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Description, Categories and Awards


"My Struggle: Book One" introduces American readers to the audacious, addictive, and profoundly surprising international literary sensation that is the provocative and brilliant six-volume autobiographical novel by Karl Ove Knausgaard. It has already been anointed a Proustian masterpiece and is the rare work of dazzling literary originality that is intensely, irresistibly readable. Unafraid of the big issues death, love, art, fear and yet committed to the intimate details of life as it is lived, "My Struggle "is an essential work of contemporary literature."
This is a compelling book and it is difficult for me to say why I feel this way. When I put the book down and thought about what I had read, it was a tediously detailed description of mostly everyday life but still I wanted to continue reading it. There are no overwhelming events or unusual relationships-just the story of life and relationships gone bad and an effort to understand why. Perhaps the reason this book is compelling is that it is a no-holds-barred narrative that is amazing in its unblinking depiction of his childhood, early adulthood and disintegration of his father. I received an ARC of this book in exchange for review consideration. This does not change how I review a book and the review is still my honest opinion.

This book is called "a death in the family" in the English version and is the first book in the "my struggle" series. This sounds very heavy and depressing. I wonder why they didn't just call it "Father", as they did in the Dutch version. I saw interviews with the writer and heard all about the controversy the series has evoked in Norway. Although I have the books in Dutch translation, making a start took me a while. A few days ago I thought "to hell with it, I'm just going to start reading the first book and see where it will bring me". I'm glad I did because it was a joy to read.

Knausgard tells about the troubled relationship with his father, his own childhood and about his early adult life as well. It is not a completely linear story, so people who like a story to move from A to B will be slightly dissapointed. He is also very descriptive and if you don't like every day items and activities being described in microscopic detail, then you better give this book a miss. I actually love this about the book. Sometimes it feels like watching an art movie in which someone just sits in a chair, drinking a cup of coffee. The camera zooms in on some spilled sugar on the table. A fly lands and starts eating the sugar. Then the fly moves to the person's hand and the camera zooms in on the person again. That sort of thing. Love it. Knausgard goes for that kind of detail in this book and it helps to pull you into the story. Especially in the second part of the book, where he has to deal with the death of his father and the way it took place, all the detail makes you part of it. It is painfully intimate. Thankfully, in the second part he also has some beautiful descriptions about childhood memories and what he sees when he's not in the house, which lightens the atmosphere again.

I'm going to wait a while before I will start the second volume in the series but I'm already looking forward to it. This book was beautiful and I found it very hard to put down. I highly recommend it.

When I began reading about the six volumes that make up this autobiographical novel, I wasn't sure I wanted to enter into yet another mammoth read, having recently read both The Goldfinch and The Luminaries, each some 800-odd pages. But the more I read about Knausgaard the more intrigued I became, so quickly found myself reading the first volume to see what all the fuss was about. Could this just be an aftermath of Scandinavian Crime du jour? Who was this Norwegian author that had taken Europe by storm? Did I really want a Norwegian version of The Corrections? Not that Franzen claimed his novel was autobiographical. Would I want my family stripped bare –our fallibilities, our sometimes dysfunctional relationships, our idiosyncrasies, and shortcomings? What about our dignity? What right does an author have to portray the intimate details of the lives of their friends and family as material for a novel? How would I feel if all the cracks and crevices of my personal life were exposed, examined and explored in terms of their meaning to someone else? Is this the ultimate betrayal? I say this as I am ordering Volumes 2 and 3! Knausgaard's writing is as addictive as his personality, and while I can understand readers feeling that they would not want their family portrayed in a manner that is often shameful and denigrating, Knausgaard’s manages to do so with compassion and love. Ultimately, we as a reader benefit from the minute details of his often strained and bewildering relationships with his father, grandmother, brother, mother, wife; and the list goes on. Why is it OK? Because like all great literature we can learn from understanding another’s person’s point of view; by understanding the complexity of relationships and how other’s deal with them; and by understanding situations we may never find ourselves in, and the decisions of others who may or may not be as fortunate.
Families are all about relationships - pecking orders, favorites, love, hope, knowledge, loss and rejection, and the conversations that were never had. This is the stuff of everyday life and yet so often we choose not to acknowledge its impact on our relationships with others and how we indeed tackle the world. Knausgaard dares to go here, with the minutiae of life that rather than dulling our senses, reinforces the need to understand - to have the conversations - in a world that spends much of its time brushing them aside or ignoring them. It’s not salacious reading, its riveting and I want more.