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Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Twelve Days of Translated Fiction - Day Four - My best reads for 2014

Time to get controversial? Why does he have Karl Ove Knausgaard’s second instalment higher than Jon Kalman Stefansson when as a member of the Shadow Jury for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize “The Sorrow of Angels” was announced as the winner. To make matters worse Tony here even put Birgit Vanderbeke’s “The Mussel Feast” higher than the Shadow Jury winner!!!

There is a simple explanation (I think it’s simple), as a 50 something male with children Karl Ove Knausgaard captures and explains all those hidden thoughts, fears, struggles that men have with love, family, responsibility and acceptability in minute detail. Karl Ove’s voice is an echo of my own voice?

“The two of us should go down and see El Clasico. Stay overnight. I can arrange the tickets. No problem. What do you say?”
“Sounds good to me,” I said.
“Sounds good to me,” he snorted. “Let’s go, man.”
Linda looked at me and smiled. “You go, I’d be please for you,” her look said. But there were other looks and moods, I knew, which would appear sooner or later. You go and enjoy yourself while I sit at home alone, they said. You only think about yourself. If you go anywhere it should be with me. All of this was in her eyes. A boundless love and a boundless anxiety. Fighting for domination all the time. Something new had appeared in recent months, it was tied up with the imminent arrival of the baby, and lay inside her, a mutedness. The anxiety was delicate, ethereal, flickering through her consciousness like the northern lights across a winter’s sky or lightening across an August sky, and the darkness that accompanied it was weightless, too, in the sense that it was an absence of light, and absence has no weight. What filled her now was something else, I thought it had something to do with earth, it was earthy, taking root. At the same time I considered it a stupid mythologizing thought.

“My Struggle” is a six book series and after the first instalment (“A Death in the Family”) we actually move from Karl Ove’s struggle with his father’s death and alcoholism to his move from Norway to Sweden and his falling in love and having children. My edition is 573 pages and basically starts and ends with our writer taking his children to a broken down fair ground, but it is the flashbacks to how his children came into being and his reactions to becoming a family man that is the real story here. Or the story of Karl Ove’s struggle to just be a good person is probably more to the point.

His relationship and discussions with his friend Geir give us detail as to how Karl Ove verbalises his struggles. His friend’s jealousy of Karl Ove’s writing ability, for example:

“Technical? Technical” Easy for you to say, that is. You can spend twenty pages describing a trip to the bathroom and hold your readers spellbound. How many people do you think can do that? How many writers would not have done that if only they could? Why do you think people spend their time touching up their modernist poems, with three words on each page? It’s because they have no other option. After all these years surely you must understand that, for Christ’s sake. If they could have, they would have. You can, and you don’t appreciate it. It means nothing to you, and you would rather be clever and write in an essayistic style. But everyone can write essays! It’s the easiest thing in the world.”

How does an ordinary man, who thinks he has limited writing ability, who believes he is a poor father, son, brother and partner, fall in love and then come to terms with the imposition this places on his writing career?

Then I met Linda and the sun rose.
I can’t find a better way to express it. The sun rose in my life. At first, as dawn breaking on the horizon, almost as if to say, this is where you have to look. Then came the first rays of sunshine, everything became clearer, lighter, more alive, and I became happier and happier, and then it hung in the sky of my life and shone and shone and shone.

Such a struggle, as we turn each page we are drawn into Karl Ove’s need for acceptance, need to define himself, need to write a truly memorable book.

That was where I had to go, to the essence, to the inner core of human existence. If it took forty years, so be it, it took forty years. But I should never lose sight of it, never forget it, that was where I was going.
There, there, there.

These outpourings of the soul, to his partner, friends, and family are all on the pages to see, raw and exposed. To think these people would be reading this (once published) is at times cringe worthy, in some circumstances you’d not blame people for never talking to Karl Ove again.

Of course I have to end on the quote about fiction itself:

Over recent years I had increasingly lost faith in literature. I read and thought this is something someone had made up. Perhaps it was because we were totally inundated with fiction and stories. It had got out of hand. Wherever you turned you saw fiction. All these millions of paperbacks, hardbacks, DVD’s and TV series, they were all about made-up people in a made-up, though realistic, world. And news in the press, TV news and radio news had exactly the same format, documentaries had the same format, they were also stories, and it made no difference whether what they told had actually happened or not. It was a crisis, I felt it in every fibre of my body, something saturating was spreading through my consciousness like lard, not the least because the nucleus of all this fiction, whether true or not, was verisimilitude and the distance it held to reality was constant. In other words, it saw the same. This sameness, which was our world, was being mass-produced. The uniqueness, which they all talked about, was thereby invalidated, it didn’t exist, it was a lie. Living like this, with the certainty that everything could equally well have been different, drove you to despair. I couldn’t write like this, it wouldn’t work, every single sentence was met with the thought: but you’re just making this up. It has no value. Fictional writing has no value, documentary narrative has no value. The only genres I saw value in, which still conferred meaning, were diaries and essays, the types of literature that did not deal with narrative, that were not about anything, but just consisted of a voice, the voice of your own personality, a life, a face, a gaze you could meet. What is a work of art if not the gaze of another person? Not directed above us, nor beneath us, but at the same height as our own gaze. Art cannot be experienced collectively, nothing can, art is something you are alone with. You meet its gaze alone.

A stunning work, something that has been an absolute revelation, 2015 will see me tackle Book Four of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle”, to be honest I can’t wait.

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