Knausgaard’s ambition is to whittle away at the legend to arrive at insights about the genesis of the art itself, and not only Munch’s art, but all art ... Knausgaard’s response to the varying opinions of those he encounters is at once measured, insightful and tinged with comedy. He has walked into the land of the experts and visual artists and is afraid of looking like an 'idiot' when the exhibition is mounted. His analysis of his own feelings is bracing ... The writer enacts on the page exactly what he hopes to convey. Art can sometimes break through the blinding conventions that dictate our perceptions ... Such superb moments are offset by less successful passages. When he is at a loss to explain a painting’s effect on him, Knausgaard periodically lapses into clichés ... He displays confidence about theories he has misunderstood ... That said, Knausgaard never underestimates the painter’s labor and study, and this book stands as a sincere, often lyrical and penetrating attempt to enter the world of another artist.
Karl Ove Knausgaard’s treatise on the art of Edvard Munch, So Much Longing in So Little Space, fails — as art criticism is prone to do — to adequately 'read' or 'translate' Munch’s paintings for us. But it should not be expected to be a translator ... And yet, though the book fails in the ways it must, it succeeds where others have failed, in its ability to imbue its failure with its own blend of artifice and truth, cliche and possibility, openness and closedness, creating something that may prove to be classic ... the book feels of a piece with the autofiction for which the Norwegian novelist is best known ... What is so compelling about the book, though, is that this longed-for unifying element and these supposed truisms become themselves suspect as the book approaches its terminus.
A more accurate title would have been 'Munch and Me: The Most Famous Norwegian Writer Since Knut Hamsun Considers the Most Famous Norwegian Painter Ever.' Very little space is given over to the details of Munch’s life; instead, the book considers what it means to be an artist in general and what it meant to be a highly talented artist from a restrictive Scandinavian background, obsessed with a peculiar set of personal issues, and living in a time of radical change, artistic and otherwise ... This book is an account of Knausgaard trying to come to terms with the giant. As a writer rather than an art historian, his discussion of paintings largely involves description ... In writing about Munch, [Knausgaard] considers the work of another specialist in cultural excavation. And specialists get paid well.