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Book Talk: Karl Ove Knausgaard on life after his 'Struggle'

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard won critical praise for his first two novels, one of which was a highly inventive tale of human encounters with angels.
/ Source: Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard won critical praise for his first two novels, one of which was a highly inventive tale of human encounters with angels.

But for his third book, Knausgaard wrote about himself, and the result is a six-volume, 3,600-page, autobiographical, plot less tome titled “My Struggle.”

Knausgaard meditates on everything from changing diapers to his alcoholic father in the volumes, which are published as separate books. The international success of the books has led to his being compared with writers Marcel Proust and Louis-Ferdinand Celine.

Knausgaard, 45, spoke with Reuters about the books and his writing future.

Q: These books are about your personal life, and your image is often used prominently to market them. Are you concerned about a sort of literary cult of personality developing around you?

A: I can’t really be. When this first happened in Norway, there was a lot of attention, and it was this image of my face everywhere. And I realized I just have to accept it. It’s going on, and it has nothing to do with me and I can’t control it. I don’t like seeing my own face used on my covers, but my policy is to let every publishing house do what they like. I don’t reject anything from them.

Q: Why did you turn to this form of writing after writing two novels?

A: It was out of a crisis in writing. I wanted to write about my father, and I couldn’t do it in fiction. Almost by accident I started to write more biographically, and something happened in that process, you know? Another goal was to get closer to life. That’s why it’s almost formless, with so many details that have no narrative function. This just slowly developed, by intuition.

Q: Why title the project “My Struggle”?

A: I had this working title that was “Argentina,” and then I was talking about Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” with a friend, and he said: “There’s your title.” I just went for it. It’s a description of a struggle, my struggle, and it is everyday life, misunderstandings and failings and the whole world of imperfectness. And that’s ironic because of the association with the original title, with its ideological world view. The struggle in the novel is not heroic, quite the opposite. From the outside, it’s deeply insignificant, but this is the world pictured from the inside, and that’s another story.

Q: Will you return to writing more typically fictional novels?

A: When I finished “My Struggle,” I thought I should never write novels again. But now it seems like I can’t stop myself. I’m going to write, but it will be very different, and it will be very much a fictional novel. But I can’t do (“My Struggle”) anymore.

Q: Indie rock music was such an influence on your youth. Is it still? What bands do you like?

A: It is! But I do play a lot of the music from that time. I haven’t evolved whatsoever. Musically I’m in exactly the same place as I was when I was 16. But I do like Midlake, an American band. I really like Iron & Wine, and John Grant; he’s an American as well but lives in Iceland.

Q: Will you eventually return to “My Struggle”? Surely your readers will want your take on late middle- and old-age.

A: It could be fun to write about it from a completely different perspective in 40 years. I don’t know, but it’s tempting. I can’t really plan those things, but it sounds fun.

One of my favorite books (“On Overgrown Paths”) is by Knut Hamsun. I think he was 90 when he wrote it. It’s about him being a national traitor and having everything taken away from him, and he talks about his existence in those days.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Lisa Von Ahn)