What gives the novel its tension is that the worst part of its disaster always seems about to happen. This overwhelming sense of dread transforms a typical coming-of-age story into a monster movie—or, to put it another way, it shows us that childhood is itself a monster movie ... Form and destruction: the two words run like rails through My Struggle, creating an energy that we see not only in the writing itself, but in the book’s central relationship between the jittery, unformed narrator and his rule-obsessed father ... A book so shot through with emptiness and death that it leaves its readers feeling full and alive. A deeply morbid book, My Struggle is nonetheless as full of life as a boat is of wind or a house is of light.
As with his great mentor, adherence to a strict chronology matters less to Knausgaard than crafting a mosaic of glittering scenes, framed by recurrent images and memories. Don Bartlett deserves the highest praise for a translation that, with pace, rhythm and agility, registers every swing and swoop of mood and tone. This prismatic, recursive approach to childhood and adolescence means that Knausgaard offers much less in-your-face intimacy than the hype suggests ... Sometimes overblown, quite often as sublime as its author hoped, this first installment of an epic quest should restore jaded readers to life.
A Death in the Family begins with a grand meditation on post-mortem microbes worthy of Jim Crace's Being Dead, and ends impressively too, with a profoundly resonant last line. In between, in a Proustian spirit of digression, there are philosophical pensées of varying interest, as well as vivid evocations of adolescent hypersensitivity and confusion. The bulk of the text, however, consists of mundane family life described in microscopic detail. All the dull stuff that most novelists would omit, Knausgaard leaves in ... This merciless specificity, which some readers may find maddening, serves two purposes. It lends an air of unedited truth to the project, and it adds power to the final third of the book, where Karl Ove and his brother Yngve are saddled with the grim job of cleaning the house in which their father drank himself to death ... On the evidence of A Death in the Family, I suspect that Knausgaard's lifelong yearning to achieve literary immortality may prove biodegradable too.
A Norwegian novelist plumbs his interior life, particularly his troubled relationship with his late father, in this curiously affecting opening to a multipart epic ... Knausgaard is emotionally clumsy to be sure, but remarkably, almost miraculously, his novel never comes off as a plea for sympathy, as so many memoirs (or memoir-novels) are. He means to strip experiences and emotional responses to their bare essences, and over time, the book evokes a feeling of fully inhabiting a character that typical rhetorical somersaulting often doesn’t ... Knausgaard's reckoning with his past is no less serious for lacking drama and outsize tragedy ... A simple and surprising effort to capture everyday life that rewards the time given to it.
Throughout A Death in the Family, Knausgaard catches glimpses of himself in mirrors – a conventional enough symbol for an autobiographical artist – but these moments acquire a more complicated resonance by virtue of the fact that father and son are also reflections of each other ... His observations are often structured in a way that emphasises this uneasy doubling ... Via this process Knausgaard enacts a kind of creative destruction, an overthrowing of literary form that is in fact a rediscovery of form and expression ... A masterpiece of control ... What compels in his writing is its directness, its plain-spoken articulation of a powerful mind grappling with its contradictions, and the hints of fervency and genuine anguish that have been well captured in Don Bartlett’s natural-sounding translation.
The problem is that Knausgaard’s unflinching honesty, so admired throughout Europe, leaves little room for characters to grow, for scenes to live. He is far too busy telling you exactly what he was given for supper as a child...or telling you what walk he’s been on...for anything to burst out of the page. It’s like someone reading out the telephone directory ... It is entirely possible that this novel is a masterpiece, and has just been badly served by a translation ... But I don’t think so. I pity the poor translator. After all, it must have been quite hard to translate something so soporific.