Title: A Man in Love: My Struggle 2
Author: Karl Ove Knausgaard
Date published: 2009
Publisher: Vintage (2014)
Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“The world is always the same, it is the way we view it that changes”
“…for in fact how small and trivial was the world we allowed ourselves to be lulled by?”
The best thing about Knausgaard is that he understands writers. He knows what it’s like to just want to write. To have that inner need that you can’t explain because sometimes its a need and not a want. All Karl Ove wants to do is write, and all he feels he needs to do is write. And write he does…
His My Struggle series is renowned for so many reasons, but I think what makes it so great is that he has written about his life with an abandon that is both brave and awe-inspiring in a way that is unique to the memoir writing process. He leaves nothing out, and writes about absolutely everything and because of this his life is not only the main attraction, it is the only attraction. A human trait is to pick all the best parts and to never show those ‘in-between’ moments of the mundane and inane. What then is the act of writing each moment as it occurs? What interest could possibly be found in the daily life of a thirty-something Norwegian male whose strained relationships and constant musings are not particularly unique? Perhaps what makes his writing so riveting is the fact that we are preternaturally a voyeuristic species, and sometimes it is not so much the content but the style that keeps us turning the page.
A Man in Love is the second book in Knausgaard’s autobiographical series. I read the first book, A Death in the Family a few years ago and I loved every single page. Reading it was a commitment, an act of immersing yourself in a life, and an experience so indulgent I felt guilty every time I lifted my head from the shiny new paperback whose spine was quickly cracked over days of intense absorption. In this first book we are introduced to our protagonist, our anti-hero – Karl Ove – whose childhood is made up of small town Norway and working class parents and a father whose death helps fill the pages with epiphanies and memories and a life of absolutely nothing extraordinary at all. The second book is Karl Ove’s ode to his wife Linda and their three kids Vanja, Heidi and John now living in Sweden. It is a book not only about the start of a nuclear family and the daily trappings of domesticity, but in so many ways this ‘ode’ to his family is also an ode to the writer within. Karl Ove’s indulgences in domestic bliss are quite often intermingled with a resentment for a life not spent writing.
He begins his narrative with a slew of anecdotes that allude to his first marriage, and then to the eventual demise of that relationship. He meets Linda and doesn’t immediately end up with her, but constantly mentions the desire for a family. After his marriage to Linda and the birth of their first child his world narrows down to a life spent attending children’s birthday parties, and going outside to smoke countless cigarettes beneath the apartment building in which the escapades of his Russian prostitute neighbor seem more intriguing than the ideas he is not having for his next book. He flashes back to his days as an up and coming novelist in the late nineties in Oslo and how this wild writer’s scene is in direct contrast to New Year’s Eves spent at a table discussing academia and politics and going to bed at a reasonable hour.
The notion as to whether Karl Ove is a nice guy never seems to be important. Perhaps what is considered to be his most likeable quality is the fact that he is unapologetically selfish. His constant desire to write and to spend time in his private writing space is in direct conflict with his love for family and the utter contentment he feels cooking meals in his home, listening to records and reading the newspaper in his apartment. His ‘struggles’ are quite obviously the resentment he feels towards the idea of a family and how that idea does not always coincide with the reality of being both a writer and a family man. At times Karl Ove seems almost cruel in his commentary, and at other times the writer in this particular reader absolutely understands that ache to get as far away from ‘normal’ and therefore bland as is humanly possible.
In choosing to write about his life this way Knausgaard admitted that he had given away his soul. Nothing was sacred as he revealed intimate details about his relationship with Linda, her mental health and his constant feelings of inadequacy and frustration. What is clearly obvious though is his love for Linda, for his children and for writing. Does the title refer to his love for his family, or writing? I like to think its a little bit of both, and maybe also a little of everything else in between.