A family of four―mother, father, and two boys―move to the south coast of Norway, to a new house. It is the early 1970s and the family's trajectory is upwardly mobile: the future seems limitless. In painstaking detail, Karl Ove Knausgaard paints a world familiar to anyone who can recall the intensity and novelty of childhood experience, one in which children and adults lead parallel lives that never meet.
Knausgaard spares us too much overt reflection in order to maximise the power of every jaunt, scrape, crush, cult and (quite often) spell of terror and bout of weeping. For these early years are overshadowed by a fairy-tale father ... Via his visceral, immersive art, Knausgaard makes the heart visible as he conjures 'the intensity that only exists in childhood'. With skin-tingling immediacy, Boyhood Island transmits 'the excitement that exists in the unseen and the hidden'.
His account of his life up to the age of 13 or so (soccer, candy craving, playing with matches, grades, swimming, skiing, girl craving) is accomplished and often intense, but you miss the adult complexity and the toggling back and forth in time of the first two books ... For all this Oedipal drama, Book Three of My Struggle isn’t grueling. There are expert, almost Mark Twain-like observations about being a boy, and for every scene in which he cowers from his father, there’s one in which he does something like stick his erect little penis into a discarded Heineken bottle, only to have it stung by an angry beetle ... If this volume lacks some of the heat and intellectual force of the first two books, it feels like an essential building block. This writer is constructing a towering edifice, in what feels like real time. Few artistic projects of our era feel more worth attending to.
Boyhood Island, the latest volume to come out in English, makes clear that, with a father like Knausgaard's, anyone might struggle to turn their frown upside down ... This isn't the revelation past volumes were, partly because the injustices of boyhood are better documented than those of fatherhood, but mainly because Knausgaard fixes the point of view to his child self; gone is the fluid structure that drifted between the remembered moment and the moment of remembering. Outside the domestic psychodrama the action is much as you'd expect.