Dear Readers, some of you may remember that one us rashly undertook to read all six books of Knausgaard’s My Struggle. I was that Gert and I have a confession to make.
I can’t do it! I could tolerate his wounded male pride at being overlooked by the sexy child care worker because he was just a father. I could just about put up with his self-destructive drinking and whinging about his struggles with writing. I could even put up with passages where he contacts Linda to ask if she wants him to pick up any shopping on the way home (there is a great deal of this). But on page fourteen of book six he lost me.
Let me explain.
Our hero has just been to lunch with friends Marie and Geir. We hear about the lunch; how many cigarettes and cups of coffee. It’s all a bit lumpen. Then, it seems, the writer tries to lift his game, to become more literary.
On the other side of the strait, surprisingly close, was what I realised must be the castle at Elsinore. The thought that I was looking at Hamlet’s home made my spine tingle.
A bit of reflection on the scenery, he finds a cafe and orders a cup of coffee. Then we have this.
Hamlet was written at the close of the sixteenth century. The earliest edition still in existence is from 1603. A few years ago I would have thought of that as being a long time ago. I didn’t any longer…No the seventeenth century wasn’t all that long ago.
Then he gets really philosophical
Does he (Hamlet)rise now in his chilly chamber? Does he climb the narrow steps out onto the roof, to the parapets? What then does he see? The blue waters of the Oresund, the green land on the other side…Shakespeare told us. The earth appears to Hamlet as a sterile promontory. The air this most excellent canopy, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, as he describes it to his two friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, is to him but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours, man but a quintessence of dust…
I took my mobile out of my pocket and pressed Linda’s number. She answered straight away.
Well good for her, because I’m not answering. Don’t call me any more, Karl Ove. Your dreary prose and unconvincing flights of poetry offend me. I really hate what you have done with one of the most beautiful pieces of writing in the English language. The ludicrous, ‘as he describes it to his friends…’ is reminiscent of a fourth form essay.
I much prefer it used as the song lyric, ‘What a Piece of Work is Man’ in the musical Hair. More honesty and more respect.
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I refuse to read the next 1135 pages. Or, as Bartleby would say, ‘I prefer not to.’
If you would like to read a more detailed (impartial?) review of this work, go to
but in his final summing up Tony does use the phrase, ‘It’s hard to avoid a sense of being had.’
And if you really want to know what Knausgaard is all about, read Fredric Jameson’s article Itemised.