In which the author faces the consequences of publishing his massive autofiction project.
Though this is the longest volume of Knausgaard’s (Summer, 2018, etc.) autobiographical novel, it’s effectively an afterword, contemplating the impact and meaning of its five predecessors. The story opens as the novel nears publication in 2009, with Karl Ove nervously informing friends and relatives of how he’s mined their lives. Most approve of (or at least accept) what he’s done. But his uncle Gunnar, the brother of Karl Ove’s father (whose death in alcoholic squalor inspired this work in the first place), threatens to sue over what he calls “verbal rape.” Amid Gunnar’s saber-rattling, Karl Ove questions his memory, stresses about parenting his three young children, and distills his anxiety into a 400-plus-page disquisition on the nature of individual and collective identity, rooted in deconstructions of a Paul Celan poem and the namesake of Knausgaard’s project, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The section is digressive, occasionally drowsy reading but ultimately purposeful. Knausgaard explores the various ways language can be leveraged for honest disclosure and tragic nationalism (“the we’s need of a they” was the root of the Holocaust, he writes) and whether confessional style can be a force against propagandistic writing. Answer: inconclusive. But after the books come out he has more pressing issues anyway: literary celebrity and prizes, hostile reporters, and his wife’s growing depression. Candor has its consequences, he learns, many of them harmful. This is structurally the most slovenly book of the series, yet it caps a remarkable achievement. For nearly 3,500 pages, Knausgaard has confessed, complained, reminisced, spouted off, made himself look ridiculous, and considered what it means to be candid, giving his life artistic shape while fighting against artifice. The book’s very existence has prompted eye-rolls; many of its pages do as well. But his all-in temperament richly rewards anybody who takes first-person writing seriously.
A fittingly bulky end to a radical feat of oversharing.