Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Is My Struggle Book 1 A Reality Novel?

I ended my previous post on Karl Ove Knausgaard's book this way:
"I'm only on page 200 of the first book of this six volume set, so who knows where it will go?  It was a huge hit in Norway (he's Norwegian, but lives in Sweden)."
So now I'm on page 389.  It hit recently that this could be called a 'Reality Novel.'

It's like a written reality show.

The camera covers every minute detail.  We see everything that's happening.  But the novel form allows us to go inside the subject’s head in a way a reality tv show couldn't. That subject is also the author.

I was trying to figure out how we kept switching from one time and place to another and back again.  It feels like mid-sentence you start time traveling.  We’re in the present. In excruciating detail. Then suddenly we’re in the past and these jaunts into the past fill in the back story and also present us with observations about life, that usually are based on those details.

 And then we’re back in the present. So I think this is the pattern.

Here's an example, starting in the present:
 “As his steps receded on the staircase, I swung my feet onto the floor and grabbed my clothes from the chair. Looked down with displeasure at my stomach where two rolls of fat still protruded at the sides. Pinched my back, no excess flesh there yet, fortunately. Nevertheless, I would definitely have to start running when I got back to Bergen. And do sit-ups every morning. 
I held the T-shirt to my nose and sniffed. 
Hm, probably wouldn’t make another day.” 

 Karl Ove is at his grandmother’s house. He and his older brother slept in the attic, one of the few relatively clean rooms in the house.  They’re there for their father’s funeral. Karl Ove's father, whose  drinking and dementia led to the whole house becoming filthy and disgusting.

 The brothers are cleaning the house each day. Karl Ove goes into a discussion of cleaning products and their smells. Then slides into the past, then into smells in general, and infinity and meaning, before returning to the mundane present.

 “I filled the bucket with water, took a bottle of Klorin, a bottle of green soap and a bottle of Jif scouring cream and started on the banisters, which could not have been washed for a good five years. There were all sorts of filth between the stair-rods, disintegrated leaves, pebbles, dried-up insects, old spiderwebs. . . . Once a section was clean and had regained something of its old, dark golden color, I dunked another cloth in Klorin and kept scrubbing. The smell of the Klorin and the sight of the blue bottle took me back to the 1970s, to be more precise, to the cupboard under the kitchen sink where the detergents were kept. Jif didn’t exist then. Ajax washing powder did though, in a cardboard container: red, white, and blue. It was a green soap. . . . There was also a brand called OMO. And there was a packet of washing powder with a picture of a child holding the identical packet, and on that, of course, there was a picture of the same boy holding the same packet, and so on, and so on. Was it called Blenda? Whatever it was called, I often racked my brains over mise en abyme, which in principle of course was endless and also existed elsewhere, such as in the bathroom mirror by holding the mirror behind your head so that images of the mirrors were projected to and from while going farther and father back and becoming smaller and smaller as far as the eye could see. But what happened behind what the eye could see? Did the images carry on getting smaller and smaller? [italics added to show when we slip into the past.]
A whole world lay between the trademarks of then and now, and as I thought about them, their sounds and tastes and smells reappeared, utterly irresistible, as indeed everything you have lost, everything that has gone, always does. The smell of short, freshly watered grass when you are sitting on a soccer field one summer afternoon after training, the long shadows of motionless trees, the screams and laughter of children swimming in the lake on the other side of the road, the sharp yet sweet taste of the energy drink XL-1.  .  ." 

 He goes on about the taste of salt in the water, the feel of water dripping off the body as you pull yourself out of the water unto the rocks. And how those rocks are still there today, and the starfish and urchins are still under the water.  But it's not the same.
 “You could still buy Slazenger tennis rackets, Tretorn balls, and Rossignol skis, Tyrol bindings and Koflach boots. The houses where we lived were still standing, all of them. The sole difference, which is the difference between a child’s reality and an adult’s, was that they were no longer laden with meaning. A pair of Le Cock soccer boots was just a pair of soccer boots. If I felt anything when I hold a pair in my hands now it was only a hangover from m childhood, nothing else, nothing in itself. The same with the sea, the same with the rocks, the same with the taste of salt that could fill your summer days to saturation, now it was just salt, end of story. The world was the same, et it wasn’t for its meaning had been displaced and was still being displaced, approaching closer and closer to meaninglessness.” 
[Is that true?  It had meaning for children that no longer exists for an adult?  I can think of things that have meaning for adults that had no meaning when I was a kid.]

 And then, in the next sentence, we jump back into the present.
 “I wrung out the cloth, hung it from the edge of the bucket and studied the fruits of my labors. The gleam in the varnish had come to the fore although there was still a scattering of dark dirt stains as though etched into the wood. I suppose I must have done a third of the woodwork up to the first floor. Then there were the banisters and the railings to the third floor as well. . ."  [Italics show how we return to the present.]
With all that detail, you can understand why this is only Book 1 of six.  I think this one will be enough for me.  I have hung in there because this is a notable book.  Here's some background courtesy of Wikipedia:
"While Knausgård´s two first books were well received, it was with the six-volume Min Kamp series of autobiographical novels, published from 2009 to 2011 and totaling over 3,500 pages, that Knausgård became a household name in Norway, due to the books' large success as well as the controversy they raised.[2][4] The controversy was caused partly because the Norwegian title of the book, Min Kamp, is the same as the Norwegian title of Hitler's Mein Kampf, and partly because some have suggested Knausgård goes too far in exposing the private lives of his friends and family, including his ex-wife and grandmother. The books have nevertheless received almost universally favourable reviews, especially the first two volumes, and, even before the final book's publication, they were one of the greatest publishing phenomena in Norway ever. In a country of fewer than five million people, the Min Kamp series has sold over 450,000 copies.[5]"
I came up with the notion of a 'reality novel' because I am still reading and I think much of the fascination comes simply from the 'camera' following this man and his family and friends.  I'm sure for many Norwegians, he's articulating things openly about the world his generation grew up in.

I just picked up Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, which my mother's neighbor had strongly recommended some time back and will be discussed at my next book club meeting..

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.