An admirably seriocomic look at a headlong leap into maturity.

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MY STRUGGLE

BOOK FIVE

In which our author, never at a loss for words, spends his 20s figuring out how to use the right ones.

In the previous installment of Knausgaard’s six-volume autobiographical epic, the narrator was a teenager hoping to start a novel and put an end to his virginity. Now, just turned 20 and starting college at the national university in Norway, he’s adjusted his ambitions only slightly: can he get serious about writing and romance? In this book’s first section, both goals take a beating. He’s been accepted into the school’s prestigious writing workshop under the tutelage of national luminaries like Jon Fosse, but his output is desperately subpar. (“Apart from the stupid names and all the clichés, and the lack of psychological insight, I quite liked what you wrote,” one classmate tells him.) As for settling down, his brother, Yngve, winds up stealing away the woman he had his heart set upon. So in the 14 years that follow, Karl Ove becomes aimless and reckless, drinking heavily, playing in bands and hanging out with musicians (in one memorable scene he drunkenly vomits in Bjork’s apartment), taking menial jobs (including a stint helping the mentally handicapped) while launching a sideline as a book critic, and cheating on his girlfriend. All of this, of course, becomes grist for the mill, and the novel becomes a bildungsroman about literary victory snatched from drunken self-loathing. That makes it the most conventional book in the series, but its form echoes the urge for conventionality he’s seeking. And in the context of the entire series, it’s a self-deprecating study of how stories are made and found and how the best ones get ignored. His father's death was a heartbreaking event in Volume 1, told from a decade’s distance. He elides it here, suggesting he lacked the literary and emotional tools to process it at the time.

An admirably seriocomic look at a headlong leap into maturity.

Pub Date: April 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-914671-39-8

Page Count: 636

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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