Read of the Week: My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

A new Read of the Week as recommended by our Danish colleague Natalie, who recommends the autobiographical My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard.

“I ran up to the hospital that day. And then I saw it. One leg was crooked! So it was put in plaster, you know. You lay there, so small, with plaster all the way up your leg. And when it was removed I massaged you. Many times every day for several months. We had to so that you would be able to walk. I massaged your leg, Karl Ove. We lived in Oslo then, you know.” Tears coursed down his cheeks. I glanced quickly at Unni, she watched him and squeezed his hand.

“We had no money either,” he said. “We had to go out and pick berries, and I had to go fishing to make ends meet. Can you remember that? You think about that when you think about how we were. I did my best, you mustn’t believe anything else.” “I don’t,” I said. “A lot happened, but it doesn’t matter anymore.” His head shot up. “YES, IT DOES!” he said. “Don’t say that!”

The Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle is an autobiographical series of six novels, covering a 40-year period from Karl Ove’s earliest childhood memories to his writing present and including his struggles with being a son, becoming a dad and an author. Some of his memories are extremely detailed, and it makes you wonder about the smells, colors and sounds of your own past; whether you actually remember them and would be able to express them with such clarity.

For Karl Ove, it seems as if the writing is an essential tool in doing so – as if he is slowly taken back to his past through the paper and not as if it is already there, fresh in mind, before he starts the writing. I have recently used an extract from book 4 in my Shared Reading group, and it made us ponder upon the private nature of memories, and how we may want to be remembered in one way – like Karl Ove’s dad above – but suddenly discover that we are remembered for something completely different.

For Karl Ove’s dad there is such an enormous pain in only having been a good dad when his son was too young to remember. But whilst Karl Ove, as a teenager, says to his dad ‘A lot happened, but it doesn’t matter anymore‘, his later writing in My Struggle offers the complete antithesis to that: everything in our lives matters and deserves a page in a book. Everything from the sounds of the street we grew up in to the struggles we face in human relationships.

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