Autumn focuses on early middle age, and renders it as it is often experienced: shorn of the novelistic glamour of incident and even of character ... The arrangement of these chapters into months, September, October and November, might give Autumn a schematic, not to say mercenary aspect: For each weekday of the season, the writer will produce 1,000 words on some household preoccupation. But Knausgaard’s sensibility is so acute, almost anything can become a bridge toward the memorable perception or the deep if embarrassing truth ... Stringing together so many of these transformations creates certain risks for the larger book. As with haiku, or knock-knock jokes, repetition of a constrained form will expose the frailties of any single instance, and Knausgaard isn’t always revelatory ... Knausgaard’s abandonment of literary conceit is itself a literary conceit, albeit one of a higher order. A given sentence may or may not shine, but in its riverine accumulations, My Struggle is as purposefully shaped, as beautifully patterned and, yes, as artfully compressed as any novel in recent memory. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of Autumn ... the modest ambitions of Autumn — 'to show you our world as it is now: the door, the floor, the water tap' — add up to a phenomenological rescue mission, one the writer undertakes on behalf of his daughter, but also of himself and his reader. Day by day, radiantly, the mission succeeds.
Where My Struggle was blunt and rangy and plagued by scandal Autumn is sweet and slender and very circumspect ... This is the opposite of escapist reading. Knausgaard plunges you into the material world, not just with his choice of subjects — apples, adders, tin cans, faces — but in the telling ... This becomes the central preoccupation of the book: to restore our sense of awe, to render the world again strange and full of magic, from loose teeth to rubber boots to hardened pieces of chewing gum. There are misfires but fewer than you’d expect. Simone Weil wrote that 'attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer' — and so it is here. Loose teeth, chewing gum, it all becomes noble, almost holy, under Knausgaard’s patient, admiring gaze. The world feels repainted ... It’s strange to see Knausgaard play it so safe. The book reeks of good taste and appropriate boundaries (save a few enthusiastic sentences about oral sex). He refuses to stray into the shadows. Whatever portraits we get of his family are Instagram-worthy. I longed for the fearlessness of My Struggle, its unwillingness to tame 'the ugly and unpleasant,' its oceanic sense of life’s dangers and unpredictability. But in Autumn, Knausgaard keeps us on the shore. The shells he gives us to admire are intricate, absorbing and beautiful; this book is full of wonders. But it isn’t, just yet, the whole story.
The most surprising thing about Autumn, the latest book from Norwegian literary superstar Karl Ove Knausgaard, is how tender it is ...in contrast, is relatively slim, coming in at 224 pages and containing no particularly shocking revelations. It doesn’t even have a narrative or barely any characters ...book takes the form of a letter to Knausgaard’s unborn daughter ...is a series of lyrical sketches that are invested in making even cruder topics like piss as worthy of aesthetic examination as the sun ... The spirit of that love animates this gentle, thoughtful book: love both for Knausgaard’s unborn daughter and for finding elements of the transcendent in the mundane. It’s tender, intimate, and lovely.
It’s an impressively cynical hustle, a publishing Ponzi scheme designed to attract interest to a new series in the narrowing interval that the Norwegian’s star is in ascendance. In fairness, something as thin as Autumn requires such machinations ... The author has always been an heir to the Romantics, but here he has dropped the bad-boy Byronic posturing of My Struggle in favor of gaseous Wordsworthian odes. The entries are either maudlin (to see porpoises swim is to feel that 'they are touching you, as if you have thereby been chosen') or jejune (churches, you will be amazed to read, 'represented another level of reality, the divine').
In his latest book, though, he shifts the focus to the world around him. Written while awaiting the birth of his fourth child, Autumn — the first of a planned quartet based on the seasons — is intended as a random field guide to life on Earth for the newest addition to his family ...a diet plan version of The Anatomy of Melancholy, a solitary book that is ultimately about the need for others ... At some level, the book is a series of writing exercises or prompts ... Collectively, these ruminations disclose a larger vision, which is that we live in a bountiful world that nourishes life but is also indifferent to it, and where human beings — no less than lower forms of life — are ignorant of any environment but their own ... In these secular meditations, Knausgaard scratches away at the ordinary to reach the sublime — finding what's in the picture, and what's hidden.
It is the thematic progressions, the underlying links between pieces, that make Autumn a source of continued intellectual interest. The constant interplay between life and death, between the material world and the natural realm, between what it means to be human and what it means to be animal ... At his best, Knausgaard can take the breath away, his compressed vignettes delivering the same emotional charge as longer sequences from his previous work ... After the bombast and hype of My Struggle, whatever followed was always likely to be seen in its shadow, and in such a light Autumn can feel something of a coda, or perhaps a bridge to what is to come. And while it is neither a reinvention nor quite a revelation, this first volume of the Seasons Quartet quietly illuminates Knausgaard’s profound gift for making the reader see the world in fresh and unpredictable ways.
Although Autumn consists of short essays rather than lengthy musings, it shares the digressive and pedantic qualities of My Struggle. Ostensibly writing for his unborn daughter, Knausgaard ponders abstract matters such as forgiveness and silence, but mostly discusses more humdrum items... Sometimes he’s a latter-day Roland Barthes, examining familiar objects and activities in a style that’s eloquent but also a bit precious ... The best sections are suffused with parental tenderness ... Whereas the magic of My Struggle lies in its author’s ability to do justice to exactly what’s on his mind, in Autumn he is less interested in the topography of his inner life, preferring to look outwards. As the title suggests, the mood tends to be elegiac.
It’s a diet plan version of The Anatomy of Melancholy, a solitary book that is ultimately about the need for others ... So it continues, essay for essay, as Knausgaard summons up all the Proustian and philosophical ramifications of a simple word. Sometimes, he soundly hits the target. At other times, his ideas seem suspect ... Collectively, these ruminations disclose a larger vision, which is that we live in a bountiful world that nourishes life but is also indifferent to it, and where human beings — no less than lower forms of life — are ignorant of any environment but their own ... Knausgaard tries to write himself out of this Scandinavian funk. There’s the promise of another day, the imminent arrival of his new child — and there is also this book. 'One of the properties of language,' he writes near the end, 'is that it can name what isn’t here.' In these secular meditations, Knausgaard scratches away at the ordinary to reach the sublime — finding what’s in the picture, and what’s hidden.
...Knausgaard’s Seasons Quartet puts the reader in a highly associative state of mind. Although the medical scenes [in Autumn] experienced by the Knausgaard character don’t have the air of mortality of the spokes of Venus, there is a sense of lugubriousness and depression—Knausgaard’s version of depression often manifesting as a sense of being overwhelmed by the world’s beauty. The quartet... reads as a long record of melancholy.
Unlike the daunting volumes of My Struggle, these pieces are tailor-made for brief attention spans. Readers may miss the leisurely unfolding that, in the novel, somehow led them along for hundreds of pages, without quite going anywhere. To the extent that nothing happens, Knausgaard taught us how to read him as we went. The same small-bore exactitude and refusal of grand conclusions mark Autumn; so do the familiar Knausgaardian emotions of exhilaration and estrangement, anxiety and shame. But Autumn can feel frustratingly truncated, as though, just as you settle into a thought, the baby needs attending ... Even more than in My Struggle, he seems to inhabit every age simultaneously: He is boy, adolescent, and father at once ... Knausgaard continues to cast about for moments of illumination. If hard truths insist on hiding in the deep, these essays suggest, a hand-line will do as well as a drift net to haul them in.
Summer ends with one of the sweetest reading surprises of the year. Autumn is a sweeping, 10-to-4 curveball, something unexpected, tender, intense, and persuasive, an ideal gesture to a moment of equipoise before winter, with pulses of joy, perplexity, and valediction ... Like autumn, each essay holds you; each goes by too quickly. This summer, I haven't been able to lie on a beach and read. If I could, though, I'd lie on the beach and read Autumn. Whether on the sand, on a mountaintop, in Venice, in bed, among falling leaves, on a city street, or in any quiet pause, I encourage you to spend your autumn reading it.
Autumn is what [My Struggle] has often been mischaracterized as: an assortment of random observations and noodlings. There are exegeses on apples, loneliness, flies, and ambulances; infants, van Gogh, and oil tankers; silence, drums, and eyes. Though Knausgaard is a significant and provocative novelist, his unmoored philosophizing is by turns charming, irrelevant, and patently false ... Autumn is the work of a man at ease. The author is as famous as he ever will be, and his major accomplishment is behind him. Knausgaard is no longer lashed by demons or alienated from his quotidian existence. His days are filled by rambles in the woods, dropping the kids at school, and the odd, leisurely chore.
What’s newsworthy about Autumn is what it is not: it’s not an entry in the epic (and still going) My Struggle, which made Knausgaard famous. Instead, it’s book number one in a new, unrelated project... Conceived as a 'lexicon for an unborn child,' the projects consists of hundreds of very short texts, each of which tackles a different everyday object.
...with this project, he's clearly made an effort to reign in his preoccupation with himself: He turns his gaze mainly outward, and limits his reflections on each item to two pages, be it little stuff like bottles and badgers or immense topics like war and pain. The entries also follow a set pattern, often beginning with a banal definition of the subject at hand before moving on to more free-form musings. This exercise, repeated 60 times, does not encourage binge-reading ... Writing about My Struggle, critic James Wood commented memorably that Knausgaard is interesting even when he's boring. Not so here. Stretches of tedium may be part of the deal in an exhaustive literary stunt, but in a slim volume, every word needs to sing for its supper. Despite its restricted word count, Autumn is filled with freeloaders ... Sweet, but not enough to incline me toward the next three seasons of this quartet.
The great pleasure of Autumn is in watching how Knausgaard starts in commonplace observations but then moves unexpectedly toward surprising conclusions ... the book feels like a holding pattern, a bunch of musings that might have been plucked from the essayistic portions of My Struggle, but not new ground for Knausgaard. I can say that I absolutely enjoyed reading Autumn and underlined copiously throughout, but this is a work that lacks any desire to add up to more than the sum of its parts ... the thoughts here feel entirely detached, as though Knausgaard has turned his back on the world and is content to churn out charming, but small, sentiments ... If Autumn indeed represents a moment of repose for Knausgaard as he casts around for a direction after My Struggle, it’s not such a terrible place to be. I’ll look forward to Winter, Spring and Summer, and I’ll very likely enjoy them, but I’ll also expect that Knausgaard finds some new way to reinvent himself, some big idea for a work of literature that has a little more to say than 'The Four Seasons.'”
My Struggle, a Postscript it is not. Autumn is a fleeting 224 pages, including dreamlike illustrations by Norwegian artist Vanessa Baird. And the work is translated by Ingvild Burkey rather than by Don Bartlett, the voice that English-language readers have come to know as Knausgaard’s. So the words, while the author’s, have an ever so faintly different accent, something plainer and more immediate. That is no accident. Knausgaard has said he looks upon this project as a respite, a new form—a diary-like sketchbook in which he can experiment with describing the physical world he loves because it allows him, for a moment, to step back from being the Nordic Proust, to just a curious guy writing three pages each on things he thinks are worth three pages each ... In its self-lacerating honesty, especially about the author’s agonized efforts to confront the legacy of his late alcoholic father, the accumulated mass of My Struggle exerts a hypnotic power. Autumn is too episodic for that. But there is still the precision of his attention and his ability to toggle from the concrete to the conceptual.
In Autumn, Knausgaard addresses his audience through letter-essays to an unborn daughter. He provides his fans with another look into his personal life by way of these letter-essays... Knausgaard’s writing to an unborn daughter serves him well, enabling him to use simple, straightforward language to describe some difficult concepts. It’s sort of like he’s writing to the village idiot, which gives way to some beautiful descriptions and stripped-down explanations... Sometimes, however, this strategy of simplified, direct language is ineffective, or turns melodramatic. The result is text that feels like a cheap Scandinavian imitation of Ernest Hemingway ... Autumn has moments of gorgeous astuteness as well as moments that are overexplanatory or dull. Nevertheless, Knausgaard has established himself as a captivating figure in the collective consciousness of literary circles.
...a host of brief but insightful observations about the small matters of everyday life ... 'Autumn' is a framing device, but not every essay engages with the season. What truly unites these pieces is Knausgaard’s sensibility, which is one part Montaigne (an urge to address big issues), one part Nicholson Baker (an eye for picayune detail), and one part Annie Dillard (an admiration for nature and an elegant prose style) ... Because each chapter is brief, usually about three pages, Knausgaard can’t deliver more than glancing consideration of any one subject, and three pages each on female genitalia and vomit is more than plenty. But in the aggregate, the pieces feel remarkably substantive, a call to pay closer attention to the routine stuff in our lives and to allow ourselves to be thunderstruck by their beauty. An engagingly wide-ranging set of meditations.
Knausgaard eloquently expresses the delights, rewards, and insights of looking closely ... there is both softness and hardness in his musings, reverence and irreverence. Most of all, his writing encourages the reader to see the connections between quotidian things and the bigger picture and to appreciate both continuity and change. Autumn hums in the background as apple trees flourish and days get darker, and one looks forward to what associations he will uncover in the remaining seasons of the year.