The full scope and achievement of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s monumental work is evident in this final installment of his My Struggle series. Grappling directly with the consequences of Knausgaard’s transgressive blurring of public and private, Book 6 is a troubling and engrossing look into the mind of one of the most exciting artists of our time. Knausgaard includes a long essay on Hitler and Mein Kampf, particularly relevant (if not prescient) in our current global climate of ascending dictatorships.
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About the Author
Don Bartlett has translated novels by many Danish and Norwegian authors, among them Jo Nesbø, Roy Jacobsen, Lars Saabye Christensen, and Per Petterson. He lives with his family in Norfolk, England. Martin Aitken is the acclaimed translator of numerous Danish and Norwegian novels including works by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Peter Høeg, Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Pia Juul, and his translations of short stories and poetry have appeared in many literary journals and magazines. In 2012 he was awarded the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Nadia Christensen Translation Prize.
Read an Excerpt
In mid-September of 2009 I went up to Thomas and Marie's little retreat between Höganäs and Mölle, he was going to take some photos of me for the forthcoming books. I had rented a car, a black Audi, and headed north along the four-lane motorway in late morning with an intense feeling of happiness in my chest. The sky was clear blue, the sun shone like it was still summer. To my left the Öresund lay glittering, to my right yellow fields of stubble and meadows stretched inland, separated by stone walls, streams lined by leafy trees, sudden woodland. I was struck by a feeling that such a day wasn't supposed to happen, and yet there it was, an oasis of summer in the midst of autumn's paling landscape, and the fact that it wasn't meant to be like that, that the sun wasn't meant to shine so brightly, the sky wasn't supposed to be so saturated with light, tinged my joy with a sense of unease, so I tried not to think about it in the hope that it would pass of its own accord, sang along to the chorus of "Cat People" as it came through the speakers at the same moment, and took pleasure at the sight of the town appearing on my left, the harbor cranes, factory chimneys, warehouses. These were the outskirts of Landskrona, gliding by as Barsebäck had glided by only a few minutes earlier, the nuclear power station's characteristic and ever-ominous silhouette rising in the distance. Next up was Helsingborg, and from there it was another twenty kilometers or so to Thomas and Marie's place.
I was running late. First I had sat for a long time in the parking garage, in the roomy Audi's temperate interior, wondering how to start the ignition, unable to bring myself to go back to the rental office and ask in case they took the vehicle away from me once I had revealed such towering ignorance, and so I sat and pored through the handbook, flipping backward and forward through the pages, finding nothing at all about how to start the engine. I studied the dashboard, then the key, which wasn't a key at all but a card made of black plastic. I had unlocked the doors by pressing on it and wondered now if the ignition worked by some similar system. I searched the steering column in vain for a diagram. But there, wasn't that a slot of some sort? Maybe that was it?
I inserted the card and the engine purred. The next half hour I spent driving around the center of Malmö looking for the right road out of the city. By the time I eventually drove down the entrance ramp and onto the motorway I was nearly an hour behind schedule.
As Landskrona disappeared behind the low fold of the glacial ridge, I fumbled for my mobile on the seat next to me, found it, and pressed Geir's number. It was Geir who had originally introduced me to Thomas, they had met in a boxing club where Thomas had been working on a photo book about the sport, while Geir had been writing a dissertation on the same subject. They made an odd couple, to put it cautiously, but held each other in the highest regard.
"Hi there," said Geir.
"Hi," I said. "Can you do me a favor?"
"Could you give Thomas a call and tell him I'll be an hour late."
"Will do. Are you on the road?"
"It's fantastic, for a change. But listen, I've got to pass a truck now."
"I can't talk on the phone at the same time."
"Someone ought to investigate your multitasking skills sometime. Catch you later, then."
I hung up, changed gears, and passed the long white semitrailer truck, which swayed gently in the turbulent air. Earlier in the summer I had driven the whole family up to Koster and nearly had two accidents on the way, one due to hydroplaning at high speed, which could have ended very badly indeed, the other not quite as drastic, but frightening nonetheless; I had changed lanes in a traffic jam outside Gothenburg without seeing a car coming from behind, and we only avoided a crash because the other guy was so quick on the brakes. The angry blast of his horn cut straight into my soul. After that I took a break from driving, and felt a little fear every time I thought about it, which was probably a good thing, but still, even passing a truck had become an ordeal, I had to force myself to do it, and any long drive filled me with anxiety for days afterwards, like a hangover. The fact that I had passed my test and was actually allowed to drive a car was something my soul cared little about, it lagged behind and was still living in the days when it had been a great recurring nightmare of mine that I got behind the wheel of a car and drove off without knowing how. Ridden with angst, negotiating the bends of Norway's roads with the overhanging threat of the police catching up with me any minute, I would be sound asleep in bed somewhere with the pillow and the upper half of the duvet soaked in sweat.
I left the motorway and joined the narrower main road to Höganäs. The warmth outside was visible in the air, something about the substance of light and sky, they seemed veiled in a way, and the glitter the sunshine sprinkled over everything. The world was wide open, that was the feeling of it, and everything shimmered.
Ten minutes later I swung into the parking lot outside a supermarket and got out. Oh, such a rush of well-being in the air, it seemed pervaded by the blue of the sea, though without being hot in the way the air is hot in summer, there was a hint of coolness and sedateness about it. As I crossed the asphalt toward the supermarket, whose flags hung flaccidly from their poles, the feeling the air gave me reminded me of smoothing one's hand over marble on a sweltering hot day in some Italian town, that coolness, as subtle as it was surprising.
I bought a box of raspberries to give them, and a packet of cigarettes and some chewing gum for myself, put the raspberries on the passenger seat, and started the ignition again. The narrow road, lined by the hedges of small whitewashed cottages, led down toward the sea only a few hundred meters from the supermarket. Thomas and Marie's place was right at the bottom, with the sea to the west and a vast green field to the east.
Thomas came across the lawn in shorts to greet me as I got out and shut the car door. He gave me a hug, one of the few people who could do so without it feeling too intimate. I wasn't sure why. Maybe it was down to the simple fact that he was fifteen years older and, although we didn't actually know each other that well, had always been sympathetic toward me.
"Hi, Karl Ove," he said.
"Long time, no see," I said. "What a gorgeous day!"
We crossed the lawn. The air was completely still, the trees stood completely still, the sun hung suspended above the sea, sending its scorching rays out over the landscape. And yet all the time the same coolness in the air. It had been ages since I had felt such calm.
"How about some coffee?" said Thomas as we paused at the rear of the house where the previous summer he had made a timber deck that stretched like the deck of a ship from its outer wall to the thick, impenetrable hedge that cast its motionless shadow a couple of meters back toward the house.
"Yes, please," I said.
"Great, have a seat and I'll get you some."
I sat down, put my sunglasses on again, and leaned my head back to soak up as much sun as possible while I lit a cigarette and Thomas filled a receptacle with water from the tap in the little kitchen.
Marie came out. Her sunglasses were pushed up onto her forehead, and she squinted at the sun. I told her I had read about her in Dagens Nyheter that morning, there was a piece about an art controversy she was involved in. I had forgotten what it was exactly they had written about her, despite racking my brains, but fortunately she didn't ask, saying only that she would check it out at the library, she was on her way there anyway.
"Has your book come out yet?" she asked.
"No, not yet. It'll be out on Saturday, though."
"How exciting!" she said.
"Yes," I replied.
"See you later, then," she said. "I take it you're staying for lunch?"
"Yes, that'd be nice!" I said back, and smiled. "By the way, I brought Linda's manuscript with me. I'll give it to you later."
Marie had been a supervisor at the writers' school in Biskops-Arnö and had agreed to read the manuscript of a novel Linda had just completed.
"Fine," she said, and went inside again. Shortly after, a car started at the front of the house. Thomas came out with two cups of coffee and a plate of muffins. He sat down and we chatted for a bit before he went and got his camera and took a few photos as we continued talking. The last time I had been to see him he had been reading Proust; he still was, he said, just before I came he had been sitting there reading the part about the grandmother's death. That's one of the finest passages, I said. Yes, he said, getting up to photograph me from a different angle. I thought about what little I remembered about the grandmother's death. The way it came out of nothing. One minute she had been getting into a carriage to take her through the Jardin du Luxembourg and the next she was struck by a brain hemorrhage from which she died only hours later. Or was it days? The house milling with physicians, the all-consuming anguish that bears down during the first phase of grief, apathy continually interrupted by the unrest that comes with hope. All out of the blue, the shock of that.
"Great," said Thomas. "How about if you move your chair over to the hedge there?"
I did as he suggested. When he was done he went inside to study the images away from the light. I went and got more coffee in the kitchen, glancing at the photos he was clicking through on the camera screen as I stepped past.
"These are quite good," he said. "As long as you don't mind having a long nose."
I smiled and went outside again. Thomas wasn't out to make me look good, nor to capture some particular expression, rather the opposite, so I understood, he wanted me the way I looked when I was relaxed, without posing.
He came back out with the camera and sat down in the sun.
"Are we done?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied. "They've come out nicely, I think. I might take a couple of full-lengths, though, a bit later on."
"Great," I said.
A low murmur of voices came from the other side of the hedge. I crossed my legs and looked up at the sky. There wasn't a cloud in sight.
"I was at the hospital visiting one of my best friends before we came down here," he said. "He's broken his neck."
"How terrible," I said.
"Yes. They found him in Gullmarsplan. No one knows what happened, he was just lying there on the square."
"Is he conscious?"
"Yes. He can talk and is quite lucid. But he can't remember a thing about what happened. He doesn't even know what he was doing in Gullmarsplan."
"Was there alcohol involved?"
"Not at all. No, it's an illness he has. Similar things have happened to him before, he can pass out in his apartment and wake up again without knowing where he is. But this time the consequences were more serious. I'm worried he might not pull through."
I didn't know what to say and nodded. We sat there in silence for a while. Thomas looked at me.
"Like to go for a walk?"
"Yeah, why not," I said.
A couple of minutes later he closed the gate behind us and we tramped off across the grazed pastures that sloped gently down toward the stony beach, where waves rolled lazily in from the sea. Some longhorn cattle stood and stared at us from the top of a small hill. We were only about fifty meters away from some houses and the busy road that ran behind them, but it felt as if we were walking on a deserted heath. Maybe it was the sea, and the way the pasture ran all the way down to the beach. Normally in these parts land like this was the most valuable of all and rarely given over to grazing.
"There are some old bunkers from the war up there," said Thomas, pointing toward some low concrete structures a bit farther ahead. "We're very close to Denmark here, of course."
"We had some where I grew up," I said. "But they were German."
"Really?" he said, lifting his camera to take a photo of me in profile against the sea.
"We used to play there when I was a boy," I said. "The bunkers in the woods were especially fascinating. Just the fact that they were there! This was the late seventies. The war had only been over for thirty years or so."
It was windier here in the open, but the waves that lapped the shore were low and lethargic. The cattle had begun to graze again. There were cowpats deposited everywhere they had been, some soft and mushy, others dry and shriveled.
"We've got something of a rarity over there," said Thomas. He gestured toward a small pond in a boggy area of reeds and moss, sheltered from the sea behind a rise in the landscape.
"And what's that?" I asked.
"You see the pond there?"
"There's a species of toad in it not found anywhere else in Sweden. It lives right here. In that little pond."
"Yes. They've got a few in Finland too, apparently. The European fire-bellied toad, it's called. If we're lucky we might be able to hear them. Their call sounds like little bells. I heard a program on the radio once where they recorded the ones here and compared them to the Finnish ones. Let's go see if we can hear them."
We trudged over to the edge of the pond. There wasn't a sound to be heard apart from the wind buffeting our ears and the gentle rush of the sea.
"No," he said. "Sometimes they're just quiet. They're in decline too. In the old days, not so long ago actually, this whole area was underwater. Then the houses got built, and the water has retreated since then."
"How come they only live here?"
"No idea. It seems they used to be found in a number of other spots as well, then they started to die out, apart from here. I suppose the conditions here must have suited them particularly well."
"Yes. A shame you didn't get to hear them! The sound they make really is rather special."
We walked on to what had once been a little fishing village, now a summer retreat. All the old cottages had been done up, the gardens meticulously kept, shiny new cars in the driveways. We followed the road that ran between them, and after a short while we were sitting once more in the little back garden we had left an hour before. Thomas got some more coffee going, Marie was preparing lunch.
Shortly after, as we enjoyed our omelettes with fried potatoes, bread, and beer, we talked about Jon Fosse. Marie translated his plays into Swedish and had just finished one that was to run at Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theatre that autumn. Fosse is a writer who has gone from describing the world the way it appears, the social-realist nightmares of small, unapproachable states-of-affairs in his early novels, brimming with neuroses and panic, to describing the world the way it is in essence, dark and open. From the world the way it can be inside the individual, to the world as it is between us, this is the line of development in Fosse's work. The turning toward God and the divine follows on from that. Anyone investigating the conditions of our existence must sooner or later investigate that too. The human domain has both outer and inner boundaries, in the space between them lies our culture, which is what makes us visible to ourselves. In Fosse's work it is subdued and almost indefinite, open to outside forces, the wind and darkness, which seem to rise and fall in the people he writes about. In that respect there is something premodern about them, in that all the things with which we fill our time, newspapers and TV programs, the vortex of politics, news, gossip, and celebrities that make up the world we live in, or mine at least, are something Fosse's characters stand outside. The simplicity of his later work prompts some to speak of minimalism, its darkness eliciting comparisons with Beckett, but there is nothing minimalistic about Fosse's work, rather it is essentialistic, and not in any way Beckett-like, Beckett being hard, ironic, without hope, his darkness is cold and filled out by laughter, whereas Fosse's darkness is warm, comforting, without laughter. Perhaps because he has come to that point from within, rather than going the other way like Beckett?
I could express nothing of this to Thomas and Marie because, as with most of the books I read and the art I look at, I relate to such things through something other than thoughts. Fosse is like this, Beckett like that, I know that, but then it stops there.
"How's it going with your uncle?" Thomas asked. "Is he still angry? Last time we talked you said he was taking you to court."
"Nothing's happened yet," I answered. "The book's at the printers, so if there's going to be a court case it'll be after it comes out. He's threatened to go to the papers as well. That's what I'm most afraid of, in a way. That they get hold of a story."
"But if he doesn't want anyone to read what you've written, then that wouldn't be the best way of going about it. It wouldn't be rational," said Marie, lifting her fork to her mouth.
"True, but rational doesn't come into it."
I pushed my plate away and leaned back.
"Thanks," I said. "That was delicious!"
I needed a cigarette but held off until they had finished eating.
Thomas looked up at me.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "My Struggle: Book Six"
Copyright © 2011 Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Name and the Number,
A Note About the Author,