The fourth book in this series received 4-stars, but other than that, I gave the remaining five books 5-stars (on a scale of 5). Now that ratings are out of the way, let’s get cracking.
Narrative non-fiction is the kind of non-fiction that feels the easiest to read because it never feels like you’re studying – which is often a feeling even the best-written non-fiction books give me. Autobiographies and biographical writing is generally therefore the least tedious real-life material to consume. As a natural consequence, I’m pretty big on the genre. Discovering that Knausgaard (and I will request you to bear with the spelling through this piece) existed was therefore pretty astounding. I read the first book in the series through December, and committed to it at the beginning of the year – embarking on a journey of too many pages.
If you read the title – I’m sure you’re going to think about Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf. Now, there’s this inquisition about whether or Knausgaard is an anti-semite for utilizing a title so similar to Hitler’s work for his own. The books however, rarely delve into political expression, using humour in some portions to poke shots at how politically correct Swedish individuals are. Discussion about the title only stems in the last book, however, that is, as Knausgaard has admitted, an afterthought, and delves more into Hitler than any justification about the title itself. There is no definitive answer for why Knausgaard chose the title, other than the fact that it appealed to him. It has, however, sparked off a large debate about what associations to Hitler are permissible (and was printed in Germany under a different title).
Slow, Methodical Writing
Naturally, if someone is able to write six books about various happenings in their lives, they ought to be able to write well. Knausgaard definitely done that, however, this is not a light read. This is largely because it’s almost as if Knausgaard opens the only door guarding his mind and lets slip any veils that exist between his mind and ours. Things are extremely detailed. At various times, he slips into a comprehensive, minute account of the most minor, inconsequential actions. This is especially true of physical activities that form a part of his daily routine, like washing dishes, or setting tables.
While that may not appeal to everyone, I found that across the first two books, which deal with the death of his father and his marriage, this minute detailing helps to portray how solitary the struggle that Knausgaard faces is. This isn’t something he shares with anybody – his grief, his joy, they’re all emotions he experiences alone, and thus, it’s almost as though he experiences them more fully.
Across all six books, there’s a definitive quest for a sense of purpose. This is prominent in books two and three, which he writes after about four or five years of the first one, and the money is running out. What I appreciated was how much he engages with these thoughts of existentialism and a quest for purpose, and how often he oscillates between trying to find that purpose and assuaging himself that life doesn’t need to have fixed purpose at every point of time. There are segments where Knausgaard admits to the writing being forced, out of the need to feel purposeful. That resonated with me because I was trying to figure out how I felt about my hobbies at the time: things I did purely for the joy of doing them – and how seriously I wanted to pursue those passions.
As you can tell, I didn’t ponder over the book too much. I enjoyed it because it felt like the kind of writing I wish to pursue on my own blog. I’d recommend reading it, because everyone’s life has moments we can relate to as human beings, experiences so fundamental that they feel shared. Knausgaard’s life is no different, and you will find atleast one page (of the many) that you feel connected to. That alone makes the journey worthwhile.