Lunch with

Au­thor Karl Ove Knaus­gaard on the joys of seafood and Liver­pool FC

The Observer Food Monthly - - CONTENTS - Il­lus­tra­tion Lyn­don Hayes

‘When I bap­tised my chil­dren, it was com­pletely un­re­lated to God’

For any­one who has read all or part of the six vol­umes of Karl Ove Knaus­gaard’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel My Strug­gle , I guess it would be a pro­foundly cu­ri­ous thing to meet him in per­son. The books – he likes to call them “the project”, as if they were a sort of de­monic ex­er­cise – set a new stan­dard of lit­er­ary self-dis­clo­sure. Writ­ten over two and a bit years, around the time the au­thor turned 40, their 3,600 pub­lished pages seem to of­fer a di­rect line into the Nor­we­gian’s trou­bled and at­ten­tive mind as it tries to un­der­stand it­self through the re­con­structed de­tail of ev­ery­day life.

My Strug­gle pro­ceeds as if the clues to Knaus­gaard’s frac­tured for­ma­tive years, the break­down of his first mar­riage, his dis­lo­cat­ing move from his na­tive Nor­way to Swe­den and a new wife, Linda, and the brief joys and long frus­tra­tions of look­ing af­ter three small chil­dren, might make some more sense in their re­liv­ing. He wrote, he says, al­ways out of a de­sire to make some­thing bet­ter of his life, in the hope of “a cool hand on a warm fore­head”.

As an in­ter­viewer, the cu­rios­ity of first meet­ing Knaus­gaard is dou­bly un­nerv­ing. A de­fault ques­tion to any man in mid­dle age, for me, is of­ten: “What kind of man was your fa­ther?” In Knaus­gaard’s case, I have read sev­eral hun­dred un­for­get­table pages de­voted to the emo­tional ac­tu­al­ity of clear­ing up his dead dad’s ran­cid home af­ter the hated man, who made his son both a re­luc­tant mis­ery and a writer, drank him­self to death. What else might there be to know?

Th­ese days, Knaus­gaard di­vides his time be­tween Lon­don and Swe­den. He has cho­sen to meet for lunch at Fis­cher’s, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King’s fab­u­lous Vi­en­nese cafe on Lon­don’s Maryle­bone High Street, de­signed in 1920s style, cre­ated four years ago. It is a favourite Lon­don haunt of the au­thor: “I like the schnitzel.”

Knaus­gaard, who be­came al­most as fa­mous for his strag­gly and some­what un­hinged in­ten­sity in in­ter­views when his books first made head­lines, seems a sleeker, more mea­sured pres­ence now. His beard is trimmed and his eyes are steady. Though the fi­nal trans­lated vol­ume of My Strug­gle is only now ap­pear­ing in English, it is more than seven years since the frenzy of writ­ing the books and their scan­dalous fall­out.

By way of hello, he sur­prises me with some­thing I didn’t know: that 15 years ago we played foot­ball against each other for teams rep­re­sent­ing Eng­land and Swe­den, at a “writ­ers’ world cup” in Malmö. I con­vince my­self I can re­call tan­gling with all his rangy self­ab­sorp­tion in mid­field. And, of course, we talk foot­ball, about the prospects of his beloved Liver­pool FC, an ob­ses­sion that hardly made it into his books, though it took root in his head as a nine-year-old and has never gone away.

One pas­sion that does punc­tu­ate his writ­ing is food. It is telling of Knaus­gaard’s power as a writer that when I knew we were to meet for lunch, a menu of dishes from his early books ap­peared in my head: the sar­dine sand­wiches his fa­ther grudg­ingly set be­fore him and his brother; the meat­ball and ketchup com­bi­na­tions he made for his own chil­dren, in de­fi­ance of Swedish clean-eat­ing habits; his dis­like of boiled fish and the rare epipha­nies he finds in seafood. “The crab­meat on the bread was smoother and un­even,

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.