What is it about Karl Ove Knausgaard that is so fascinating? It’s not that, stylistically, he’s such a wonderful writer, as far as one can tell from an English translation. There are some marvellous passages – the description of clearing out his father’s house in A Death in the Family, Linda’s giving birth in A Man in Love, and a lot of the writing about nature and the weather. But there’s a lot (a lot!) of stuff like this:
I got up, put a tea bag in a cup, poured the steaming water over it, went to the fridge to get a carton of milk, then sat down.
I switched on the light, sorted the clothes into four heaps, coloureds forty, coloureds sixty, whites forty, whites sixty, and shoved two of the piles into the two big machines, poured powder into the detachable drawer on the control panel and switched it on.
In fact this minute attention to mundanity is part of Knausgaard’s project. He observes himself, his everyday actions and his feelings as a primate keeper might observe the behavior of his chimps. And yet he is not detached. The primate keeper is the observer, but he is also inside the chimp’s mind and heart, the mind and heart of a writer, a lover, a parent, a house-husband, a son, a friend, a displaced Norwegian. This is what it’s like, really like, to be all those things at once. Above all there is the furious will of the self to survive, no matter what the demands of love may be.