While 'A Man in Love' tells of the rapture and intoxication of love, it also turns a cold and at times clinical eye on romantic ecstasy and the marital equation, relating in painstaking — at points agonizing — detail the fading of the first flush of love, the cooling and contracting of feeling ... This wealth of hyper-realistic detail places us in the midst of a life, and gives relief to its moments of passion and despair, insight and confusion, anger and love. Not only this, however, it also presents to the reader the real struggle: how to take all this shifting, teeming minutiae and in it find, and give, meaning ... A subtle structure can be mistaken for none at all, a search for lost time taken for random reminiscence, and this subtlety of structure is something Knausgaard’s work shares with Proust’s ... Knausgaard has a tremendous essayistic talent, and Book 2, like Book 1, is rich in reflections on everything from the sociology of death to the psychopathology of everyday life.
This crisis, which is the crisis of narrative's distance from reality, is artistic certainly and cultural probably: but Knausgaard's great accomplishment is to show it, pre-eminently, as personal ... There is much to admire in Knausgaard's interrogation and, eventually, sacrifice of his own artistic ego, for it frees him to tackle the problems of living as inextricable from the problems of writing ... He captures carefully and lyrically the changing landscape of days spent at the heart of a family, its heavy skies and sudden balminess, its differing terrains, some so featureless and dull and others so challenging, its volcanic love and anger and frustration ... He shows us, by the route of life, that there is no story, and in so doing he finds, at last, authenticity. For that alone, this deserves to be called perhaps the most significant literary enterprise of our times.
His struggle in A Man in Love is a struggle, essentially, to man up – the source of some excruciating comedy as well as the keynote existential despair ... Knausgaard thrives on taboo: when we praise his honesty, perhaps what we really mean is that he says things we wouldn’t wish to say ourselves ... What makes it more honest than your average tell-all – and more interesting, I suspect, to all the sad, not-so-young literary men who make up its natural audience – is the transparency of the paradox on which this extraordinary enterprise is built: in order to write, Knausgaard craves escape from his life, but that selfsame life is the very thing he ends up writing about.
Reading My Struggle is an immersive experience. With Knausgaard’s keen memory and robust imagination, scenes of quotidian activity become tableaux that illustrate the writer’s central conflict: making art versus fulfilling domestic duties ... His technique also achieves an aching intimacy, one that transcends the personal and makes Knausgaard’s pursuit of grand artistic ideals, his daily joys and misgivings, strangely familiar.
His endeavour, not to mention fluid narrative, which skips around in time and place, both externally and internally, invites obligatory comparisons with Proust, who Knausgaard has, of course, read. The result is a remarkable insight into the mind of a man in the grip of a mid-life crisis as he battles with the big questions posed by parenthood and the unwelcome realisation that there is no second chance ... The many passages on parenting have a raw honesty. His description of his wife giving birth is exemplary ... The other topic he tackles head on is depression, his wife's depression. It's uncomfortable, if instructive, stuff ... Surprisingly for one so self-obsessed, his achievement is that his struggle ultimately becomes that of his readers.
It’s harder to bind the content of Book Two to any given theme, though it is subtitled A Man in Love and spans roughly the period of six years during which Karl Ove meets his second wife, a poet named Linda, relocates to Stockholm, has two children, writes his second novel (A Time For Everything), and retreats to the smaller city of Malmö ... Here, swathed in rumination, speculation, and conversation, much of which is with Karl Ove’s intellectual friend Geir, these minor incidents add up to something unlike a book and more like a hypnotically sustained feeling: a sprawling sleepwalk that takes us deeper the more it creeps into the borders of Karl Ove’s consciousness ... Knausgård doesn’t, as the cliché goes, wring meaning out of everyday life, he frees everyday life from the responsibility of having to seem meaningful ... After a canon built on thinking and feeling, here is an authentic 21st century masterpiece dedicated to existing, existence being perhaps the briefest state of all and therefore the one hardest to be exhaustive about, even given six books to say, in essence, 'there I was.'
Raising a family, making art and the difficulty of reconciling the two drives the remarkable second installment of this six-volume novel-as-memoir ... Knausgaard’s strategy throughout the series is to build immersive effects by delivering highly detailed descriptions of his minor experiences and paths of thought; in this case, much of the heart of the book is taken up by Linda’s pregnancy and their anticipation of their first child, from crib shopping to miscarriage scares to the actual birth itself ... A patient exploration of courtship and fatherhood stripped clean of politesse.