Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Book review: Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle vol. 2, A Man in Love (2013)

In the first volume of Knausgaard's multi-volume series we learnt about the author's father, and the book ends with the man's funeral, by which time the author is a grown man. In the second volume of the series, A Man in Love, Knausgaard says that his father was one of the two biggest influences on his life. The other major influence being something to do with his character - "the fact that I had never belonged anywhere" - and is something that is singularly less objective and so is less replete with reality.

Now, in this book, we learn about Knausgaard's romance and marriage and subsequently about his small children: there is Vanja first, then Heidi, then John. Coming second in the series you might assume that getting married and having children was a major influence on the author's life, but the book specifically tells us that this was not so.

Nevertheless, the children do get their own installment in the Knausgaard series. It is written in that same relaxing, highly moderated novelistic style that we became familiar with in the first volume. There are no surprises. Nothing sticks out. The tone is even and modulated throughout to suit the reader's ear. There are a few points of tonic moment - such as when Karl Ove breaks his collar bone, near the end of the book - but these are deftly massaged back into the even membrane of the novel so that it will continue to give out a reliable, seamless tone when struck by the reader's glance.

Knausgaard is reliable even when he is not always particularly original - see his word paintings of the landscape, which he says he loves so much, for example - or poetic. The language however has this tightness but it is a feeling of rightness so that the sound evoked by it is suited to the way we have come to expect throughout. And this is his achievement: to have developed a consistency of language that will allow him to communicate any conceivable event to the reader without upsetting the apple cart. Which is why people can effortlessly refer to "the Knausgaard series" without even once uttering the undiplomatic title, 'My Struggle'. We are familiar with him, and protective and loyal. We might find a theme that he develops boring or overdone but we nevertheless keep on reading to the end because after all, what else are you going to do? It's so palatable. Comfortable. Tasty.

Although you do wonder how his wife sees his disquisitions on their matrimonial spats - events that happen in the book with a comfortable frequency. (He loves his readers more than he loves his wife; see how he keeps on working to satisfy our curiosity at her expense?) Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. If so, Karl Ove is indisputably the horse drawing it all onward. The same passivity that enables him to do more than his fair share of housework all the while that he is writing his novel enables him to write the novel in this reliable and pleasant way. His equanimity is just another sign of his dutiful and obliging nature. We are so lucky to have Karl Ove.

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