Raising a family, making art and the difficulty of reconciling the two drives the remarkable second installment of this six-volume novel-as-memoir.
At the end of the first volume of this series, Knausgaard (Out of This World, 2005; A Time for Everything, 2009) recalled bumbling as an adolescent and burying his father as an adult. This time, he remembers falling in love and becoming a father himself. As the novel-memoir opens, he’s at loose ends with his wife, Linda, and three children, whom he can’t help but see as intrusions upon his efforts to write. From there, the story swings back to nine years earlier as he leaves Norway for Stockholm, where he meets Linda in 1999 at a writers’ seminar, falls in love and starts a family. Knausgaard’s strategy throughout the series is to build immersive effects by delivering highly detailed descriptions of his minor experiences and paths of thought; in this case, much of the heart of the book is taken up by Linda’s pregnancy and their anticipation of their first child, from crib shopping to miscarriage scares to the actual birth itself. He presents all of it in plainspoken terms; the power and relief of the birth isn’t drawn in triumphant rhetoric but in a sense of exhaustion. (“Two women began to tidy up around us as we watched this creature that was suddenly there.”) Knausgaard doesn’t always present himself as father-of-the-year material, sweating how much time he’ll have to research and write his second novel and squabbling with his family and fussy neighbors in the search for some peace and quiet. “Relationships were there to eradicate individuality, to fetter freedom and suppress that which was pushing through,” he whimpers. But his candor, if not his attitude, is admirable—he’s not rationalizing his behavior but flatly, honestly representing it.
A patient exploration of courtship and fatherhood stripped clean of politesse.