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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

My Struggle: Book Six
(The End)

Karl Ove Knausgaard

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase My Struggle: Book Six

Title: My Struggle: Book Six
Author: Karl Ove Knausgaard
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 1152 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: My Struggle: Book Six - US
The End - UK
The End - Canada
Kämpfen - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Min kamp 6
  • Translated by Don Bartlett and Martin Aitken

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Our Assessment:

A- : meandering -- at great length -- but consistently engaging

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Atlantic . 11/2018 Ruth Franklin
Bookforum . 9-11/2018 James Camp
The Economist . 1/9/2018 .
Evening Standard A 23/8/2018 William Leith
Financial Times . 24/8/2018 Lorien Kite
FAZ . 28/6/2017 Matthias Hannemann
The Guardian . 29/8/2018 Alex Clark
Harper's . 10/2018 Christopher Beha
The Independent . 1/9/2018 Alasdair Lees
Irish Times . 1/9/2018 Sean Hewitt
Literary Review B 9/2018 Keith Miller
London Rev. of Books . 8/11/2018 Fredric Jameson
NZZ . 23/5/2017 Aldo Keel
New Statesman . 22/8/2018 Chris Power
The NY Times D 17/9/2018 Dwight Garner
The NY Times Book Rev. . 30/9/2018 Daniel Mendelsohn
The Observer A- 10/9/2018 Andrew Anthony
Prospect . 1-2/2019 Anthony Cummins
San Francisco Chronicle C- 15/11/2018 Kevin Canfield
The Spectator . 1/9/2018 Stuart Evers
Sunday Times . 19/8/2018 Theo Tait
The Telegraph . 18/8/2018 Jake Kerridge
The Times . 24/8/2018 Melissa Katsoulis
TLS . 7/9/2018 Christian Lorentzen
Wall St. Journal . 13/9/2018 Sam Sacks
Die Welt . 23/5/2017 Richard Kämmerlings
World Lit. Today . 9-10/2018 Ben Streeter
Die Zeit . 24/5/2017 Ulrich Greiner

  From the Reviews:
  • "Brutally candid in its banality and sordidness, forsaking conventional strategies of narration and characterization for a heady rush of words on the page, this great disruption of contemporary fiction has sought nothing less than to break the form of the novel. Its 3,600-some pages, at once weirdly self-deprecating and breathtakingly egoistic (.....) His sheer force of will elicits awe. So does the audacity that has propelled him through his dissatisfaction with contemporary fiction to a wholly new method of writing. And as he wraps up his one-of-a-kind undertaking, he doesn’t let up. The spectacle of the writer wrestling with what he has created, having emptied out his life on the page, proves as riveting as it is frustrating." - Ruth Franklin, The Atlantic

  • "Knausgaard has a knack for locating the drama that lurks within tedium, and it’s a tribute to his facility with the most recalcitrant of materials that these parts are never dull. There are even moments, metaphysically weird, where you wish Karl Ove would interrupt his own story and go check what’s in his inbox. (...) Say what will you about My Struggle’s lack of polish, Knausgaard writes prose you look up from and start to notice things about the world. And yet you could equally argue, as Knausgaard often seems to imply, that what is really going on is mindlessness." - James Camp, Bookforum

  • "(R)idiculously long (3,770 pages overall in Don Bartlett’s and Martin Aitken’s admirable translation), devoid of plot, hopelessly meandering. My Struggle just keeps coming at you, much as life does. (...) The End is the strangest of the six volumes as well as the most self-indulgent: a book about self-obsession that opines at length about what it is like to write a book about self-obsession. (...) Such transgressive blurring of the borders between the public and private, sayable and unsayable, can be both life-affirming and riveting. Readers see that they are not alone in at once loving their families and resenting them for impinging on their time." - The Economist

  • "But surely he can’t go on like this for 1,150 pages ? Well, no. Every so often he goes off on a sally into another subject -- another one of his obsessions. He thinks about writing and God and sex and death. He thinks about Shakespeare and Faulkner and Thomas Bernhard. (...) It’s a daring end to a brilliant series. (...) I will read this series again and again." - William Leith, Evening Standard

  • "What follows, over 1,150 densely packed pages, is the story of the My Struggle books and the thinking behind them, right up to the moment when the narrative finally catches up with itself and the author types his final sentence. You could call it a realist metafiction, in which Knausgaard can show and tell simultaneously, and as such it is easily read as a kind of key to the earlier books. (...) For me, the essay feels too schematic, too weighed down by a framework in which all must line up behind the banners of rationalism or Romanticism. It is hard not to be impressed by the fluency and erudition on display as Knausgaard charts his course through history, philosophy, literature and the visual arts. But the yearning for authenticity, which builds slowly through the series, threatens to overwhelm its conclusion. " - Lorien Kite, Financial Times

  • "Knausgaard’s rendering of this crisis -- the jitteriness, the relentlessness with which he goes over events again and again, his overwhelming sense of transgression and shame -- is riveting. He is willing to expose not only his visceral fear, but the almost gauche lack of forethought he has given the matter of publication. (...) The End is a kind of reckoning with that terror, both on a practical level -- writing into the story the consequences of publication, from legal manoeuvrings to his wife’s depression -- and a more amorphous one. How do you know, Knausgaard asks, what damage has been done to you, and what damage you are doing ?" - Alex Clark, The Guardian

  • "In volume 6, Knausgaard explicitly links this personal struggle with meaninglessness to the larger historical process of secularization (.....) The result is a book in which contradictions abound, a book with moments of great insight and moments of great banality, a book where one thing often seems to follow another for no reason at all, a book that aggressively courts insignificance." - Christopher Beha, Harper's

  • "His disquisition on mankind’s greatest disaster and history’s most abhorred human is characteristically frustrating, distended and almost adolescent in its conclusions. But it is also radically plainspoken, undeniable and wholly compelling. (...) The inner conflicts swirling around exert a gravitational pull on the reader, the challenges of empathy becoming universal through their particularity. Over and over, he asserts something fundamental to literature, art and life." - Alasdair Lees, The Independent

  • "Some of Knausgaard’s most acute thoughts in My End are on the subject of writing, about autobiography, form, and the novel. (...) The digressive, searching nature of Knausgaard’s formal approach, finds a correlative in his theorising. The End is, in many ways, about the struggle to find a form, to find a self from which a cohesive narrative could be spun. (...) There is something self-congratulatory about the ability to recognise one’s own faults, and My End doesn’t escape this. But there remains something compelling in its overflowing, frustrating, unbound narrative. This is a book to argue with, to throw across the room in fatigue, to find tender and bruised, and, unwittingly, a book to take back and to go on with, regardless." - Sean Hewitt, Irish Times

  • "(G)enau das ist es, was Kämpfen so interessant macht: die Auseinandersetzung mit dem eigenen Werk." - Matthias Hannemann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The sixth instalment sticks to what must for seasoned Knausgaard readers be a pretty familiar recipe. (...) All the qualities I admire in writing are to do with style, tone, voice: things that Knausgaard, frustrated in an attempt to write about his father in a more conventionally ‘novelistic’ way, appears to have discarded, preferring a sort of stenographic approach. (...) In this respect Knausgaard scores highly compared to most other autofictioneers I have read. (...) He is at least partly aware of his own shortcomings. They are, indeed, what he is struggling against. The book has a bone-dry wit, a certain knowingness about the project’s grandiose archetypes" - Keith Miller, Literary Review

  • "At any rate, the parts with the children are quite delightful, it is good there are three of them for variety, and we look forward to a daily life with them which is not an event but a lively routine (at least until, at the end, their mother, Linda, starts to have the problems I have mentioned). The writing is, however, undistinguished, at least in translation: only Norwegians will know how it really feels, and indeed where it belongs in their culture, literary or otherwise. You do not read it for the style, except for the conversations, which are often unobtrusively witty and entertaining. (...) I will call Knausgaard’s kind of writing ‘itemisation’. (...) All that is left is to itemise them, to list the items that come by." - Fredric Jameson, London Review of Books

  • "Das Erzähler-Ich oszilliert zwischen Schuldgefühlen und Selbstbehauptung. Den Stockholmer «Dagens Nyheter» offenbarte der Autor, er habe seine Seele verkauft und ringe mit seinem Gewissen, weil er seine Nächsten der Öffentlichkeit preisgegeben habe. Insofern steht er in einer pietistischen norwegischen Tradition. Dichten heisse Gerichtstag über sich selbst halten, bekannte einst Henrik Ibsen. (...) Allerdings verliert die Prosa an Fahrt, sobald die Reflexionen nicht mehr in der Lebenswirklichkeit verankert sind." - Aldo Keel, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "I believe the speed of composition is fundamental to what makes the books so compelling, and is also why they contain some stunningly bad writing. (...) This essay has been part of My Struggle lore for years, always seeming to promise some kind of summation, but in fact it’s a mess in which Knausgaard’s unlikely strengths -- his prolixity, his faith in his own intuition, and his refusal to edit -- transform into flaws. The problem is teleological: Knausgaard decided to write about Mein Kampf because he called his book My Struggle, rather than calling his book My Struggle because he perceived connections between it and Mein Kampf. (...) (W)hen it moves away from the personal, The End becomes laboured and incoherent. (...) The essay derails The End, but doesn’t destroy it; this chaotic 1,200-page book has a great 800-page book inside it." - Chris Power, New Statesman

  • "Knausgaard’s new novel, the sixth and final book in his diaristic My Struggle series, is a gift to his detractors, those who have found the books to be solipsistic and overwrought. At nearly 1,200 earnest pages, Book Six is a life-drainer, so dense and so dull that time and light seem to bend around it. I had to flog myself through it. (...) Especially trying is Book Six’s 400-plus page excursus into Hitler and the etiology of the Third Reich. It is a grindingly sophomoric exercise that sits undigested under this novel’s skin, like an armchair inside a snake." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

  • "The great technical ambition of this work is the attempt to reconstruct the rich inconsequentiality of our quotidian experience in prose stripped of the usual novelistic devices. (...) (D)espite all the emotional drama, I was rarely moved by this vast and often impressive work. As with some blogs or soap operas, the ongoing narration, however tedious it often is, can be weirdly addictive, and the suggestive play with fact and fiction can be intriguing. But in the end, the books left me cold and, not infrequently, exasperated. (...) All this, finally, brings us to the main event, by far the finest thing in this strange book and, in my experience, the best thing Knausgaard has written, marked by enormous intellectual panache and quite different from anything else in the novel (it’s amazing how lively the writing suddenly is when he’s not writing about himself): a nearly 400-page close reading of Mein Kampf, complete with detours through related texts" - Daniel Mendelsohn, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The impression of shapelessness in Knausgaard’s prose makes it easy to overlook just how vivid his scenes can be. (...) His commentary is dry, at times barely readable. Yet he has a knack for bringing your wandering attention back from the brink." - Anthony Cummins, Prospect

  • "(N)ever is that "I" more emphatically announced than in Knausgaard’s auto-criticism of his auto-fiction and, in particular, its real-life consequences for other people. It makes for a weird kind of feedback loop in which the author berates himself for his previous intrusions into others’ privacy while simultaneously trespassing once again." - Andrew Anthony, The Observer

  • "At 1,100-plus pages -- almost a third of which are devoted to a frustrating digression about Adolf Hitler -- My Struggle: Book Six is much more self-indulgent, and a lot less skillfully constructed, than any of its predecessors. It’s a disappointing misstep from a writer whose maximalist brand of storytelling can be deeply satisfying. (...) He’s on steadier footing when focusing on domestic concerns. But compared with his earlier books, there’s not often a whole lot at stake." - Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "If the opening section seems familiar, it only serves to make the second seem even more dislocating. (...) This central tension, between the needs of the artist and the need of the husband and father, one that has coursed through My Struggle’s thousands of pages, Knausgaard appears to bring to a moving, wholly fitting resolution. And though The End can be wayward and flabby in places, its totality, its absolute commitment to its own ideals, makes it -- and the whole sequence -- a mesmerising, thought-provoking and genuinely important work of art." - Stuart Evers, The Spectator

  • "The parenting stuff is less fresh than it was in the earlier volumes. It now feels dutiful, like parenting itself. The legal threats lose much of their force because we’ve been told about them in numerous profiles of Knausgaard and we know he’s emerged relatively unscathed. (...) The final passages of My Struggle are guilt-ridden and heartbreaking. For the first time in the saga, Karl Ove Knausgaard sees someone else whole." - Christian Lorentzen, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Book 6, too, bears the marks of blind haste. For all its length and elaboration, it feels oddly cursory, like an assignment pounded out on the bus before class. (...) The lack of objectivity bedevils the book’s most interesting portion. Smack in the middle is a 400-plus page account of the youth of Adolf Hitler, accompanied by a close reading of Mein Kampf. The essay, which takes extended digressions to discuss the work of Paul Celan and Knut Hamsun, the paintings of Claude Lorrain and J.M.W. Turner, and much else, is rigorous, stimulating, and entirely untrustworthy. Why is it here ?" - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "Tatsächlich aber dient diese Ausführlichkeit der Beschreibung, eine exaktestmögliche Evokation von banaler Alltäglichkeit, einem überaus komplexen Erzählprogramm. (...) In Kämpfen ist von allen Bänden, rein äußerlich betrachtet, am wenigsten klassisches Erinnerungsmaterial eingegangen." - Richard Kämmerlings, Die Welt

  • "We are sad to say goodbye to the Knausgaards. What helps give the unwieldy 1,164-page tome some pacing and lightness is the narrator’s charisma and self-deprecating sense of humor. Knausgaard’s virtuoso exposition of awkward everyday social interactions is unmatched in contemporary literature." - Ben Streeter, World Literature Today

  • "Dieser dickste Band ist der Gipfel von allem. Er bietet eine Spiegelung der Selbstbespiegelung, eine skrupulöse Rückschau, und das Fazit ist ernüchternd (.....) Dieser dickste Band ist der Gipfel von allem. Er bietet eine Spiegelung der Selbstbespiegelung, eine skrupulöse Rückschau, und das Fazit ist ernüchternd." - Ulrich Greiner, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       My Struggle: Book Six (The End, in the UK) is the final, and (by far the) longest, volume in Karl Ove Knausgaard's massive work of very personal fiction. It feeds off itself here, looping back to the beginning: this installment of the novel starts just before My Struggle: Book One is set to appear in the fall of 2009. The first scene is set just days before the publication date, while the entire first section -- some 400 pages -- is focused almost entirely on the month or so before it is to come out; the 2011 present-day in which he is writing this final volume remains occasionally mentioned background for this first part of the novel -- he is looking back from then, reconstructing the events, conversations, and feelings from that recent (mainly 2009) past -- while then in the final section past catches up with present, and the writing (and being-kept-from-writing) of this sixth installment of the novel comes increasingly to the fore, down to the almost breathless (because also of everything else that's going on) last days of getting to the finish line, the last paragraph beginning: "Now it is 7:07 and the novel is finally finished".
       My Struggle: Book Six is divided into three chunks of almost equal length. Knausgaard divides it into a 'Part 1' and 'Part 2', but the first part is also divided into two halves, the latter of which he titles 'The Name and the Number' and which rambles differently than the rest of the novel, an almost essayistic digression (though with a few of the domestic scenes that dominate much of the rest of the novel also slipped in) that engages in particular with Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf -- the book that shares its title with Knausgaard's own -- and considers Hitler, the man, including his youth and early adulthood (i.e. how Hitler became 'Hitler').
       For the first few hundred pages of My Struggle: Book Six, however, Knausgaard is very much focused on the time shortly before My Struggle: Book One came out. It is not like the case with most novels: the first book is one of a series that is already planned to extend to six, with the second volume already in the publishing-process, while Knausgaard continues to write away at the succeeding novels: publication (of the first volume) isn't some end-point, but rather merely marks a transition, the novel-project as a whole shifting from the entirely private to the very public, with Knausgaard knowing he will have to face the reactions not only of the larger reading public but also of those he wrote (and continues to write) about.
       He describes My Struggle: Book One as:

a story about my life centered around two events, the first being my mother and father splitting up, the second being my father's death. The first three days after he was found. Names, places, events were all authentic. It wasn't until I was about to send the manuscript to the people mentioned in it that I began to understand the consequences of what I had done.
       Hesitantly, he began to send out the book to those mentioned -- often at great length -- in the novel, dreading the replies. He gets a variety of reactions, with most of his subjects accepting what he's done, but one family member, his uncle Gunnar -- the brother of his father, but ten years younger -- is absolutely outraged. He complains to both Knausgaard and his publisher, and vows to take legal action. Knausgaard tries to placate him -- he has no problem changing the names of anyone who doesn't want to be identified by their actual name, for example -- but Gunnar's outrage is beyond reasoning with. His objections also aren't about his own portrayal, but rather the more fundamental (and essential) one of how Knausgaard's father is portrayed.
       The e-mails he receives from Gunnar disturb Knausgaard ("Verbal rape", the subject-line of the first e-mail he gets reads ...), as he worries about the possible consequences, and dreads the thought of a court-battle -- though, as his close friend Geir points out to him, Gunnar taking him to court would be great publicity:
     But that'll be excellent ! You should hope he does, it'd be the stupidest thing he could do. You'll be rolling in money ! Everyone'll be wanting your books if it comes to a court case ! This is literary history in the making. And you'll be a millionaire. There's no better scenario.
       Though his My Struggle is a work of 'fiction', it is important -- vital -- to Knausgaard that it be 'true': the most essential aspect of the project is that it reflect reality. So when his wife tries to calm him by reminding him:
     "But it's a novel, Karl Ove."
     "Yes, but the whole point is it's meant to be true."
       So he is not only upset by Gunnar's reaction and the possible consequences surrounding the publication of the book, but specifically by Gunnar's claims that Knausgaard distorted reality, and lied, bringing up a few examples which immediately cause Knausgaard to doubt himself:
Maybe that was what I had gotten into my head in 1998, and what to begin with had been little more than a vague theory had now become a solid truth ten years later.
     I didn't know.
     But I felt certain Gunnar knew, and if he was so absolutely positive that was what had happened, then surely it had to be right.
     In which case I was unreliable. In itself this was a crushing admission. But had I been unreliable in everything that I had written ? Did it in any way alter the fundamental truth of the novel if Dad hadn't lived with Grandma for two years but for three months, and the home help hadn't been sent away but had kept up the normal routine ?
     Yes, it did.
       The tension simmers throughout this long first section, building up to the publication of the book, but for all that it's also anticlimactic: typically, Knausgaard is less concerned with outcomes than process, going on at great length about his reactions to his uncle's rantings and threats, but barely addressing the actual consequences for the book (in part, admittedly, because the uncle's threats apparently manifested themselves largely in noise rather than action -- there was no dramatic court show-down, for example). So also Knausgaard leaves until very late the revelation that he was right after all, about some of the things that his uncle had been so certain of (so certain that they had caused Knausgaard to doubt himself and his work). He finds himself furious -- "I don't think I have ever been so furious" -- but placing this scene so late in the book makes for an odd sort of resolution; Knausgaard is vindicated, and finds some satisfaction -- and no doubt it's useful to him, in completing the book, to find this validation, that his truth-seeking is more reliably fact-based and -grounded than his uncle's raving had led him to worry they were. But, tellingly, even with this documentation, questions remain: Knausgaard has some certainty about the events, but he can't have all of it. At least it suffices for closure:
I am his son. The story about him, Kai Åge Knausgaard, is the story about me, Karl Ove Knausgaard. I have told it. I have exaggerated, I have embellished, I have omitted, and there is a lot I haven't understood. But it isn't him I have described; it is my image of him. It's finished now.
       That so much of Book Six focuses on My Struggle: Book One is because of the significance -- and difficulty -- of finding this closure -- including beyond just writing it. Hence also Knausgaard going on at such great length about the slow, scary (but at that point practically unstoppable) process of releasing Book One to the world. (The other volumes also do come up in the novel, both the writing and some of the subjects they variously addressed, but they are not discussed anywhere near as thoroughly as Book One.)
       Much of the first -- and the last -- section of the book is basically entirely domestic. Knausgaard occasionally discusses actually getting down to writing, but mostly -- even when he's alone in front of the computer -- it's the everyday mundane, from him noting: "Googled myself, finding nothing new, surfed around a bit" to countless examples of basic childcare (brushing the kids' teeth, taking them to and from school, trying to get them to eat, dragging them along to various places) to his managing to smoke a cigarette. And while he does repeatedly wonder about aspects of writing -- and literature, more generally -- there's a bit of a disconnect (in the sense that he doesn't give a good sense of how the one translates into the other) between theory and his praxis. The limited insight is interesting, but he could certainly expand on it:
All of them had to be edited and marketed, three of them also had to be written, at the same time I couldn't let Linda carry the whole burden at home, so the solution was to write fast, I set a quota of ten pages every day, and if, an hour before I was to pick up the children, I had done six, I had to write for in that hour and then go and get them. It worked fine, I liked the feeling that something new was happening all the time and never knew where what I was writing would end. The pressure to write so much made it possible, and though I didn't like what I wrote, I liked the situation, everything as open and there wasn't a gatekeeper in sight.
       (Potential readers might not be fully convinced or reassured by his assurances (and admissions ("I didn't like what I wrote" ?) or, later: "I wrote Book 5 in eight weeks"), but, surprisingly, it mostly works out fine.)
       Occasionally, the explanations he gives can seem almost too convenient -- a vision of how the (or this) artist works to create the specific image he's trying to sell:
     I had thought about none of this while I had been writing, neither the manufacture of reality, representation, nor my father's integrity, everything took place intuitively, I began with a blank page and a will to write, and ended up with the novel as it was. In that there lies a belief in the intuitive that is as good as blind, and from that basis a poetics might be derived, and an ontology too
       His friend Geir sums up Knausgaard:
It's how you work. Your head's this simmering pot, everything goes into the soup.
       And My Struggle is a huge cauldron, the contents slopping around. Surprisingly, the detailed observations and recounting of the mundane remains quite consistently compelling. Occasionally, the layers complicate the juggling -- a cabin they own, and then try to sell, for example -- but when he stays close to home he's on solid footing.
       The kids are a constant distraction -- and an interesting mix of the tedious basics (their sleep patterns and habits; changing toddler John's diaper) and the parent's fascination with these developing personalities and their independent (and their predictable) streaks. Knausgaard's wife, Linda, and their relationship -- shifted also from the initial head-over-heels passion to a more complex one of mutual dependence and strong (and not always positive) feelings -- are also a complex constant simmering in the back- and occasional fore-ground. Linda's own literary and professional ambitions, her mental fragility -- culminating in a manic-depressive episode as the book comes to a close --, and her presence/absence in taking care of the kids and household constantly, changingly factor into Knausgaard's own actions and reactions -- a constant tension heightened by the professional obligations (readings, festivals, interviews) that he increasingly faces as the books come out.
       In his introspection (occasionally also very amusing, as in describing: "my teenage years, my Bjørneboe period"), Knausgaard tends to be pretty hard on himself, acknowledging also that: "I have always had such a weak ego, always felt myself inferior to all others, in every situation" -- a sense of doubt that racks him throughout the novel (and only occasionally becomes enervating ...). Among the books he repeatedly mentions in this volume -- and he turns repeatedly to literature in it -- is Witold Gombrowicz's grand Diary -- including specifically commenting on the famous opening, the repeated: "Me." -- as he considers the self-focus of this project -- despite the fact that that, for a long time:
I almost never confided in anyone, thinking nothing I had to say could be of interest to anyone, and from that perspective, which was the social perspective the expectations of the you as constructed by the I, confidence was a nonstarter for me, and this was basically how i was with everything. I was mute in the social world, and since the social world exists nowhere else but in each individual, I was also mute toward myself, in my inner being.
       With My Struggle, of course, he seems to reverse tack: suddenly, he says and reveals everything -- not just to himself, but to the world. (The exception being sex, regarding which he explains: "'I'm discreet, that's all,' I said. 'Besides, as I see it sex is overamplified in our culture.'") That transition from the private to the public, however, remains problematic:
When I was writing this wasn't a problem since what I wrote was how things were for me, sitting alone in my room. This novel was tightly drawn around me and my life, but as soon as it all came out into the open, everything changed. An immense distance appeared within this private world that belonged to me and my family, it became an "object," something public, while in reality that which we moved about in, without this ever being formulated, was not a thing
       Knausgaard (selectively) addresses the reaction(s) to the book(s) -- from the personal, of the first readers, those appearing in the book whom he showed it to before publication, to various public and media reactions, including to specific parts of it. The reaction of his uncle takes up the most space -- even if it largely fades into the background after the first section of the novel -- but hanging over much of the book is the concern about Linda's reaction.
       Early on he mentions:
every time I said I was dreading her reading it she would reassure me an tell me everything was bound to be fine. There's nothing to be afraid of, she said. I can handle whatever, as long as it's true.
       (Interestingly, this passage is among the few examples in this dialogue-heavy novel where speech isn't presented in quotation marks .....)
       But this fear of her reaction continues as he works his way deeper into the multi-volume epic in which she figures so prominently:
The cloud hanging over everything, the book I had written about us that Linda hadn't read yet, I cast from my mind. There is a time for everything.
       If he can put it out of his mind briefly, there's still no way around it. Yet it's also interesting to note that regardless of her reaction (it's not great ...) he plows on ahead in My Struggle: Book Six as before, Linda figuring prominently, both in the contemporary action and in reminiscences, such as about their wedding. A few names may get changed, but nothing can stop him otherwise in his relentless soul- and life- (with its everyday warts and all) baring project.
       'Truth' is important to Knausgaard --- from basic factual veracity (one reason why his uncle's allegations bother him so much) to a larger concept of 'truth'. So also he considers some of the differences in approaches, and the consequences when he strays -- specifically with the fourth volume in the series:
I gave different names to all the pupils and teachers and I also furnished them with made-up characteristics or idiosyncrasies, all to escape the commitment to reality I could no longer fulfill. In this book, therefore, I committed neither to the novel nor to reality. For this reason it became a strange book, in which I do the opposite of what an author should, I cover over the truth. In Out of the World, which deals with the same theme, I wrote the truth by committing to the novel; in the first two books I wrote the truth by committing to reality. In Book 3 the link is weaker, only to fall away entirely in Book 4. However, everything I said about myself was true. [...] The public had me and the publisher in its grip, and the novel became hostage to reality. This is not an excuse, and this is not my way of saying Book 4 is a poor novel [.....] But it is not the truth.
       Repeatedly, Knausgaard contrasts his efforts to others, such as Gombrowicz's diary or, for example, Peter Handke's very different approach to writing about the death of a parent, A Sorrow Beyond Dreams -- finding: "the book I had written was the direct antithesis of Handke's its antipode". He also turns to Hitler's Mein Kampf, finally buying a two-volume edition of "literature's only unmentionable work" (that shares its title with his) -- and immediately faces the problem of how to even read it: he can't even imagine putting it on his shelf or desk, and instead hides it: "in the bottom drawer". Still, he decided he has to: "write a few pages about Hitler's book" -- which turned into four hundred pages more or less focused on it, the fat middle section of this novel.
       Knausgaard also discusses Hitler at length -- especially his youth and young adulthood, when the artistically inclined Adolf seemed destined for a very different kind of life. Knausgaard is emphatically non-judgmental of the young Hitler -- something of a lay-about, and not a particularly pleasant personality, but with a genuine interest in the arts -- and thinks it unfair to judge the young man before he went off the deep end; indeed, Knausgaard surely identifies to some extent with the young Hitler -- and wonders where it all went wrong. Mein Kampf gives some -- if peculiar -- insight, and Knausgaard's close reading is an interesting gloss on man and work (indeed: men (both Hitler and Knausgaard) and works (Mein Kampf and Min kamp)).
       Knausgaard is fascinated by Hitler's book -- including its odd non-style:
     Hitler's Mein Kampf exhibits no style whatsoever, not even low style, its I simply gives vent to its opinions on a variety of different matters without at any time showing the slightest sign of being able to see itself; in other words it is uninhibited and excessive, seeking no legitimacy anywhere other than in its own self, which can say exactly what it wants because that is what it is, and because it knows no better.
       Knausgaard is easily able to differentiate himself (and his writing) from Hitler -- emphasizing even that: "The written word was of no use to him, it led to nothing" -- but Hitler's odd experiment here, another form of I-exploration, coupled with later Nazi use of language (as brilliantly explained in a book Knausgaard discusses at some length, Victor Klemperer's Language of the Third Reich ('Lingua Tertii Imperii', as he called it)) -- and the contrast of Paul Celan's poetry -- do usefully prod Knausgaard in his reflections on his own project and the use of language. And there are times when it properly shakes him up, too:
     But the sun beat down, the grass grows, the heart pounds in its darkness.

     "But the sun beat down, the grass grows, the heart pounds in its darkness."
     Why did I write those words ?
     Such language is hollow. It looks like the language of the Nazis. Yes, the sun is actually beating down, the grass is actually growing, the heart actually pounding in its darkness, but the factuality of these things is not what is significant about their linguistic expression, what is significant is what the language evokes, that the sun, the grass, and the heart are in a way elevated, made to be something more than themselves, as if somehow they become bearers of actual reality. It is the same language that says civilization is detached from our basic urges, our sufferings and the brilliance of genius, whereas the sun, the grass, the blood are connected to the authentic, whose two great expressions are war and art, as Mann wrote in 1914.
     This language is hollow, and it became the language of the Nazis, but is it untrue ?
       This Mein Kampf-focused middle section of My Struggle: Book Six isn't solely Knausgaard going on a wild detour; it is tangential, but ties in to the larger undertaking throughout (though there are times when Knausgaard gets rather caught up in details of Hitler's biography). Still, it probably warrants separate, or bracketed, discussion. There are many strands to My Struggle, but this is one of the ones that stands out, if not quite apart, most strongly.
       Knausgaard addresses some of the fundamental shift from private to public his life/story undergoes in/via My Struggle, but it is the one aspect of the novel he could easily and usefully have devoted more space to. Admittedly, at the time (2011), the full extent of it was still unclear, but whereas he is so good in capturing being in the throes of the entirely domestic, he's far more cautious in how much of the public reaction and his increasingly public role to present. Occasionally, he lets his narrative go there, but -- perhaps also because so much of it was so public, and hence is (or seems) somewhat familiar from elsewhere -- he also seems to gloss over a great deal.
       (There's also the odd sensation of reading the novel now, about these real-life figures, with knowledge that the characters did not have at the time, such as that the marriage would not survive.)
       Turning back on itself and examining the writing and publishing (i.e. also public-making) experience, My Struggle: Book Six had the potential of being a conclusive summa of this grand undertaking, but Knausgaard doesn't quite pull it off -- or try to. He's still too caught up in it at the time: what distance he has is the distance he's always had; process remains more interesting to him than outcomes. Indeed, when he is 'done', he (believes/hopes he) is done with process: the novel's closing line has him looking forward to reveling in: "the thought that I am no longer a writer". (It is a conclusion that, tellingly, he formulates prospectively rather than as-it-happens (or retrospectively) -- and, as we know, it didn't work out that way.)
       Familiarity with the previous volumes -- especially the first -- is very helpful to the fuller understanding and enjoyment of My Struggle: Book Six, and it probably seems a bit odd(er) if one picks it up without any familiarity with either what came before or the surrounding, public stories and coverage, but it can stand, a bit shakily, on its own as well. (But, really, you might as well start at the beginning and make your way through all six volumes -- it is more satisfying (if also more frustrating, through some of those middle volumes) that way.)
       Knausgaard admits:
     It has been an experiment, and it has failed because I have never even been close to saying what I really mean and describing what I have actually seen, but it is not valueless, at least not completely
       Indeed, in its parts and its whole, and for all its frustrations, My Struggle remains an awesome, or awing, achievement -- a deeply personal, revealing work of self-reflection. It's easy to see how readers might find it exasperating, or simply too much, yet it is also truly rewarding; there is no doubt that it is one the major literary works to have appeared so far in the twenty-first century.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 August 2018

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My Struggle: Book Six: Reviews: Other books by Karl Ove Knausgaard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard (Karl Ove Knausgård) was born in 1968.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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