What I’m Reading Now
In between the reading I do to produce Booktopia’s Buzz newsletter I occasionally sneak a book in for pure pleasure….
After seeing Karl Ove Knausgaard at this year’s Sydney Writers Festival I decided to treat myself to the first volume of My Struggle, his 6 volume autobiography, called A Death in the Family.
In person Knausgaard set a new benchmark for author honesty and openness in the conversation I attended and also speaking to Sarah Kanowski on RN’s Weekend Arts show.
He made me feel that other writers have given me the veneer of truth when I’ve talked to them, but this went much deeper and was the real thing. He made me think of him as a male version of Helen Garner and in fact I wondered about what his personal vulnerability in unmasking every aspect of his life with such rigour says about Scandiniavian notions of masculinity and gender equality. That’s what I would love to have talked to him about, had I had the chance….
Anyway, the book starts with a beautiful line:
For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can.
I was hooked.
Knausgaard’s stark prose is shiningly truthful, disarmingly so, often funny ( his adolescent anxieties about the angle of his erect penis for example ). When I went to hear him speak with Stephen Gale, I saw people all around me in tears and when I asked them after what had moved them they said they were floored by what he was prepared to reveal about himself, no matter how unflattering. What appeared at first to be a massive exercise in egotism and narcissism was something much humbler, a kind of creative atonement and exploration without a map.
He provoked such a strong reaction in me that I found myself experiencing what I can only call empathetic existentialism, where suddenly I was prompted to ask myself what the purpose of my life is, what I am doing here, what the state of my relationships is. It’s not an unpleasant sensation, on the contrary it’s quite bracing and invigorating to be forced to audit your own life when faced with someone else’s truthfulness. I am now committed to reading the next volume and look forward to the other four being translated from his native Norwegian, where he has become such a phenomenon. I love the intimacy of the narrative voice, and his interior landscape with its conflict, its desires, its frustrations all laid bare, raw, tender and unflinching.
Pretend you are in Scandinavia and savour this one with a shot of aquavit by the fire.
Caroline Baum on Karl Ove Knausgaard