Review: A Death in the Family (My Struggle 1) by Karl Ove Knausgaard

 A Death in the Family (My Struggle 1) by Karl Ove Knausgaard
A Death in the Family

I 

It was a Longform mention through which I got to know of the name. In all the places it is being marketed as dark, open, Hitler-like, 3600-page, half-a-million copies in Norway, possible Nobel. But I left aside all of that. Karl Ove Knausgaard. The Ove must be a peculiar sounding middle-name, but it isn't a middle name after all. But my focus was somewhere else. On his last name: Knausgaard. There was something in it which refused to let me be in peace. The phonetics of it had captured my imagination. The Kn- emphasis made it easier to pronounce, while the -aus- made one's tongue slither over the triad, only to be decapitated by -gaa- and concluded by -rd. K-N-A-U-S-G-A-A-R-D. I still wasn't able to come to terms with it. His surname had become my obsession, and while traveling to office in empty rakes I started spelling it out to myself to soak in the aura of the sound. Often aloud to beat the din of crossing trains. Imagining myself sometimes to be him and how I would stress on the right places to underline my importance while introducing myself as him, his self as I. In my enthusiastic wish list, I put his on top, lining them up for my thirtieth birthday, which couldn't happen exactly on the date but twenty days later. I bought the Kindle version of first three books, the last one of which has been released recently in English and is well reflected in its price which is three times those of the other two. I would have preferred a hardcover boxed set, but there is none to be had around. So I contend myself with it. It has been a little over twenty-four hours since I owned them and have read around forty pages amidst updating my blog, taking the sick cat to the vet, throwing trash out, spending some listening time with a talking spouse and wasting some more on short listing/finalizing/eating food. My back has been hurting since some days from constant and long sitting hours in front of the computer. But an obsession is an obsession is an obsession. It has to be done. Right now. Every ("an obsession") breathing ("an obsession") moment ("an obsession") is ("an obsession") swamped ("an obsession") by ("an obsession") an ("an obsession") all ("an obsession") pervading ("an obsession") thought ("an obsession"), leading ("an obsession") to ("an obsession") a ("an obsession") pathway ("an obsession") where ("an obsession") one ("an obsession") doesn't ("an obsession") breathe ("an obsession"), live ("an obsession") or die ("an obsession") but ("an obsession") only ("an obsession") obsesses ("an obsession"). Sustaining ("an obsession") it over a prolonged ("an obsession") period of time calls for an undying craziness ("an obsession"), otherwise it will loosen ("an obsession") its grasp. Finally a day might come when it no longer exists and allows you your life, your space and your breath. But that’s only till it relapses since an obsession is an obsession is an obsession.

An Obsession is an Obsession


II


My back is still aching but I have to put these words up, otherwise they would gnaw (Gnaws-gaard?) at me and the trepidation would collapse my will to question the meaningfulness of it all. So with less than 5 hours to go before I wake up again to fill up my water tank I start writing of what A Death in the Family has done to my life till now.

With my own Knausface done, I don't find it hard to expel the chaos within onto this white palette. He starts with writing about death and how we put in so much effort to hide it once it arrives. The visual absence belies its omnipresence. He sees a face in an empty sea on a news channel which is covering a missing boat. And he looks around for someone to whom he can confess. His dad doesn't take him seriously while his younger brother pokes fun at him. The writer till now has oscillated between his time as a parent wherein he is unable to devote time to becoming a great writer, and youthful days with his parents' and grandparents' place, vacillated from descriptions about his father when he was eight years old to his bouts of anger when dealing with a temperamental two-year old daughter.

He ruefully captures life's banalities in a non-intrusive way but once you come across it, all you can do is immerse yourself in the descriptive splendour - not of the overflowing, effervescent kind but the thoughtful, encompassing one. He writes about life and goals, "meaning requires content, content requires time, time requires resistance. Knowledge is distance, knowledge is stasis and the enemy of meaning". About his ability to judge his father's mood, "I knew his moods, and had learned how to predict them long ago, by means of a kind of subconscious categorisation system, I have later come to realise, whereby the relationship between a few constants was enough to determine what was in store for me, allowing me to kind make my own preparations. A kind of meteorology of the mind... The speed of the car up the gentle gradient to the house, the time it took him to switch off the engine, grab his things and step out, the way he looked around as he locked the car, the subtle nuances of the various sounds that rose from the hall as he removed his coat - everything was a sign, everything could be interpreted." His complaints of being a father of three young children and not being able to accomplish his desires will ring a consonant bell in our heads. Our own dreams, wishes and aspirations all buried beneath our care-giving and love-making.


He has just started smoking in his teens to be somewhere during class breaks. Somewhere. While it has been nearly two hours since my unease segued into sentences, I call it a day to explore his somewhere tomorrow.

Knausface on iPad - Karl Ove Knausgaard
A Knausgaardian Record


III


I bunked office today. To read Knausgaard. Well, to look after the ill cat as well. To absorb his fights and dilemmas. I am on page 147.

Knausgaard has told me a lot about himself, his family, girlfriends and friends till now. Even his brother. His youthful days trying to learn guitar and make his band successful. His attempts to have a new year party worth remembering. His making out with Susanne. And now his parents are getting divorced. I have got a grip on his writing style. He talks of an event, of a purpose, of a happening and then gives you a hint of it. While he is moving towards that event in time, something would remind him of his past and then he would take a detour into all that he remembers. Sometimes it is nice, sometimes you forget where he started from.

I like the parts where his thoughts are of the serious kind, life’s instances make deep gashes upon him. But not the ones where he skis through easily like his time in school when it was all easy for him. He had multiple homes to live in; friends to hang out with, play guitar with, and get drunk with; parents to make food for him, drop him anywhere, to give money to him. I like to read about his struggles, his sadness, his failures. I want to see his gashes, how deep they are, how they are shaped, whether blood oozes out of them, whether they are infested with maggots or still fresh, how the cold weather has dried the blood clots, how ice deposits itself on top of it and how it hurts all the time. All the time. I yearn to derive pleasure out of his pains. But that’s only because this how his oeuvre has been described all across. The lonely home in the middle of nowhere on the cover page; the dark touched up photo of his peering into nothingness; his deep blue depthless eyes. I am not violent, but love violence. Just like I like my Saturdays to be dark and Sundays to be hopeless. It is not a matter of choice because that's how they are.

First I read him on the iPad. Then deleted it from there. Then I read it on my laptop. Then might read it on my phone. And might as well buy a Kindle to continue reading. But still all of this, this obsession still feels superficial. Not to me, but to an outsider. He is raging inside me. But unless the smoke comes out nobody would ever know of it. So I am going to start all over again. From the very beginning. Two reasons for this. First, there are too many characters introduced till now. I am losing track of them. Second, I want to take you deep inside the machinations of amygdala hijack. I have decided that I will be drawing a mind-map of the characters. Not for just this one. But for all six of this series. Yes, it is all going to be here.

Now I am on page 1.

IV

After my struggles - with work, at home, with my mind, against my body – are over only then would I realize the price I am going to pay for this. This madness. Before I could start page one the second time, I bought two paperbacks from a bookstore to keep myself happy. One of them is The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon. I have already read it. It has been less than 24 hours since I started it and within two major reading sessions and few minor ones I am done with it. I stayed up till six thirty in the morning to read it, slept for three and a half hours, took the cat to the vet, headed to office, came back and spent around one more hour reading it and was over.

I can’t keep telling you repeatedly that I am on page one. Now I will meet you only when I am much beyond page one forty seven.

V

I am fighting all the distractions coming my way to continue reading. I am reading on my phone at office, in home, while traveling, during minute-long waits for taxis, between meetings, in bookshops while being billed, in restaurants while food is being served. I am reading even when I am not reading. Distractions are what, however, which keep me alive. Today I bought A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, Norman Mailer – A Double Life by J Michael Lennon, Degree Coffee by the Yard by Nirmala Lakshman, Gas Wars by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Karachi by Laurent Gayer, and The Testimonies of Indian Soldiers and The Two World Wars by Gajendra Singh.


And I am going to live more one thousand years to read those. 

VI

I have been drifting in and out of subdued consciousness, sometimes high on his words, during others low on sleep and chores. It is Saturday and in the morning the kitchen and bedroom got flooded with water. Neighbours from the two homes beneath ours came up to enquire as water seeped into their homes as well. I forgot to switch off the motor used to fill up the water tank in the kitchen. I forgot. All the while I was reading him lying on a sofa in the hall. Naturally, I forgot. The clean warm water intruded in so many lives uninvited. It wasn’t only water. It came as a barrage of unspoken thoughts coming out of a mind which rarely expressed or confessed itself to people, making it clear that once again how uncomfortable humans will be once they get in contact with them. Efforts of mine to draw it back, get it soaked, channel it towards the drain, mop it clean, absorb it using bed sheets and covers and newspapers bore results but also proving that things wouldn’t be left unstained if the sea of thoughts came out from the sluice gates into these lives. The discs of water kept revolving, gurgling, roaring at me, thirsty for destruction which was rightfully theirs. The overflowing towering, incoherent, and absolving stack of watered thoughts plucked out of time, the arrow of time piercing through the past, present and future - exciting when it's approaching, confusing when through us, and saddening when past us.

The Deluge

A Death in the Family starts with death (“the moment life departs the body, it belongs to death”) and initiates the end with “my father has died”. Life is impersonal (“the heart does not care which life it beats for”), so are the cities (“city does not care who fulfils its various functions”). His prose is often minutely observant and brings to being what is taken for granted and ignored and never livened up – “the dust hovering in the broad, angled shafts of light anxiously followed every tiny current in the air”; unashamedly bare – “not once had I dreamed about the baby! Now and then that would give me a bad conscience since, if you regarded the currents in those parts of your conscious mind without volition as more indicative of the truth than those controlled by volition, which I suppose I did, it became so obvious that the significance of expecting a baby was nothing special for me”; always idiosyncratic – “they walked along as they normally did, and when they opened the door it was with a movement that was intended to appear as a natural extension of what had gone before. Their attempts to appear normal shone off them”; nocturnal – “less to do with freedom than a growing need to be alone”; melancholic – “the present time an open door that stood flapping in the wind of history”; intelligent – “my total ignorance and lack of knowledge would not prevent me from understanding what happened”; and philosophical - “meta-thoughts, that I was sitting on the plane on my way to bury my father while thinking that I was sitting on the plane on my way to bury my father”; and philosophical again – “meaning requires content, content requires time, time requires resistance. Knowledge is distance, knowledge is stasis and the enemy of meaning”. Just like the dictionary is fiction.


Fiction (is fiction (is fiction)).




While writing, he thinks. He thinks. I think he thinks. He thinks I think he thinks. I think he thinks I think he thinks.


A Man is a Man in a Man




His prose is also tersely unemotional – “a huge surge of tears overcame me. 'Ooooooooh,’ I said. ‘Ooooooooh.’”; repetitive – the winds always whistling through the fjords, Norway is a fjord-country or what? Cloud formations always capturing his sight, the sky colored in red, orange, blue, pink, purple, yellow, black, fuck, whatever, by the sun – very repetitive.


His confessional acceptance of not questioning the meaning of it all is superficial. The cringe-worthy nonsensical existence around, the failed hopes of created institutions in the name of society, and the never answered onslaught of ‘whys’ demoralizing us and making us realize our folly of being here – all of these never explored by him. That Socrates’ “an unexamined life is not worth living” does not move him, does not move him. Why? Why why? The assigning of meaning and purpose to life, to animal, to plants, to nature, to everything – never ever explored. An examined life, after all, is what is not worth living – for if you examine you would come up empty – empty not as in air, but like vacuum – always. Only an unexamined life is worthy of living, devoid of thoughts, deep in “busy nothings”. Busy nothings.

The circular existence of a Why

A non-obtrusive way of looking at things can be mimicked from the feline world. The WHY is neither helping nor uplifting. Its purpose is neither neither nor nor. It is what it is.

Why is a Mouse


His honesty is an absolution, often towering, and sometimes its incoherence gives you a high. This is not for fast readers, not for slow readers. Not for readers anyways. Only for the lovers of the dark, sinister and macabre. For those who feel nothing humanely about humans, for the banality of death rituals and our existence on an existential plateau. Not to be for the pickers of novella. Not for them. Only for us, the “us”.

The Mindless Map - "Ooooooooh" - Eight Os (Enlarged version)

2 comments:

  1. His name is actually (as in norwegian) spelled knausgård, not knausgaard. The å is pronunced like gore, store, door.. Knaus like house. So, KN(h)ouseGore'd. Have fun.

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    1. Thanks Dennis. He is more mysterious than I assumed.

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