Memoirs are fascinating to me, because we know how truly fallible memory is. It is demonstrably unreliable. It’s completely insane that eyewitnesses and line-ups are such a fundamental part of our criminal justice system. But the cool thing about memoirs is that it really doesn’t matter if it’s a legitimate telling of events or not. I think that David Shields said it best in his book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto: “Memoir is a genre in need of an informed readership. It’s a misunderstanding to read a memoir as though the writer owes the reader the same record of literal accuracy that is owed in newspaper reporting. Memoirs belong to the category of literature, not journalism. What the memoirist owes the reader is the ability to persuade him or her that the narrator is trying, as honestly as possible, to get to the bottom of the experience at hand.”
This is literature, it’s a story, it has characters, etc but for Knausgård it’s all about form: “For several years I had tried to write about my father, but had gotten nowhere, probably because the subject was too close to my life, and thus not so easy to force into another form, which of course is a prerequisite for literature. That is its sole law: everything has to submit to form. If any of literature’s other elements are stronger than form, such as style, plot, theme, if any of these overtake form, the result suffers. That is why writers with a strong style often write bad books. That is also why writers with strong themes so often write bad books. Strong themes and styles have to be broken down before literature can come into being. It is this breaking down that is called ‘writing.’ Writing is more about destroying than creating.”
The characters have the same names as real people, and the story is based around Knausgård’s recollection of events, however accurate/inaccurate they may be, but these events, and this story was broken down and rebuilt to serve the form of literature. And it is really, really good stuff. It took about 20-30 pages until the prose clicked for me, and then it became difficult to put down. I found myself coming back to it again and again, “Oh, I’ll just read another page or two while I’m waiting for such-and-such.”
I think it’s something to do with the method that Knausgård uses to jump around in his story. He’ll write toward an event, we know what the event is, we know that it’s important. And then the Karl Ove ‘character’ in the story will think back to something, and we’re instantly back with him, experiencing a different event. We eventually forget that we’re in the past-past, and that’s right when he goes back to just before that event that’s coming up. The story progresses with some forward trajectory, but skips right over the event, to 20 years later, and he describes the room in which he’s sitting writing his second novel. Its marvelous.
The story itself is simple, brutally honest, and relatable. It’s also very foreign for me, having known very little about life in Norway until this small glimpse has expanded my knowledge slightly. It’s the first thing I’ve read that I would count as both literature, and a comfortable, easy read.