Karl Ove Knausgård: ‘Struggle’

20 september 2014

My Struggle is a six-book autobiographical series by Karl Ove Knausgård outlining the “banalities and humiliations of his life”, his private pleasures, and his dark thoughts, published beginning in 2009.

Struggle_ has sold nearly 500,000 copies in Norway, or one copy for every nine Norwegian adults, and is published in 22 languages. The series is 3,600 pages long, and was finished in Knausgård’s forties. The third book in the series will arrive in the United States in May 2014.

While categorized as fiction, the books situate Knausgård as the protagonist and his actual relations as the cast, with names mostly unchanged. The books have led some of his relations to make public statements against their inclusion in Knausgård’s novels.

As he struggled to write a novel about his relationship with his father, Knausgård set upon a new project in early 2008: to write less stylistically and deliberately and instead, to “write plainly about his life”. He wrote mainly to break his block with the other novel and thought that there would not be an audience for the work. Knausgård would call his friend and editor Geir Gulliksen daily and read the work aloud. Gulliksen felt that KnausgÃ¥rd needed encouragement to continue, and Knausgård felt that he Gulliksen was essential to the project. Gulliksen eventually listened to 5,000 pages of the novel and proposed the series’ title, which he felt was perfect. The novel’s Norwegian title, Min Kamp, is very similar to Hitler’s _Mein Kampf_. Guilliksen originally forbade Knausgård from using the title, but later changed his mind. Knausgård’s British publisher was not interested in the book.
The difficult thing for me is that I want basically to be a good man. That’s what I want to be. In this project, I wasn’t. It is unmoral, in a way.

In writing the first book, Knausgårdreflected that he did not consider the consequences of writing so candidly about his close relations until he paused on the passage about his grandmother. He circulated the first book to about ten of the largest figures in the book prior to its release and offered to change their names. His brother and mother did not object, but Knausgård father’s family attempted legal intervention and wanted to block publication, calling the novel, “a book full of insinuations, untruths, false personal characteristics and disclosures”. Knausgård was scared, but fixed some errors, changed some names, removed a single person, and published the book without acquiescing to all requests. He later acknowledged that he had a choice and chose to publish “no matter what”, and referred to this admission of guilt as “cowardly”.S Knausgård’s wife relapsed into depression upon reading his first book. He added that he would not be able to publish the book again now, but was previously able due to his desperation.

Knausgård had finished two volumes when the first book was released. He had been planning to finish the six volumes within the year, preferring to work under harsh deadlines to combat his writer’s block. The book’s release began a media frenzy as reporters tracked down the novel’s characters, which was simple because his family were the only Knausgård in Norway. Knausgård went into hiding and shut out the media exposure to write daily. Working almost all day aside from chauffeuring his kids, he could write 20 pages in a day. The 50-page section on his first days with his wife was written in a 24-hour spurt.

Knausgård felt that the third through fifth volumes suffered for the influence of the ongoing controversy that followed the original publication. He wrote the 550-page fifth book in eight weeks. The sixth book has a 400-page essay on Hitler’s early life and autobiography. He wanted “unsparing honesty” in the last book “to save the project”, and so discarded 400 pages, delayed the book, and wrote about the fallout from the publication of the previous five volumes, including a breakdown suffered by his wife during which she was hospitalized. Knausgård described his portrayal of his wife “the most painful thing” he has done. His wife, although hurt by portions of the series, did not ask to be rewritten and has publicly taken his side.
While he wrote at the end of his series that he is finished with writing, he plans to write a new and fantastical novel not about his life, and influenced by Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino.

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