...[a] captivating and even profound book by two writers at the top of their game ... This book spoke to me as a soccer player and fan, highlighting in sublime detail the players and plays from a dramatic tournament ... Among the unexpected pleasures of the book is the power of letter writing to tell stories and deepen relationships. The two friends write intensely about the match of the day, then launch into fascinating musings that never seem off-topic or tangential because they are connected in the minds of the writers ... So yes, Home and Away is about soccer, but it is, unpredictably and delightfully, much more than that.
In common with Mr Knausgaard’s other works, the book has its weak points. Both men have a habit of long, winding sentences with plenty of commas, which some readers may find tricky to follow. At various points, one of the authors raises an idea, but then the other fails to develop it, making it seem as though they are talking past each other ... The trick is to let the writing wash over you, rather than fighting it, and even to skip certain passages. Happily, readers will find themselves needing to do this less and less in the second half of the book, as the final nears and both authors get into their stride. Mr Knausgaard offers incisive observations on football in his typically understated tone, which can often be hilarious ... The best part of the book focuses on Brazil’s 7-1 thrashing in the semi-final at the hands of Germany. Mr Knausgaard’s description of David Luiz, a defender whose mistakes cost Brazil the game, captures the sense of panic at the Mineirão stadium. And Mr Ekelund’s portrait of Rio after the match is haunting.
It’s a deeply intelligent and enjoyable correspondence: superb analyses of games acknowledge the limitations of such accounts — 'Writing about football is actually nonsense. All the pleasure lies in seeing it unfold' — and both men are quick to leap on to art and politics ... Knausgaard evades his own stereotype of himself as a puritan. His portrayal of life at home with his wife and four children, running his publishing house, travelling to speak at events, evokes a quiet, vivid and sociable happiness. The man who never laughs is frequently very funny.
The games receive plenty of attention, but they are only starting points for discussions of national culture and character, of the state of world development, of gender stereotypes, of human desire, of memory, of ISIS. Of anything, in short, that the mind can conceive ... Unlike in Knausgaard’s epic series, the correspondence and the soccer keep the conversation grounded. Readers are never more than a couple of pages from an observation about a game or a refreshingly different perspective.
The two range far enough from the sport to make Knausgaard’s quotidian, ruminative half of the correspondence feel like a tangential volume of his six-part autobiographical novel, My Struggle ... One of the book’s most entertaining elements is the contrast between Ekelund’s lust for life and Knausgaard’s deep crabbiness.