By Karl Ove Knausgaard. Archipelago Books, $26.
A stroller, a halfhearted amusement park, some unruly children and a strained relationship: These things send Karl Ove Knausgaard reeling back through his memory at the opening of the second highly autobiographical volume of his six-part My Struggle. While the first book considered adolescent adventures and the death of the author’s alcoholic father, this one weighs the value of marriage and fatherhood. The Norwegian novelist scrutinizes himself—a middle-aged, fairly successful writer—and his circumstances in order to understand, in the parlance of Talking Heads, “How did I get here?”
What follows is an unsparing dissection of personalities, locations, events and philosophies from a decade of Knausgaard’s life. At the age of 30, the author leaves his first wife and moves to Stockholm; not long after, he reconnects with a woman who would soon be his second wife, and has a child despite an ongoing cycle of infatuation and acrimony. Two more children follow. In the midst of all this, Knausgaard indulges friendships and speaks at book events, but most of all, he yearns for time to do what makes him happiest: writing.
Reading My Struggle is an immersive experience. With Knausgaard’s keen memory and robust imagination, scenes of quotidian activity become tableaux that illustrate the writer’s central conflict: making art versus fulfilling domestic duties. Seeking the truth of one’s personal life, through banality and horror, seemingly at all costs, means dealing with fallout: Norwegians were offended by Knausgaard’s frankness and his uncle threatened to sue. Thankfully, his technique also achieves an aching intimacy, one that transcends the personal and makes Knausgaard’s pursuit of grand artistic ideals, his daily joys and misgivings, strangely familiar.