Saturday, April 30, 2016

Currently Reading (5)

Some Rain Must Fall is the fifth volume of My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgaard's 3600 page six-volume novelistic memoir (heroically translated by Don Bartlett), and in some ways the most straightforward. An account of Knausgaard's struggle to become a serious writer, beginning with his induction into a prestigious writing course at the tender age of nineteen and ending with the success of his first novel, it also includes his first real love affair and his first real job, meeting and marrying his first wife, and the deaths of his grandmother and father (a distant but domineering figure, the immediate aftermath of his death was described in devastating detail in the first volume). All the landmarks of growth into adulthood, then, conveyed in prose that's sometimes flatly descriptive, sometimes banal, sometimes conversational, sometimes crackling with insight, that doesn't avoid cliche yet is precise, clear-sighted, and unflinching. Of all the real people who populate these pages Knausgaard is most acute and least sparing about himself, dissecting with unflinching candour the shame of private moments of selfishness, self-doubt, folly and reckless (and often drunken) foolishness.

This maximalism, larded with descriptions of the ordinary transactions of everyday life leave in all the things that most other writers leave out or dress up with flash and filigree, sometimes recalls the kind of naive science fiction worldbuilding that attempts to convey the future through endless invented details. But Knausgaard's impressionistic narrative, unconstrained by any particular pattern or plot, moving unforcedly from incident to incident, is also addictive and hypnotic. One of his themes is the nature and reliability of memory, which he believes to be an act on recreative imagination, purposively shaped, 'everything coloured by the mind,' yet his compound of memory and mimesis seems artless, flowing directly from mind to page with enviable directness and freedom, and it's in this volume that he gives some insight into his technique.

After two years hard work produces a few polished paragraphs of conventionally 'beautiful' writing that he can't take any further, he finally hits on the breakthrough that will allow him to write his first novel:
A girl parked her bike outside, performed all the necessary movements with consummate ease, in with the wheel, out with the lock, click it into position, straighten up, look around, head for the door and remove the hood of her rain jacket.

She greeted a girl at the table behind mine, ordered a cup of tea, sat down and started chatting. She talked about Jesus Christ, she'd had a religious experience.

I wrote down exactly what she said.
There, in the mingling of the mundane and the ecstatic, the entwining of the internal with the external, is the genesis of the voice that captures, in encounters with people and things, in feelings and struggles large and small, the essence of a single life and makes it universal.


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