Karl Ove Knausgaard (2014) A Death In The Family. My Struggle: Book 1. Translated from the Norwegian by Dan Bartlett.

I was vaguely aware of Karl Ove Knausgaard, having read some reviews of his work. So I knew that the life that he lived was the material he used to build the narrative of his life and tell a story of how he became who he is.  Some of my favourite reading material comes from Harpie. Thanks for the Vodka 2004, for example, tells the reader through a diary format what happens to her day to day. Her life is a shipwreck and as she goes under she tells you what she clings onto. Some of the things that have happened to her, in no particular order, includes rape, working in a sex shop, becoming an author, working as a nurse, marrying into gypsy hell and getting her son stolen, and if it all gets a bit much she tells you how she ended up singing in the Karaoke down her local, with her gay best friend. I know, I know, this review is meant to be about Karl Ove, but My Struggle really was a struggle. It was the worst of all sins for a reader –boring and not particularly well written.

cliché

ˈkliːʃeɪ/

noun

  1. 1.a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.

Let me give you a few examples. ‘Then I met her gaze and a chill ran down my spine.’

‘Children were not supposed to predecease their parents.’  This isn’t a cliché, simply Karl Ove generalising about the death of his father. The problem may be one of translation. I can tell you I’ve never predeceased anyone in my life, and I guess I’m about the same age a Karl Ove.

‘Dad had also affected my self-image, of course, but perhaps in a different way [to his elder brother] at any rate I had periods of doubt followed by periods of self-belief, it was all mixed for me, and the doubts that coloured such a large part of my thinking never applied to the larger picture, but always the smaller picture, the one associated with my close surroundings…I never had any doubt that I could attain whatever I wanted, I knew I had it in me, because my yearnings were so strong and they never found any rest. How could they? How else was I going to crush anyone?’

My dad Dessy would have something to say about this. I can hear his voice in my head. Complete fannywash.

I was going to give another few examples, but even I’m bored with this I remember ever fart I held in scenario. Karl Ove does tell the reader that he was going to have a wank in the shower. I guess that makes him a wanker.

What makes it interesting is finding out who dies, because they are all relatively young, middle-class and in good health. When Karl Ove’s dad gets divorced, remarries and drinks himself to death the story does get a bit more interesting. Karl Ove is good describing the cloud patterns and the way the light shines. But Daddy, dearest Daddy, never did find out his son’s first novel was about him. That’s probably why he drunk himself to death. So Karl Ove grows up goes to school. Goes to University. Never does a lick of work and then aged about 27 or 28 starts a family and has a separate office from his partner in which to write. Shit I’m moving to Norway. They sure give their kids some leeway, only by that time Karl Ove isn’t a kid, but a father, burying his father.

The International Bestseller. ‘It unbelieveable. It’s completely blown my mind,’ Zadie Smith is quotes as saying on the cover. Really? So it isn’t fannywash? Well, I guess my yearnings aren’t strong enough and I’ve always got doubts. How else am I going to crush anyone?

Why book selling doesn’t work!

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Warning, I’m going to try and sell you something. It’s billed as ‘the best new writing from ABCtales’. Who decides what’s best? That’s a question that is often difficult to answer. Certainly, Stephen Thom, who wrote story of the year is here. And Alex Graves who wins poems of the year, every year, is included. My work is also in, but I’d guess that’s because I’ll have a book out later this year in which ABCtales act as my agent and get a fee. I’m glad about that. Although it costs nothing to join ABCtales, or to publish your work online, the expense of running the site is met by Tony Cook, chief cook and bottle washer. Every year I pay around £40 to ABCtales because I know it’s not free and I can afford it. Mr Cook will probably pop up here and say no you don’t – in the eight years you’ve been here you’ve paid six shillings and two pence. But listen, I’ve got an active imagination and no real interest in Facebook, I do like stringing a few sentences together and passing them off as original prose. And I get a buzz when someone reads it and comments. Without a reader the circuit of writing is not complete. ABCtales gives me that opportunity. It gives you that opportunity. But I’m not stupid. I know whatever I’ve written will be forgotten quicker that a photo of last night’s dinner. That doesn’t bother me. There’s no glory in what you’ve written, but what you’ve still to write. Even then, I’ve no illusions, ABCtales is gang hut in hyperspace few folk know about and fewer still cares?

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Well, I care, because it’s my gang hut and my turf. And John Wilks who edited this slim volume also cares. He offered up his time and expertise to get this published. Publishing is the easy part. We all know that now. There’s an extract from Joe Lawrence’s East End Butcher Boy here and it’s better than anything published by Unbound, and I include my own work in that. The difficult part is selling something. I know that and Laurie knows that and Ewan knows that and Tony knows that. And I’d add that Scratch (Peter) who has also written a novel on ABCtales, although he’s not included in this volume, also knows that. It’s only when you actually go and try and sell something that you realise how difficult it actually is. It’s not like that Kevin Coster film Field of Dreams, when you build that baseball diamond, ‘they will come’. No they fucking willnae.  Ask Richard Penny,  who has a story here ‘The Tipping Point’, but who also published a sister volume,  My Baby Shot Me Down which included the works of some my favourite writers on ABCtales, including Rachael Smart, Claudine Lazar and ‘Katherine Black’ (Harpie). And really if you’re going to publish the best of ABCtales you’ve to have something from Maggy van Eijk. Why stop there? What about Philip Sidney who is also not included in this volume and to my mind merits inclusion (I love this for example,  http://www.abctales.com/story/philip-sidney/triptych-1-mass). But I don’t really think it matters that those other names aren’t there. That’s editor’s choice. I’ve been there with A Celtic Anthology, which I co-edited with Kevin McCallum (Old Pesky on ABCtales). I could rattle off another few anthologies I’ve been involved in. It’s that gang-hut mentality that makes you part of a group, and your mum and your sister and their brother might buy a copy. And then you become invisible. Christopher Isherwood’s narrator in The Berlin Novels jokes about selling eight copies of his poetry before fleeing England for Berlin. Funnily enough that’s the number of copies John Wilks claimed to have sold so far. I can name a few buyers. Joe Lawrence, Claudine Lazar, Ewan Lawrie and myself. That’s 50% of the buyers. And it’s pathetic. Thirty of those published in the volume haven’t bothered buying a copy. Whatever the opposite of resounding success this is the opposite.  Build the field and they will come? Just because you get ABCtales for nothing, doesn’t mean it costs nothing. Put something back (if you can afford it). There’s some good stuff here. I can’t claim any credit for that. At least think about it.

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