This is clas­sic Knaus­gaard, a scene rem­i­nis­cent of the neu­roses and prat­falls that give ‘My Strug­gle’ its of­ten-over­looked comedy

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

“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.”

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