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But then I suppose we have all read the reviews. We can talk about those
July 25, 2014 1:05 PM   Subscribe

"So what is going on here? Should we be reassured that critics are sticking loyally by a work they admire regardless of sales, or bemused that something is being presented as a runaway commercial success when in fact it isn’t?" Tim Parks: Raise Your Hand If You’ve Read Knausgaard.

Knausgaard previously on MetaFilter 1 (!), 2
posted by RogerB (33 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is there a literary equivalent for Godwin's Law, only involving David Foster Wallace?
posted by Fizz at 1:14 PM on July 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


Ha! I'm so embarrassed now... I've seen this book mentioned in passing before but mistakenly thought the speaker was referring to Hitler's "Mein Kampf" (which translates literally to "My Struggle" in English). Thanks for the interesting (and for me at least already illuminating) post.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:14 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do I say, "Nose Guard"?
posted by latkes at 1:18 PM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is there a literary equivalent for Godwin's Law, only involving David Foster Wallace?

Knausgaardwin's Law: in any Internet discussion of Karl Ove Knausgaard, as the number of comments approaches 1, the chance of a comment pointing out the obvious about his book's title approaches 100%
posted by RogerB at 1:23 PM on July 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


Sorry--I honestly didn't know! I've been living under a rock. Now I have to read the damn thing.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:25 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I skimmed through some pages and found it quite boring, certainly nothing remotely as delightful as Proust, to which the comparison is so often and foolishly being made. You can tell from the quality of the fabric of any given paragraph or three the writer's merit, and I just don't see it.

Then again, I really dislike most contemporary "MFA style" fiction -- not that this is exactly an example of it, but it is still in that broad realist family which is in vogue.
posted by shivohum at 1:33 PM on July 25, 2014


Honestly, I think a 23,000 (not including ebooks! That doesn't make much sense as a metric, though, since people who read seriously are more likely to have an ereader IME, not that I have one myself) initial US sale of a notoriously rather difficult novel called, for fuck's sake, My Struggle...that is rather a success.

And I'd infinitely rather read something called after Hitler-In-Translation on an ereader, anyway, so I wouldn't have to explain to people on the bus that no, I was not an anti-semite....given that most USians might be familiar with Mein Kampf but not with ol' Noseguard.

It's a weird piece - does not seem to line up with the habits of serious readers known to me. As a generality, such people might read something merely because it's a sensation right now, but they're more likely to pursue whatever they're serious about at the moment, leaving today's literary sensation for when they get around to it.
posted by Frowner at 1:35 PM on July 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


What exactly is the author's point here? Can't figure out if he's actually got anything to say, or just slapped together this drivel suspecting that any contrarian post on this book is likely to garner a few hits.

For the record, I recently finished the first volume (which took several weeks to arrive, is there a supply constraint?) and I was engrossed.
posted by amorphatist at 1:44 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Literary authors like Graham Greene and Muriel Spark in the UK or Updike and Roth in the US were achieving very considerable sales in their own countries and genre authors like John Le Carré or Isaac Asimov were justly noted for their literary qualities.

Is there a word for an argument you 100% agree with that uses a specific example that is 100% wrong? I mean I adore Isaac Asimov, but if I were to come up with a list of genre authors who were "justly noted for their literary qualities" he would ... not be one of the first authors I'd pick.
posted by feckless at 1:45 PM on July 25, 2014 [16 favorites]


That's funny. I was thinking how Graham Greene might have been a "literary author" but he also wrote, intentionally, in another genre which he referred to as "entertainments", and which more closely fits the popular fiction mold.
posted by latkes at 1:49 PM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have purchased it but haven't read it. It's joined the legions of books hiding in my Kindle, waiting for the moment when my kids are older and I Have Time. I'll come back and reread this thread in 2016.
posted by snickerdoodle at 1:55 PM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Knausgaard truthing is becoming it's own mini-genre.
posted by Kattullus at 2:04 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sorry--I honestly didn't know! I've been living under a rock. Now I have to read the damn thing.

Oh hell, don't put yourself through that on our account! It's okay. You're allowed.
posted by Naberius at 2:11 PM on July 25, 2014


Well I certainly hope enough MeFites have read My Struggle that we can play My Struggle Bingo together.

Seriously, I don't get Parks' argument either. Obviously, Knausgaard's books are being enjoyed among the literary set, but not the public, which is true of most fiction. And the reason they're being enjoyed is that Knausgaard employs a kind of anti-style: his language is very plain for the most part--there's little in the way of quotable passages--and there's no plot other than Knausgaard's focus on telling the whole truth about his life as he sees it. But it's that depth of exploration, combined with his plainness, that's intriguing: it blows up a lot of novelistic convention, while also dovetailing with certain trends in North American literature toward an anti-style (e.g., Sheila Heti).

Yet there are also, let's say, extra-textual elements that have made My Struggle fascinating to some. The fact that it's a man who's writing in a mode of "domestic diarylike profusion" offers some novelty. The controversies in Norway that I discussed in my post offer some more; perhaps American authors wish they could stir up so much notoriety that employers institute "Knausgaard-free" days. (Though that may be a myth--or is it?) And the Hitlerian connection underscores Knausgaard's goal of provocation, though it will difficult for English-speakers to make sense of that goal, and whether he achieved it, until we get the last volume translated.
posted by Cash4Lead at 2:16 PM on July 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


"What we talk about when we talk about Karl Ove"
posted by chavenet at 2:34 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Knausgaard truthing is becoming it's own mini-genre.

That was a great read. Knausgaard-free days does indeed seem like utter bullshit. Any Norwegians in the house who can confirm or deny?
posted by latkes at 2:36 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


What exactly is the author's point here?

It's a confused article, but I think what he's saying is:

1. There's a lot of talk in literary reviewing circles about My Struggle, with reviews all claiming it's a huge bestseller. (He doesn't really give any evidence for this other than an Amazon.com blurb and some British woman making an obvious joke. This is a weak point to the premise of the article.)

2. The literary review world used to focus only on high art but now ends up covering pop fiction as well, due to a combination of genre blending and salesmanship. All kinds of books are treated equally on the newspaper page, so long as they're "important" enough to get reviewed.

3. As a result, when literary reviewers want to review high art nowadays they have to claim it's bestselling, so it can stand side-by-side with the pop fiction which gets reviewed because of its market share.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:42 PM on July 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


"What we talk about when we talk about Karl Ove"

I know nothing about this author, so when I see this I wonder next what we're saying about Dick Heney. After the confusion with Hitler above, it doesn't seem impossible. Maybe Knausgaard is at the center of a local storm of confusions.

Maybe I should give him a try, though. How long is My Struggle?
posted by JHarris at 2:53 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've seen this book mentioned in passing before but mistakenly thought the speaker was referring to Hitler's "Mein Kampf" (which translates literally to "My Struggle" in English).

To be clear, the reference (and confusion, perhaps) is deliberate (and appropriately, quite meta).
posted by dhartung at 3:24 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Any Norwegians in the house who can confirm or deny?

They're all too busy reading Knausgaard to reply.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:42 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Good point. I'll repost the question on a Knausgaard-free day and see if anyone answers.
posted by latkes at 3:49 PM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


The important thing to take away is that if American intellectuals can handle an obscure autobiographical series, they may also be ready for J. J. Voskuil's Het Bureau, the seven part series about the bureaucratic struggles in a semi-governmental scientific statistics office.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:51 PM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Forget it, I'm already into Beenplätuung's My Piffle

Dude's deep, man.
posted by petebest at 4:03 PM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Maybe I should give him a try, though. How long is My Struggle?

My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition)

My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Paperback: 608 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Tra edition)
posted by Fizz at 4:04 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's selling very briskly at my store, for what it's worth.
posted by jonmc at 4:23 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ack. Not a casual read then.
posted by JHarris at 4:25 PM on July 25, 2014


Michael Silverblatt recently interviewed Karl Knausgaard for Bookworm. I'm not well read enough to devote myself to something like My Struggle, but Michael Silverblatt has that knack for making any book seem well worth reading. Part II.

Also he talks about troll dolls, if that helps.
posted by Lorin at 6:30 PM on July 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just finished volume 3 and as with the previous two I found it engrossing. I actually would call it a casual read or at least it can be enjoyed without having to be "well read" as someone upthread suggested. This is not a heavy Euro tome like Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain or Proust. While the subject of My Struggle - self-examination and reflection on past selves - is very much in a Proustian mode (and I do love Proust), the style is totally opposite. As Cash4Lead said, Knausgaard's sentences and writing are quite plain and informal. If you're interested in reading it, don't be put off by the length. If it's not to your taste, you never have to read past page one!
posted by chinston at 6:40 PM on July 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


The literary review world used to focus only on high art but now ends up covering pop fiction as well

I call question-begging - this hasn't been true for a long, long, long time (Decades), if ever (depending on where you draw the borders of the "literary review world").
posted by smoke at 7:14 PM on July 25, 2014


Knausgaard's books are being enjoyed among the literary set, but not the public

In my understanding, the series is a bestseller. Quoting from Wikipedia: " It has sold nearly 500,000 copies in Norway, or one copy for every nine Norwegian adults, and is published in 22 languages."
posted by WalkingAround at 1:38 AM on July 26, 2014


Harvey Kilobit: 'some British woman'

Who, her?
posted by GeorgeBickham at 2:43 AM on July 26, 2014


Yeah, Knausgaard is very accessible (I'm about halfway through Volume 1). I'm probably reading it at a similar pace to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and enjoying it more.

As the Slate piece Cash4Lead linked to argued, if it had been written by a woman it might have been marketed as "chick lit," with a pair of shoes on the cover.
posted by Asparagus at 11:14 AM on July 26, 2014


I'm just talking to a Norwegian friend and she said they are best sellers over there.
posted by ersatz at 12:21 PM on July 26, 2014


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