I’m doing a combined review of these two books because it is logical and because I am running out of steam writing so many book reviews today.
I really like Knausgaard’s writing style (or as it comes out in translation – one never knows I guess). I like the clarity of his thinking and his assessment of his life. I read both books fairly quickly – probably the first one more quickly than the second. The first book, A Death in the Family, is about Knausgaard’s father’s death, and his memories of growing up. There is a quietness and gravity in his writing that I really enjoyed. The book is excellent at capturing the feeling of being from somewhere and not understanding that place, and yet also knowing it incredibly well. I really loved the first one. I folded down too many pages to really fully quote them all here. Here are a couple quotes I liked from the first one:
“For nostalgia is not only shameless, it is also treacherous. What does anyone in their twenties really get out of a longing for their childhood years? For their own youth? It was like an illness.” (181)
“Our minds are flooded with images of places we have never been, yet still know, people we have never met, yet still know and in accordance with which we, to a considerable extent, live our lives. The feeling this gives, that the world is small, tightly enclosed around itself, without openings to anywhere else, is almost incestuous, and although I know this to be deeply untrue, since actually we know nothing about anything, still I could not escape it.” (198)
By the end of the second book, A Man in Love, I am just not sure if I liked Knausgaard as a person – or the person he is portraying in the book (I have just seen that this is ostensibly a novel, although it seems to be heavily autobiographical… although I haven’t read a lot about him yet). I enjoyed this second book less – partly because it is about subject matter that is more distant from my life (being a man with a pregnant wife and then children), and partly because the guy sounds like a completely selfish jerk by the end of the book. I think that if this same tone – almost petulant – had been adopted throughout, I may not have finished these books. But that is also a sort of power: an ability to change narrative tone and style subtly and over time, where you feel like you are inside his relationship and literally feeling it deteriorate. There is something important about that process. But I’d say it’s not as enjoyable.
Still, I turned down a lot of pages and enjoyed this one as well… and read it fairly quickly. Some favourites:
“What a stupid, bloody idiotic country this was [Sweden]. … Oh, they were confusing food with the mind, they thought they could eat their way to being better human beings without understanding that food is one thing and the notions food evokes another.” (26)
“Everyday life, with its duties and routines, was something I endured, not a thing I enjoyed, nor something that was meaningful or made me happy. This had nothing to do with a lack of desire to wash floors or change nappies but rather with something more fundamental: the life around me was not meaningful. I always longed to be away from it, and always had done. So the life I led was not my own. I tried to make it mine, this was my struggle, because of course I wanted it, but I failed, the longing for something else undermined all my efforts.” (60)
So overall, I really liked them – and I will probably give them both a 4 on Goodreads. I am not sure they are “important”, but they are certainly good literature and worth reading. I’m looking forward to the third book.