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My Struggle: Book 1 (2009)

by Karl Ove Knausgård

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: My Struggle (1)

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2,8291125,065 (3.93)250
Fiction. Literature. 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.… (more)

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English (79)  Dutch (15)  Spanish (4)  German (4)  Swedish (4)  Danish (2)  Norwegian (Bokmål) (1)  Norwegian (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (111)
Showing 1-5 of 79 (next | show all)
Frequently a struggle to read... ( )
  P1g5purt | Mar 26, 2024 |
"When called a vanity project, you can only admire the man vain enough to make it." So wrote Roger Ebert once about a film I love. It is a judgement that could be similarly applied to Knausgård's recent six volume literary project, challengingly titled 'Min Kamp', that blurs the border between autobiographical fiction and memoir. Having been read and acclaimed, we are told, by half the population of that most literate of nations, Norway, the first three volumes have now appeared in English and created a fair bit of tumult amongst our own nation's tiny literary elite. Proustian and vital, declare its supporters. A pointless and numbing slog, claim its detractors. The aura of attraction is only enhanced by the author claiming he never imagined it would be of interest to anyone much beyond himself; it was just something he had to write. What, then, could have forced its way out of Knausgård to be met with such a reception?

Volume one opens with a several page philosophical and sociological discourse on death and contemporary society's relationship to it. It's interesting, sets the intellectual tone, and has some insights that had not occurred to me:
No less conspicuous than our hiding the corpses is the fact that we always lower them to ground level as fast as possible. A hospital that transports its bodies upward, that sites its cold chambers on the upper floors is practically inconceivable. The dead are stored as close to the ground as possible. And the same principle applies to the agencies that attend them; an insurance company may well have its offices on the eighth floor, but not a funeral parlor. All funeral parlors have their offices as close to street level as possible. Why this should be so is hard to say; one might be tempted to believe that it was based on some ancient convention that originally had a practical purpose, such as a cellar being cold and therefore best suited to storing corpses, and that this principle has been retained in our era of refrigerators and cold-storage rooms, had it not been for the notion that transporting bodies upward in buildings seems contrary to the laws of nature, as though height and death are mutually incompatible. As though we possessed some kind of chthonic instinct, something deep within us that urges us to move death down to the earth whence we came.
This line merges smoothly into a memory of the young Karl Ove at home with his parents, and Part 1 is then mostly occupied with minutely detailed scenes from Karl Ove's adolescence. Part 2 picks up the theme of death again, detailing his reaction to his father's death and the practicalities of attending to the mess that was left behind. As before, the reader gets very minutely observed scenes, down to specific lists of cleaning supplies, or the different shades of color splayed among the cloudscape when Karl Ove looks out of the car window up at the sky at a certain moment.

What is it that Knausgård is attempting to do here? One answer, I think, comes from his wrestling, his "struggle", with this question, from one of many such "plotless" sections of the novel:
Writing is drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows. That is what writing is about. Not what happens there, not what actions are played out there, but the there itself. There, that is writing's location and aim. But how to get there?
He's not simply writing a memoir, telling the reader Event A happened, followed by Event B and so forth. No, he's trying to recreate the very essence of past moments, such that the reader is not merely reading about a memory, but experiences that very memory, feels those very emotions, knows what he who experienced those moments knows. It's an attempt at something more intimate than memoir or autobiographical fiction.

For me, Knausgård in large part succeeds. This may well be helped by the fact that I, and probably many of its critical supporters, identify with the author in important respects, both demographic - white, male, middle aged, married, parents - and temperamental - introverted, intellectual, sensitive, a bit socially awkward perhaps. We get a passage like this, describing the adolescent Karl Ove's reaction to seeing a girl he liked in the presence of a boy she liked:
What had gone on? Hanne, blond, beautiful, playful, happy, always with a bemused, often also naive, question on her lips, what had she changed into? What was it that I had witnessed? A dark, deep, perhaps also passionate side, was that her? She had responded, it was only a glimpse, but nonetheless. Then, at that moment, I was nobody. I was crushed. I, with all the notes I had sent her, all the discussions I'd had with her, all my simple hopes and childish desires, I was nothing, a shout on the playground, a rock in scree, the hooting of a car horn.
Could I do this to her? Could I have this effect on her?
Could I have this effect on anyone?
But then how can one not, whatever personal background comes into play, feel a tear rising up when reading Knausgård describing the loss of rich and immense meaning that attached itself to all sorts of objects when one was a child:
You could still buy Slazenger tennis rackets, Tretorn balls, and Rossignol skis, Tyrolia bindings and Koflach boots. The houses where we lived were still standing, all of them. The sole difference, which is the difference between a child's reality and an adult's, was that they were no longer laden with meaning. A pair of Le Coq soccer boots was just a pair of soccer boots. If I felt anything when I held a pair in my hands now it was only a hangover from my childhood, nothing else, nothing in itself. The same with the sea, the same with the rocks, the same with the taste of salt that could fill your summer days to saturation, now it was just salt, end of story. The world was the same, yet it wasn't, for its meaning had been displaced, and was still being displaced, approaching closer and closer to meaninglessness.
I hope to find in subsequent volumes if Knausgård finds an answer for himself to this creeping nihilism of adulthood that he identifies. He didn't find it in this volume, complaining that in post-modern, post-Christian Europe,
Art does not know a beyond, science does not know a beyond, religion does not know a beyond, not anymore. Our world is enclosed around itself, enclosed around us, and there is no way out of it.
( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
“If we’ve chosen discontent to be the engine of our progress then fine, but we should not complain that we are not content.”
- Tomáš Sedláček

Volume two of Knausgård's non-fiction fictional account of his Struggle wasn't as captivating as his first. Likely it has something to do with him cutting a more sympathetic figure in the first volume, as a teenager and then young man dealing with the wreck of his alcoholic father's life. In this volume, Knausgård egregiously violates the sensible position of Sedláček quoted above. Luckily he's an interesting writer embarked on an interesting project, because he's a real humorless and unsympathetic asshole throughout this. Which he'd probably admit.

Knausgård is writing in this second volume about his middle-aged marriage and parenthood of three children, which he chose freely despite apparently knowing it would all make him miserable, knowing he would prefer a "freer" life, because.. well, I'm not entirely sure, but best I can make out, he thought enduring family life would force him into being a good person.
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.
When I pushed the buggy all over town and spent my days taking care of my child it was not the case that I was adding something to my life, that it became richer as a result; on the contrary, something was removed from it...
So when I walked down the street with Vanja, when I fed and changed her, with these wild longings for a different life hammering away in my chest, this was the consequence of a decision and I had to live with it. There was no way out, other than the old well-travelled route: endurance. The fact that I cast a pall over the lives of those around me in doing so, well, that was just another consequence which had to be endured. If we had another child, and we would, regardless of whether Linda was pregnant now or not, and then another, which was equally inevitable, surely this would transcend duty, transcend my longings and end up as something wild and free in its own right? If not, what would I do then?
Some quiet days with her little family gathered around her, that was what she had been looking forward to. I, for my part, never looked forward to anything except the moment the office door closed behind me and I was alone and able to write.
For Christ's sake, being a good person, was that beyond me?
Not sure how this is going to end up working out for him. It doesn't look good so far, and I feel for those children growing up in this angry and dysfunctional household that Knausgård describes. Of course it would be dishonest not to admit that a little something of this attitude is present in most of us parents; at times we'd all much rather be reading or writing or doing something other than taking care of our children's need for our attention. But the joy and pleasure our children bring into our lives far outweighs those moments for me and most of us. Knausgård lets us know this isn't the case for him, alas. He chose this, but it makes him miserable.

He explains why he's letting the world know this unpleasant fact, and what lays behind this whole project for him, towards the end of this volume. After writing two moderately successful novels, he takes up an anti-fiction stance.
Over recent years I had increasingly lost faith in literature. I read and thought this is something someone has made up. Perhaps it was because we were totally inundated with fiction and stories. It had got out of hand.
Fictional writing has no value, documentary narrative has no value. The only genres I saw value in, which still conferred meaning, were diaries and essays, the types of literature that did not deal with narrative, that were not about anything, but just consisted of a voice, the voice of your own personality, a life, a face, a gaze you could meet. What is a work of art if not the gaze of another person?
What he's done then is to write about real people, himself and his family and his acquaintances (mostly he doesn't have friends), rather than "made up" people. And not worried about narrative - there is no traditional "beginning" or "end" to these volumes. He's recalled real places and attitudes and people and put them on paper, filling in around them with created dialogue and actions as necessary.

Some critics hail this as pointing a new way forward for fiction. I agree it makes it worthy of attention, though I reject his idea that fiction is now meaningless, that current fiction is bankrupt and there is no historical fictional form that can be resurrected in the current age. But I cast a wide net. I'll keep reading fiction, and Knausgård.

( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
Wow. Nothing happens and everything happens. He is equally annoying and sympathetic. The last 200 pages or so when he goes back to his hometown with his brother was riveting. Never has a normal life seemed so extraordinary. The one thing that struck me was how little women mattered in his life. It seemed kind of sad or maybe just brutally honest. Really? ( )
  RachelGMB | Dec 27, 2023 |
Why do i care about KO losing a sock at the pool or getting his dick stung by a beetle after he sticks it in a pop bottle he finds at the dump? I don't know, but I devoured this one just like the others. ( )
  RachelGMB | Dec 27, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 79 (next | show all)
“My Struggle” is not really a novel but the first book of a six-volume autobiography that is now notorious in Knausgaard’s native country. The Hitlerian title (“Min Kamp,” in Norwegian) refers not only to the usual stations of the bildungsroman but also to two fierce battles. One is with the author’s father, a morose and distant schoolteacher who left the family when Knausgaard was a teen-ager, and then drank himself to death. The more pervasive struggle is with death itself, in which writing is both weapon and battlefield.
. . .
There is a flatness and a prolixity to the prose; the long sentences have about them an almost careless avant-gardism, with their conversational additions and splayed run-ons. The writer seems not to be selecting or shaping anything, or even pausing to draw breath. Cliché is not spurned—time is falling through Knausgaard’s hands “like sand”; elsewhere in the book, the author tells us that falling in love was like being struck by lightning, that he was head over heels in love, that he was as hungry as a wolf. There is, perhaps, something a little gauche in his confessional volubility. But there is also a simplicity, an openness, and an innocence in his relation to life, and thus in his relation to the reader. Where many contemporary writers would reflexively turn to irony, Knausgaard is intense and utterly honest, unafraid to voice universal anxieties, unafraid to appear naïve or awkward. Although his sentences are long and loose, they are not cutely or aimlessly digressive: truth is repeatedly being struck at, not chatted up.
added by aileverte | editThe New Yorker, James Wood (Aug 13, 2012)
Knausgård går lige i mellemgulvet...Karl Ove Knausgårds ambitiøse romaprjekt MIN KAMP er en sejr for romankunsten.
added by 2810michael | editInformation
Min kamp. Første bok
Knausgård, Karl Ove
| ISBN 9788249506866

Karl Ove Knausgårds tredje roman innebærer en enorm litterær satsning, og er en stor bok i mer enn én forstand: Min kamp blir utgitt som seks romaner. Første, andre og tredje bok er utkommet, og fjerde, femte og sjette bok utkommer våren 2010.

Romanen åpner med en svimlende beskrivelse av døden. Derfra fortelles det om forfatteren Karl Ove Knausgårds kamp for å mestre livet og seg selv og sine egne ambisjoner på skrivingens vegne, i møte med de menneskene han har rundt seg. Min kamp. Første bok utforsker det å vokse opp og være overgitt en verden som ser ut til å være komplett, avsluttet, lukket. Romanen beskriver det unge blikkets varhet og usikkerhet, der det registrerer andre menneskers tilstedeværelse og vurderinger med en åpenhet som er voldsom og nesten selvutslettende i sin konsekvens.

I en borende prosa som oppsøker det sårbare, det pinlige og det eksistensielt betydningsbærende, blir dette en dypt personlig roman, selvutprøvende og kontroversiell. Et eksistensielt omdreiningspunkt er farens død, et annet er kanskje hovedpersonens debut som forfatter.

I 2009 ble Min kamp. Første bok kåret til en av de ti beste romanene siste tiår av VG. For denne boken mottok Karl Ove Knausgård Brageprisen, og han ble nominert til Nordisk Råds litteraturpris.

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Knausgård, Karl Oveprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alsberg, RebeccaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ballerini, EdoardoNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bartlett, DonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Berf, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Huttunen, KatriinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kristensen, Kirsti BaggethunTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lorenzo, AsunciónTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Molenaar, MarianneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mureșan, Ioana-AndreeaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Podestà Heir, MargheritaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Torres, Asunción LorenzoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can.
He had been her first born.
Children were not supposed to pre-decease their parents, they weren't supposed to. That was not the idea.
And to me, what had Dad been to me?
Someone I wished dead.
So why all these tears?
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Disambiguation notice
In the US the title was literally translated as "My Struggle Book One", whereas in the UK and Canada it has been issued under the title "A Death in the Family".
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Fiction. Literature. 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.

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