Sunday Read: Tim Martin On Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Fictional Autobiography Boyhood Island: My Struggle
The third volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s controversial fictional autobiography Boyhood Island: My Struggle has been the topic of many fiery debates. In Norway, where he is from, “his ex-wife was given a whole radio programme in which to tear him apart”; in Sweden a ‘protester’ set a bookstore alight, blaming Knausgaard and calling him the “worst author in the world”.
These reactions to memories from his own life, published in parts over the course of a few years, were as extreme as the banal way in which Knausgaard chose to remember it, creating fictional versions of real events using real names.
The blurb on the back of the book reads: “In the now infamously direct style of the My Struggle cycle, Knausgaard describes a time in which victories and defeats are felt keenly and every attempt at self-definition is frustrated. This is a book about family, memory and how we never become quite what we set out to be,” with Zadie Smith stating, “I need the next volume like crack.”
Up until recently the Anglosphere was left out of heated debates on his work as it had yet to be translated. Now, after it’s appearance in English, non-Scandinavian countries can finally attempt to join in the hype around his latest work. Tim Martin took a look at Knausgaard’s “experiment in realistic prose” and described it as “Flat, conversational, cliché-dotted and apparently plotless,” reviewing it for The Telegraph.
Read Martin’s response to Boyhood Island:
“We can’t tell everyone all the things we know about one another,” says a primary school teacher to the young Karl Ove Knausgaard in the third book of this long, fictional autobiography. “We all have a private life. Do you know what that is?” Readers might be forgiven an ironic snort at this advice, since if he had taken it Knausgaard might, at 45, still be the retiring Norwegian author of two well-respected literary novels. Instead, having refused it, he is the notorious flayed man of contemporary literature: a writer whose six-volume “experiment in realistic prose” presents a frank portrait of his family’s life that has made him a household name in Norway and secured him a snowballing reputation abroad.
Written at the rate of 20 pages a day and published under the title of Min kamp, or “My Struggle”, Knausgaard’s series began as an attempt to work through the creative block that set in after he finished his second book.
To get a feel for Knausgaard’s autobiographical novel read John Crace’s digested read, shrinked to 600 words for The Guardian:
Writing about writing. Writing about not writing. Who cares which when the bandwagon is rolling? My father’s death, the birth of my children, not writing my book and my general uselessness were all in the bag. So what next? Who can say whether memories are real or an act of imagination? No one, fortunately, so I was entirely free to reinvent some of my miserable childhood.
The bus rolled down the hill towards Tromøya on an overcast day in August 1969. Or maybe it didn’t, as I was then only a year old. But it feels as if it must have done. We lived on a new estate in a dreary suburb, swamped in existential misery with a broken television. Each time a rainbow appeared, I would search the woods for its end. Never once did I find a pot of gold. Never. That’s how hard it was.
- Boyhood Island: My Struggle – 3 by Karl Ove Knausgaard
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