Things we read: Knausgaard again


No, he isn’t Proust, and no, we don’t think he should win the Nobel Prize.  But this is pretty good, don’t you think?

What we did most often was to go out in search of new places or to one of the places we had already found. It might be a big old oak with a hollow trunk; a deep pool in a river; a cellar in an unfinished house that was full of water; the concrete foundations of the enormous bridge pylon or the first few metres of the thick cable stays that ran from the bottom of an anchoring in the forest up to the top and which you could climb; a ramshackle shed with planks that was slippery and dark with decay between Lake Tjenna and the road on the other side, which so far was the furthest outpost of our explorations, we had never ventured any further; the two dumped cars; the little pool with the three islands no bigger than tufts of grass, one almost completely covered by a tree, and where the water was so deep and black, even though it was right next to a road embankment; the white crystalline rock from which you could hammer small chunks, beside the path to the Fina station; the boat factory on the other side of Tremoya Bridge beyond Gamle Tybakken, all the factory buildings there, the shells of the boats, the rusty block and tackle on the machines, the smell of oil and tar and salty water which was so good. (p. 71-2)

And so is this:

 Slowly buildings disappeared, it was as if the houses lost their hold on us and fell by the wayside one by one, like children fell off the enormous inner tire someone had roped to a boat earlier that summer. As the boat speed increased only the tube was left. I saw glinting sandbanks along the sides of the river, green clad hills rising more and more steeply, the occasional enormous bare mountainside in every shade of grey, with some flame-red pine trees on top. I saw rapids and waterfalls, lakes and planes, everything bathed in the glow of the clear bright sun which, as we drove, had risen higher and higher in the sky. The road was narrow, and it gently and unobtrusively followed all the countryside’s dips and climbs, curves and bends, with trees like a wall on both sides in some places, towering over everything in others, in sudden and expected vantage points. (p. 253)

Karl Ove Knausgaard, Boyhood Island (Harvill Secker, 2014).

7 thoughts on “Things we read: Knausgaard again

  1. I think it’s the best of the three, at least the first half of it. The detail and physical clarity of his memories is extraordinary, and he really captures the sensations of a child. And the personality of his father is brought out by a process of indirection, by talking all around him, as if he could never explain even to himself why he’s such a terrifying figure.

  2. Great quotes. I’m currently reading A Death in the Family and agree with your point on the physical clarity of his memories, so much so that I find myself wondering how he’s able to do this – did he keep diaries? The level of detail is extraordinary and it feels so vivid, so real. I found my attention wavering a bit in the first section of ADitF (there’s quite a lot of scene setting), but the second section is very intense.

  3. Yes, the description of cleaning out the house after his father’s death is extraordinary, isn’t it? And my attention did wander a bit in the second of Boyhood Island too, or at least the energy seemed to go out of it a bit. As far as I know, he writes freefall, not using notes or journals. A Man in Love isn’t as gripping as either A Death or Boyhood Island, I find.

    1. Very much so, I’m right in the middle of that section at the moment. In fact, I might have to put aside for a few days just to take a breather from the intensity of emotion.

  4. I think the comparison with Proust is apt. Proust loves lists as well (as you would know). Combray is full of them. I’ve often wondered where they were going, and where he hoped they’d bring him – not the same thing. i have the same feeling reading these extracts.

  5. Yes, I can see the reason for the comparison, but he really doesn’t feel like Proust when you read him at length. But the real reason we started that way is that the publicity for him always seems at some stage to call him “the Norwegian Proust”, which of course exposes him to a lot of hostility as if he himself has claimed to be a Proust, which as far as I know, he never has. And gripping as he is, the whole enterprise doesn’t have the multilayered brilliance of A la recherche.

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