In the second installment of Karl Ove Knausgaard's six-volume series, Karl Ove moves to Stockholm, where, having left his wife, he leads a solitary existence. He strikes up a deep friendship with another exiled Norwegian and tracks down Linda, whom he met at a writers' workshop a few years earlier.
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.