is merely annoyed by the inconvenience, confused by the gesture and not at all moved. Not only has Karl Ove failed to seduce this woman, he has failed to even communicate the tiniest bit of what this poem means to him.
Here, to digress briefly, we can see the difference between the stammering 19-year-old Karl Ove in Book 5 and the forty-something author who will brim with hundreds of pages on Celan in Book 6. This transformation gives a sense of the trajectory we are witnessing, the way that Books 3 through 6 travel from a place of silence to abundance, so much in fact that Knausgaard will not only write hundreds of pages on “Death Fugue” but also thousands on himself. This is the journey each writer must make: acquiring the tools to dig down into one’s depths and to begin to put words to those things that once stood inchoate and inaccessible. From the child enervated by Celan’s overwhelming artistry to the adult who struggles to contain everything he feels he must express about this poet.
But to return to the time of youth: Karl Ove suffers through a painful inability to communicate his thoughts throughout the first years in Book 5. Things begin to improve once he graduates from the Writing Academy and enrolls in college. A friend introduces him to Dante, which immediately strikes a chord. He reads two Thomases: Mann and Bernhard. He reads the Ancients, the theorists of the Frankfurt School, the poststructuralists, the existentialists. He likens these readings to “something being opened up.” Knausgaard digresses long enough to recall how Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment revealed to him that the Holocaust can not be seen as a single event but as the totality of the lives of every single person caught up in its sweep. He recalls that he and Espen, the friend who gave him Dante, read to one another in these college days and talk about art and music late into the night.
Through these acts Karl Ove is acquiring a language, and all throughout this time he attempts to write with it. He fails. Writing and failing to write are the most constant activities of Book 5. Starting with a typewriter and moving to the home computer, Karl Ove writes all throughout his twenties. He composes entire novels that are junked. He spends a year in Iceland with his girlfriend and works constantly, but is hardly able to push out a single story. He moves to England for several months with plans to live off Norwegian unemployment insurance and cannot summon a word.
The successes during this time are precious few and easy to dismiss. His most notable success, a story of his modeled on Cortázar that is published in the debut writers’ issue of the prestigious journal Vinduet, is taken by Karl Ove as a fluke. He also begins to review, making the rounds and accepting ever more prestigious assignments, but even here success proves a failure as Karl Ove begins to worry that this means his calling is in criticism, and not literature. He watches as his friend Espen publishes his first novel, which is not such a bitter pill to swallow, as he always suspected Espen was better than him. But then comes the success of his young friend, Tore, who has always treated Karl Ove like a mentor, and soon the despair arrives.
A major achievement of Book 5 is to make us feel the struggle against incessant failure that characterizes the life of all writers, a struggle that is most acute at the beginning of the writing life. This is where Knausgard’s capacity for humiliation, his inherent faculty with masochism, his very willful maximalism gives his account a texture that distinguishes it from other accounts of the young writer. The sheer weight of Karl Ove’s failures is monumental, but somehow it does not deaden the momentum of the narrative. Knausgaard transforms this incredible doubt into the site of his struggle to find a language; he wants to understand why he continues to write in spite of everything. At times the story takes us through relationships and occurrences that at first blush seem like sideshows to this tale. But they are not pointless digressions. Karl Ove is maturing, he is working through the issues that have held him back, even as he is seeding the preoccupations that will become the irresolvable dilemmas of his mature decades.
* * * *
In his early twenties Knausgaard takes employment in various asylums for those with intractable mental problems. He comes to this work almost by accident when he summers in the hometown of his girlfriend Gunvor and is able to get a job in the town’s asylum. Much later when he is back in Bergen and is pushed by despair to drop out of college, he falls back on this experience and finds employment in another asylum.
Knausgaard’s experiences in these institutions are among the most profoundly affecting writing in all of My Struggle. It is in these extreme visions of humans that have been pushed to the outer fringes of what society will tolerate as our collective humanity that Knausgaard uncovers immense powers of empathy. Clearly something about these memories affects him greatly, even though the author makes little ostensible effort to connect what happens in the asylums to any of the book’s major currents. In their unflinching description of human indignity, in Karl Ove’s frank admissions that he cannot comprehend the patients and is disgusted by them, they bring to mind the immensely brutal literature of his countryman Stig Saeterbakken. One asylum inmate who is apparently impotent is invariably found by Karl Ove in his bed attempting to masturbate with his flaccid penis. This man is large, and he unpredictably flies in to a fit of screaming and violence. It is Karl Ove’s job to bring him breakfast in the morning and to see that he eats it. Another patient of the same institution has lost his legs and moves by propelling himself over the ground with his two enormous biceps. He is mute and continuously begs the staff for coffee by holding an empty cup raised up above his head with his two hands. Karl Ove is shocked to discover that he has no furniture save a mattress sitting on the floor because “he smashes everything in his path.” Later, back in Bergen, Karl Ove becomes terrified of a patient “in his late thirties but [with] the physique of a teenager” whose head is kept shaven to prevent him from eating his own hair; instead he eats onions like apples and rams his head into the wall. This patient bites Karl Ove in the hand.
We are far, far from the rarefied territory of the arts and modernist poetry; we are far even from the many drunken parties and afternoons in cafes that offer a touch of carnivalesque fun to Knausgaard’s young adult years. This is something so extreme, a bracing encounter with that substance that so shocked Karl Ove when he read Celan’s “Death Fugue.” The depictions of the asylums account for a sizable fraction of Book 5, and they are far more vividly grotesque than anything else in it. Surely Knausgaard has not gone to the considerable trouble of recreating these scenes and summoning this most affecting writing simply because he thought it made for a nice diversion. The only conclusion is that these experiences were somehow a major influence on the development of Karl Ove’s adult personality. Although Knausgaard refrains from reflecting on what his experiences in the asylums mean, it is clear that he is taken aback by what he sees, as well as by the dehumanizing disgust that is his primary response to it.
Perhaps this shock is precisely what he needs. At one point in Book 5 Karl Ove despairingly realizes that little in his college years has fundamentally changed the person he is. Surely this is a common sentiment, and one that is often not so true as we fear—this is, after all, the time when Knausgaard is discovering much of Europe’s great literary tradition and spending all night discussing it, playing chess, and listening to jazz. But he does have a point: Karl Ove has experienced very few things from outside the realm of a bourgeois, postwar, affluent life. What happens to Karl Ove in the asylums exposes him in a way he has never been exposed before. They provoke the very worst in him, and they exercise his callow mind in a very different way from less radical trials, like rejection by women or humiliation in his writing classes. Much more than his months of backpacking around Europe or his trip to Italy with Ygnve—experiences that Knaugaard recollects as revelations—they seem to have opened his eyes about the world.
* * * *
For anyone, the death of a father is a moment of inestimable magnitude. For Knausgaard it comes on the heels of his loss of faith, the shocking conclusion of the gravest struggle of his life. The death occurs while this relationship that has dominated Karl Ove’s entire life is in flux. Still reeling, Karl Ove is forced to witness the tawdry means of his father’s death and to take responsibility for cleaning up after it.
This is the only scene that is told twice in the first five books of My Struggle. In Book 1 it comes as the climax, the grotesque horror around which the entire story of that first volume is seen to revolve. In Book 5 it is narrated as a conclusion to a relationship that has been immensely important for Karl Ove but not one around which the book turns.
When he reached the point where he narrates his father’s death a second time, Knausgaard had been writing My Struggle for roughly two years. He had begun the project out of a sense of crisis, and he had picked up momentum as it deepened and as he became swallowed up by the media frenzy surrounding it. In this second depiction of the death of the father we can see how Knausgaard’s life has telescoped inward: not only is it the story of a young writer moving toward his emergence, it is also the implicit story of a middle-aged man working through a mid-career crisis and in doing so at last exorcising the ghosts that had haunted his entire existence. Although Books 3, 4, and 5 have less of the meta-textual back-and-forthing that characterize the first two volumes, such a reading is nonetheless invited: Knausgaard has long since established this as the stakes of the project, and Book 6′s preoccupation with the response to the first five books aptly demonstrates that this is a much about Knausgaard the grown writer as it is about the young man.
And Book 5 invites this reading as well. For it does not conclude with the death of the father, nor with the crowing successes visited upon Knausgaard’s first published novel. No, it ends with a frivolous and possibly libelous accusation of rape from a woman Knausgaard has an ill-advised fling with. The accusation throws Knausgaard’s first marriage into crisis, and Karl Ove fears that this woman will go public with her accusations throwing this affair all over the newspapers: it is a brutal indication that Knausgaard’s success as a writer and his incipient fame have begun to take his life out of his hands. With or without permission, what happens in a writer’s books begins to infect that life. Book 5 has been an account of a period that is lived though texts: from that first brush with Celan and all of Knausgaard’s humiliatingly bad first stories, through all the books he reads as a student that become the reference points of his emergent adulthood, through all the stories he struggles to write after college and that final book that gets published and cements his identity as a writer. From the vantage point of Book 5, the series begins to look like one man’s hard-won victory over the father he has feared his entire life, but only at the cost of his capitulation to the language that has shown him how to do it. His capitulation to language has been essential. We know that Book 6 ends with Knausgaard’s by-now famous declaration that he is finally no longer a writer. Perhaps that was the hope. Certainly the celebrity and income that these books have brought to Knausgaard have freed him from any financial necessity to continue writing. But he has continued to write. His projects after My Struggle, including a mammoth volume to be titled “Four Seasons” and a new work of fiction reportedly inspired by Borges and Calvino, tell us that Knausgaard’s struggles are not at an end.
Scott Esposito edits The Quarterly Conversation.
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