My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard—A Capsule Review to a Capacious Novel: Part 1, Book 1

I have learned over the past few years if I am in need of a good book to read, all I have to do is peruse the current issue of The Atlantic. It has yet to fail me. I have discovered books such as Stuart Dybek’s Paper Lanterns and Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City. Thanks to the November 2018 issue, I read an essay written by Ruth Franklin entitled “How ‘My Struggle’ Transformed Karl Ove Knausgaard.” In it, she reflected on the worldwide literary phenomenon My Struggle . Her article compelled me to experience the six-volume autobiographical novel for myself. Within two weeks, I visited my local bookstore and purchased a copy of Book 1: A Death in the Family. I was hooked!

Knausgaard brilliantly alters the storytelling paradigm. Typically, the writer has his or her protagonist move through situations. During this movement, the character alternates between projecting emotions inward and outward. It is different in Knausgaard’s book; he portrays himself as an empty vessel in which all situations flow into him. His every experience, large or small, immerses the reader in overwhelming detail. These details bring Karl Ove Knausgaard to life, just as living, moving particles animate the body.

As an imaging technologist, I am fascinated by this idea. Ionizing radiation is one mechanism by which the body can be imaged. That radiation behaves like light waves and particles (mostly like particles). When radiation interacts with the body, some x-ray photons pass through, while others are absorbed in varying degrees. In Book 1, readers experience this wave-particle duality; Knausgaard deftly oscillates between past and present, essays and diary-like accounts, so the reader can truly feel what makes his heart rise, and what makes it fall. The individual experiences, no matter how minor, give atomic structure to Knausgaard as a man. The light-like waves flow through him, and each little wave interacts with these particles, or experiences, and the reader is left with his composite image. In large part, that image is overlaid with the ghostly image of Knausgaard’s father: his life, and his death. When I reached the end of the book, my heart broke for Karl. Naturally, I needed to see how, and if, his heart would heal after his father’s death in Book 2.

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