The acclaimed author delivers a host of brief but insightful observations about the small matters of everyday life.
In the My Struggle series, Knausgaard mined his life but called it fiction, crafting an epic story with a novelistic shape. This book, the first in a quartet with seasonal themes, is explicitly autobiographical but less personally revealing, looking outward instead of inward. Contemplating the upcoming birth of his daughter, the author asks, “what makes life worth living?” The answer: details. The book is built on an assortment of short essays on a wide range of topics, including frogs, photographs, beds, and tin cans. “Autumn” is a framing device, but not every essay engages with the season. What truly unites these pieces is Knausgaard’s sensibility, which is one part Montaigne (an urge to address big issues), one part Nicholson Baker (an eye for picayune detail), and one part Annie Dillard (an admiration for nature and an elegant prose style). Watching beekeepers, he finds an intersection of man and nature that "shows human beings at their most subservient and perhaps also at their most beautiful.” “Fever” triggers memories of his parents doting on his childhood illnesses. (“With fever came privileges. Meals in bed. Grapes. New comic books.”) “Forgiveness” is a sketch about his wonderment at how humans could culturally arrive at a capacity for mercy. Considering bird migrations, he finds not a clichéd sense of freedom but evidence of nature’s boundaries. Because each chapter is brief, usually about three pages, Knausgaard can’t deliver more than glancing consideration of any one subject, and three pages each on female genitalia and vomit is more than plenty. But in the aggregate, the pieces feel remarkably substantive, a call to pay closer attention to the routine stuff in our lives and to allow ourselves to be thunderstruck by their beauty.
An engagingly wide-ranging set of meditations.