Although a fine primer on Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944), this book is more about the experience of wandering into the world of art and being consumed by its confluence of history, narrative, and sublimity.
Munch, who created more than 1,700 paintings, is the perfect match for the prolific Knausgaard (My Struggle: Book Six, 2018, etc.), who teases out a history and critical reading of the artist that resonates with his own literary work. Fans of the author’s acclaimed autobiographical novels will find this book to be of Rosetta Stone–like importance as he delves into Munch’s exploration of memory and how the artist rendered the past in a way that still feels both intimate and universally relatable. Munch was a painter of the realm between depiction and feeling; his work simultaneously re-creates a representational vision along with the emotions associated with those memories. “The space in which the story unfolds is as important as the story,” explains the author. Munch’s paintings capture both a likeness and an essence and are often imbued with inescapable themes of longing, nostalgia, and anxiety. His work “invites reflection about what painting meant” to him and prompts contemplation on not just the depicted image and the artist’s history, but the empathetic connectivity between the two. Knausgaard admits he is not “in favor of a biographical approach to art,” and it shows: He jumps among paintings, biographical fragments, and interviews with other artists with disregard for traditional narrative flow. A section following the author’s curatorial foray at the Munch Museum is followed by an interview with filmmaker Joachim Trier. This all may seem baggy and misdirected, but it is in fact appropriate when discussing Munch, who saw patterns in his own chaos and assembled a body of seemingly-unrelated work into what became known as his celebrated “Frieze of Life.” Knausgaard’s chaos, too, finds a striking vitality.
An immersive, impassioned history that illuminates both subject and author.