This is classic Knausgaard, a scene reminiscent of the neuroses and pratfalls that give ‘My Struggle’ its often-overlooked comedy
“especially revolting... right after a meal, where for example chunks of pizza are still intact and recognisable” — “and then it has struck me that this reaction is odd, since pizza, or pizza topping, itself looks like vomit” — which ends, via the memory of a bus-bound calamity with his daughter, in an assertion of paternal love.
“I am no longer preoccupied with my own childhood,” he says here, nearly 50. “Not interested in my student years, my twenties. All that seems far, far away.” Enough struggling, in short.
The raw self-exposure of My Struggle lingers: an entry headed “Piss” recalls how Knausgaard wet himself aged 15 on a school ski trip; wasps thwart an attempt to paint the house (“humiliating... compared to me they were so tiny”). But where part of the struggle in My Struggle concerned the chafing between Knausgaard’s family and his art, the two dovetail in this calmer work.
“Of course it is primarily for my own sake that I am doing this,” Knausgaard tells the unborn Anne. “Showing you the world... makes my life worth living.”
At one point he describes us as “a mere collection of cells that have realised an inherited trait and been modified by experience, and that are activated and deactivated in tiny electrochemical storms, causing us to feel, think, say, do something in particular”. The whole of the book tries to show why it’s so much more wonderful than that.
Perhaps his English publishers are using his seasonal quartet as a placeholder while the translation of My Struggle: Volume VI is in train. But it’s the next instalment of this sequence that I’m looking forward to more (we don’t have to wait long; Winter is coming in November). It is the grown-up antithesis of the midlife crisis novel, comfortable in its own skin, autobiographical without being exhibitionist.
In the last entry, Knausgaard admits he will “never be able to understand how eyes work”, trading mysticism for science in a concluding crescendo that reminds you that, before he was marketed as a tell-all merchant, back when his English publisher was still calling him Karl O Knausgaard, he published A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven, about the nature of angels.
Rehearsing the physics, he stumbles on how, as well as receiving light, eyes — “all the eyes we meet, known and unknown” — “emit” light:
“Maybe you take notice... maybe not, in the course of a life we gaze into thousands of eyes, most of them slipping by unperceived, but then suddenly there is something there, in those very eyes, something you want and which you would do almost anything to be close to... For it isn’t the pupils you are seeing then, not the irises nor the whites of the eyes. It is the soul, the archaic light of the soul.”