In its long, wandering sentences, in which so much that is unalike is swept up and suspended, the grammar seems to stretch to accommodate this contradiction: that details mean both nothing and everything ... This uncertainty as to seriousness, of not knowing what the weight of experience is—the literary term is bathos—is My Struggle’s pervasive feeling. It’s the feeling, both thrilling and confusing, of encountering somebody who doesn’t know the unwritten rules. They are unwritten because they are deep inside us; they are the rules of society, which are part of our identity. On every page of My Struggle we are reminded of these rules, which human beings follow instinctively and as a matter of self-preservation, because Knausgaard disregards them. We feel viscerally that he shouldn’t be telling us what we nonetheless can’t stop reading because we know exactly what he means.
At 1,156 pages, this final volume is sprawling and episodic. It is also a public performance, in that it was written as the drama around the publication of the earlier volumes was unfolding. There is a sense of the worm eating its tail or tale ... There are moving passages in the new book, notably a painful discussion of his wife’s bipolar disorder ... Book Six should finally put to rest the interpretation of the early volumes of My Struggle as the work of a 'noble savage,' a deliberately artless or unmediated outpouring. Knausgaard is frank here about his artifice and more than happy in the realms of intellectual abstraction ... his explorations seem urgent, part of an attempt to present 'a man in full,' to give weight to every part of his life, connecting his intellectual preoccupations to his domestic ones ... It is instructive to watch an attentive novelist sifting through what is known about Hitler’s hungry early years ... Knausgaard’s intention is not to recuperate or exonerate Hitler, but to suggest that presenting him as an immutable figure of evil, as Kershaw feels duty bound to do, is a sort of fictionalization ... By its nature, My Struggle—a vast text produced at a breakneck pace—is a patchy, imperfect book, but reading it is an unforgettable experience. Knausgaard’s presentation of self is not only a democratic assertion of the importance of an ordinary life, but also a major contribution to the scant literature of fatherhood.
...a gift to his detractors, those who have found the books to be solipsistic and overwrought. At nearly 1,200 earnest pages, Book Six is a life-drainer, so dense and so dull that time and light seem to bend around it. I had to flog myself through it. I carried it under my arm like a football, giving the Heisman Trophy push-off to friends, family, basic hygiene, Netflix and the pets. When I finished, I felt there were fang marks in my neck; I wanted a blood transfusion. There are few books I will more avidly not read again ... Especially trying is Book Six’s 400-plus page excursus into Hitler and the etiology of the Third Reich. It is a grindingly sophomoric exercise that sits undigested under this novel’s skin, like an armchair inside a snake ... This book is the largest in the absorbing My Struggle series, but curiously it’s the runt of the litter.
Perhaps because they have so much more to compete with, this volume’s evocations of domestic life — fraught spats with Linda about who will mind the children in the apartment in Malmo, grueling family vacations, simmering irritation with the stridently politically correct parents of the kids’ school friends, shopping for dinner parties — are not only exhaustive, but downright exhausting ... All this, finally, brings us to the main event, by far the finest thing in this strange book and, in my experience, the best thing Knausgaard has written, marked by enormous intellectual panache and quite different from anything else in the novel (it’s amazing how lively the writing suddenly is when he’s not writing about himself): a nearly 400-page close reading of 'Mein Kampf,' complete with detours through related texts, in which the author tries to recover and reproduce the lived experience of the frustrated, depressed and impoverished young man who would become the Nazi tyrant... Yet this intriguing notion forces you into an uncomfortable reconsideration of Knausgaard himself. As I closed the final volume of My Struggle, struck by how little this hugely ambitious artistic undertaking had moved me, I thought about the emotions that course through it and how they are presented.... Knausgaard’s creation, for all its vastness and despite its serious intellectual aims and attainments, reduces the entire world to the size of the author.
When Karl Ove Knausgaard’s epic of the quotidian works, it’s majestic. When it’s about Hitler, it’s jaw-droppingly bad ... Given all that, it may come as a surprise to some readers that the sixth, longest, and last book of My Struggle is primarily a biography of Adolf Hitler ... a sharp and truly strange turn (via a confused reading of a poem by Paul Celan) into his maddening, frequently fascinating account of Hitler’s early years ... What he has allowed himself is an absolute orgy of interpolation, of style, of insight ('insight'), as if he has expressly set out to recant the choices that made the prior installments of My Struggle unique. The trouble is that he seemingly hasn’t also recanted his freehanded method of composition—instead, he has turned it loose on the Holocaust, a subject that should demand of a writer heroic rigor, heroic precision ... In 1,200 pages, there’s room for an absolutely enormous number of bad ideas, and Knausgaard talks his way into every category of them ... there’s also pretentious historicizing from thin knowledge ... The tremendous irony there is how many readers have so completely identified with him, a random Norwegian halfway across the planet. The long and painful middle section of this book tries to make Knausgaard’s idea overt...by humanizing not just any figure, but Hitler ... For the first time, Knausgaard’s least sophisticated accusers are right: This is the arrogance, grandiosity, and laziness of a loudmouthed white man who insists he’s worth 4,000 pages of your time ... Maybe no novelist has ever been superior to Knausgaard in describing the difference between the heightened clearness of purpose of childhood ... If there is a unique magic to his work, it is the restoration of at least a glimmer of the great and shiningly obvious place that we might occupy in our own lives.
It has been tempting to read My Struggle, as most reviewers of its earlier volumes have done, as a kind of logical terminus for all these tendencies: the pattern of autobiographical memoir; the plotlessness; the specificity; the detailed description of everyday life; the much-remarked-upon slowness ... But this is only part of the story. A countervailing impulse has run through the novel’s history, an impulse not just to depict the disenchanted world into which the form was born but to critique it. With notable frequency the novel has taken disenchantment itself as its subject, and it has asked the uncomfortable question of whether the kind of heroic greatness that was literature’s primary concern from the Iliad up to Orlando Furioso is even possible under the current dispensation ... the most striking thing about Karl Ove’s relationship to the passing days he so carefully describes is that he finds them mostly insufferable ... there is no question that Knausgaard was deeply familiar with Hitler’s life story before he started writing his own, or that he takes the parallels between the two seriously ... a book in which contradictions abound, a book with moments of great insight and moments of great banality, a book where one thing often seems to follow another for no reason at all, a book that aggressively courts insignificance.
The trademark of My Struggle is its microscopic degree of detail. Every meal, every visit to the playground, every trip to the grocery store is faithfully recorded for posterity—during one checkout we learn Karl Ove’s PIN code—just as a historian might recount the minutes of some world-changing event ... Book 6, too, bears the marks of blind haste. For all its length and elaboration, it feels oddly cursory, like an assignment pounded out on the bus before class ... This is the logical end point of the autobiographical novel—it becomes indistinguishable from a personal diary. Any creative freedoms the form seems to promise are belied by Mr. Knausgaard’s evident impatience with the daily chore of transcribing his memories like an overworked office clerk. He’s fed up with being trapped inside his own consciousness, and so is the reader ... The lack of objectivity bedevils the book’s most interesting portion. Smack in the middle is a 400-plus page account of the youth of Adolf Hitler ... It’s not that Mr. Knausgaard denies Hitler’s anti-Semitism, but because it isn’t a trait that he shares he has comparatively little to say about it. Yet a Hitler who isn’t primarily animated by race hatred is not Hitler at all. A strangely incomplete interpretation of history results, one shaped to conform to the author’s reflection ... It’s only at the extreme end of Book 6 that circumstances jar Mr. Knausgaard from the ruts of self-absorption ... This is a moving self-rebuke, but how late in the day it arrives!
For fans addicted to the first five books, Book Six is a welcome return to the microscopic observations and internal ramblings of a gargantuan mind. For readers coming to the series for the first time, it’s an encyclopedic introduction to everything that went before ... There is an overwhelming, often cumbersome accretion of details which sometimes threatens to sink the narrative ... These details seem tedious until the reader recognizes that they are the narrative ... My Struggle is a magnificent hybrid. It is literature unto itself—sui generis. A unique accomplishment that demands to be read. It is not a light read and yet it is not difficult to read.
If you only have the time to commit to one book in the series, start with Book Six. But the guarantee is that you will be hooked and start over with Book One.
'The novel is the form of the small life,' [Knausgaard] says in Book Six. Yet it can be the form of the large life too; and even the story of a small life must offer more than mere documentation. In Knausgaard’s defense, one could say that he convinces us that, behind his small lives, something much bigger is hiding. From time to time, his plodding style changes gear, taking his readers up into the realm of the sublime ... Knausgaard’s giant book does not make him into a giant personality. Yet that is part of the book’s fascination: we keep reading—if we do—because Knausgaard gives such a complete and heartfelt portrait of the beleaguered masculinity of our time.
Much of it is about the hell of parenting, accompanying his children to three-legged races and so on ... The parenting stuff is less fresh than it was in the earlier volumes. It now feels dutiful, like parenting itself. The legal threats lose much of their force because we’ve been told about them in numerous profiles of Knausgaard and we know he’s emerged relatively unscathed ... Among his father’s possessions, Karl Ove and his brother had found a Nazi pin, and later, when his grandmother died, a Norwegian edition of Mein Kampf. Exploring these 'unexplained mysteries' had been part of his plan from the beginning. The result is engaging but this section rarely rises above the level of a highly prolix book review ... he concludes that Hitler’s failure to master artistic form led him to divert his talents into an oratory of cliché that led to Nazism and the reduction of 'the other' (i.e. Jews) into nameless numbers and thus to the Holocaust. Like all attempts to isolate a single psychological explanation for the Holocaust, this is laughably insufficient, but watching Knausgaard grope his way to it is enthralling. He also expresses notable empathy for the alienated young man’s yearning to be part of the grand 'we' that Nazism offered ... Does this declaration of identification offer the key to Knausgaard’s autobiographical project? One of the signal qualities of My Struggle is the severely limited perspective of the narrator, the trouble he has grasping the personalities of the other 'characters,' let alone empathizing with them ... his wife Linda has entered a state of manic depression, a condition worse than Karl Ove has ever witnessed ... The final passages of My Struggle are guilt-ridden and heartbreaking. For the first time in the saga, Karl Ove Knausgaard sees someone else whole.
As The End begins, we rejoin Knausgaard...What follows, over 1,150 densely packed pages, is the story of the My Struggle books and the thinking behind them, right up to the moment when the narrative finally catches up with itself ... There are light moments — at one point the confessional genre is taken to what must be its logical conclusion with the revelation of Knausgaard’s PIN number, 2536 — but in general the mood is darker ... The drama of The End is driven by the earlier novels’ effects on the real world, and there is a queasy feeling of retreading the footsteps of old interviews ... the questions about literary ethics return and the book can feel at times like a particularly cruel form of double jeopardy ... And it is at this point that we begin to understand what a 450-page essay about Hitler is doing in the middle of the book ... For me, the essay feels too schematic, too weighed down ... It is hard not to be impressed by the fluency and erudition on display as Knausgaard charts his course through history, philosophy, literature and the visual arts. But the yearning for authenticity, which builds slowly through the series, threatens to overwhelm its conclusion.
If one is looking for clarity...prepare for frustration. The more one considers My Struggle, the more contradictions and paradoxes begin to emerge. For example, it’s not always good ... While they’re not always good, there are passages in the books which are utterly transcendent, which create a shock of recognition and understanding one is more accustomed to experiencing in the presence of great visual art than in fiction. Think of the frisson one experiences on looking at, say, Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night (the original, not a reproduction), the immediate connection and almost electrical charge: My Struggle has dozens, nay hundreds, of moments like that ... But is that enough? ... Partway through The End, I found myself almost literally begging for it to be over ... the inside of Knausgaard’s head isn’t a particularly pleasant place to be ... My Struggle is a flawed masterpiece, a broad canvas on which strengths and weaknesses are equally visible, and which somehow combine to create a reading experience unlike any other.
My Struggle is, fundamentally, a novel of middle-class family life, but the family life of Book Six is no longer just a meditative subject. It's something our reckless hero has to fight, belatedly, to defend ... In many ways, Knausgaard is just another Kardashian, another podcaster, inviting us into his life in serial form, employing a range of techniques, both subtle and overt, to create the illusion that we know him... Yet Knausgaard is not a podcaster or a reality star. He is a writer, and a reader, so his chronicle of family life, first as a frightened son, now as a worried husband and father, is punctuated with essayistic digressions on literature, art, and history ... [Knausgaard] has paid dearly to give himself to us, a price that doesn't sit comfortably. But as he concludes in Book Six, 'I did it, and I will have to live with it.' So will we.
If The End doesn’t provide the answers, it provides additional context for the questions ... Knausgaard’s rendering of this crisis [over the publication of My Struggle]—the jitteriness, the relentlessness with which he goes over events again and again, his overwhelming sense of transgression and shame—is riveting. He is willing to expose not only his visceral fear, but the almost gauche lack of forethought he has given the matter of publication ... There is, however, a far more substantial digression on the horizon, as Knausgaard plunges into more than 400 pages that, by way of an analysis of the work of the poet Paul Celan, narrates Hitler’s formative years ... It is a departure at once strikingly bold and utterly bizarre. Occasionally, it is also breathtakingly banal ... Throughout the series, the issue of Min Kamp/Mein Kampf has hovered disquietingly, but now it emerges more fully as an expression of fear: what if Knausgaard too is a monstrous narcissist, a fanatic, a man capable of crossing a line without, perhaps, even realizing it? The End is a kind of reckoning with that terror, both on a practical level—writing into the story the consequences of publication, from legal maneuverings to his wife’s depression—and a more amorphous one. How do you know, Knausgaard asks, what damage has been done to you, and what damage you are doing?
...it exercises a certain fascination that keeps you reading. This fascination is what a proper reviewer would have to analyse ... the parts with the children are quite delightful, it is good there are three of them for variety, and we look forward to a daily life with them which is not an event but a lively routine ... The writing is, however, undistinguished, at least in translation ... You do not read it for the style, except for the conversations, which are often unobtrusively witty and entertaining ... I will call Knausgaard’s kind of writing ‘itemisation’ ... it is not only the objects Karl Ove buys and uses that are itemised here: it is the people, the emotions and feelings, the thoughts, that are itemised as well. This is why the innumerable sentences in these thousands of pages – varied as they may be – fail to pass the supreme test of any postmodern aesthetics ... Variety being the spice of life, we have to conclude, regretfully, that these pages do not quite enliven the palate ... Knausgaard has here hit on the great reality, the great mystery, of the world, which has little enough to do with nature, death, or whatever other grand metaphysical themes I’m forgetting here. It has to do with the hapless attempt of a biologically incomplete being to claim some mental or spiritual completeness ... So even if I cannot advise you to read it, I can certainly advise rereading it, as one might leaf through a journal or a diary and follow a few paragraphs before putting it down again.
... in addition to being a coruscating account of how the West destroyed its own ability to make meaning, may be the most ambitious novel published in our century so far ... Without meaning, all that is left is death, and death hangs over everything in Book Six. Yet there is beauty in this ... it’s a shame that only people who’ve read the first five volumes are going to read this, because this, Book Six, is the kind of novel that reinvigorates the form of the novel itself. Many writers have attempted to present an account of both the self and the society the individual self inhabits, but few have attempted to be as philosophically comprehensive, or as formally bold as Knausgaard is here ... there are two ways in which Book Six comes up short. The first is Knausgaard’s failure—frustrating given his subject matter—to make a meaningful connection between Europe’s ongoing failure to compassionately handle the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean with the West’s reticence to accept Jewish refugees from Germany before World War II. The second is that Knausgaard, in his attempt to describe life’s fullness and life’s despair, in his breathtakingly honest fidelity to his own experience of reality, makes not enough room for joy.
The book’s confrontation with taboo subjects exerts an extraordinary pull on the reader, who is unable to look away and must see how far he will go. Nevertheless, what is perhaps most radical about reading the novel is the feeling of intimacy it creates. Through repetition, everyday domestic banalities become familiar and comforting ... What helps give the unwieldy 1,164-page tome some pacing and lightness is the narrator’s charisma and self-deprecating sense of humor. Knausgaard’s virtuoso exposition of awkward everyday social interactions is unmatched in contemporary literature.
Knausgaard’s penchant for turning autobiography into fiction becomes a dangerous ouroboros, as the novel devours his everyday life (which in turn provides fodder for this later text). But perhaps most notable about Book Six is a 400-page examination of Hitler, Nazism, and the nature of evil, which draws parallels between Mein Kampf and My Struggle: 'Not only were the words on its pages transformed into real life, but what happened there, in real life, stains each and every word.' This uncomfortable comparison simultaneously explodes the purview of what fiction can do while zeroing in on the unique concerns of his narrator. Perhaps the most compelling of this epic’s installments, and an undeniably impressive literary accomplishment.
This is structurally the most slovenly book of the series, yet it caps a remarkable achievement. For nearly 3,500 pages, Knausgaard has confessed, complained, reminisced, spouted off, made himself look ridiculous, and considered what it means to be candid, giving his life artistic shape while fighting against artifice. The book’s very existence has prompted eye-rolls; many of its pages do as well. But his all-in temperament richly rewards anybody who takes first-person writing seriously. A fittingly bulky end to a radical feat of oversharing.
The second section, a ranging, 400-page interpolated passage on Hitler's Mein Kampf, explores questions of 'we' and 'I' in Nazi Germany. This section boasts intriguing parallels to the overall work, but, with its extended dives into subjects such as the poetry of Paul Celan and the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, doesn't always move briskly. The third section is an extraordinary coda, as Knausgaard depicts the release of books two through four and his wife Linda's bout with bipolar disorder ... As Knausgaard keeps a journal of his last days writing his book while caring for his family and trying to sell a home, the rationale for his project comes into brilliant focus. This volume is a thrilling conclusion to Knausgaard's epic series.