Knausgaard and Narrative

What I think I’m doing here: It turns out Knausgaard was not just a pandemic coping technique (more at the tag at the bottom of the post, if you’re interested).

Perhaps in a novel it is that simple, for novels are written to elucidate some aspect of human life, so that something which exists but perhaps lacks form is given a form and becomes visible. Life has no such form.

Knausgaard in Spring

Knausgaard’s fiction is sometimes described as plotless. Which, ok, I get it. I mean, spend enough time on extended descriptions of smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee and anyone might feel the motivation to continue turning the pages start to fall off a little (although of course, the mystery of Knausgaard is that some of us not only keep turning the pages but can’t stop). It’s not just the detailed description of everyday life that contributes to the loose and wandering feeling of the books – the long essayistic digressions exploring art, literature, and culture don’t increase the dramatic tension. And yet, to describe the work as plotless feels like it’s probably a mistake, or at least an exaggeration.

I recently reread Spring, which may be my favorite Knausgaard book. Rereading it I recognized that part of the reason I enjoy it as much as I do is that it his most tightly structured work in terms of plot – it’s a sort of existential page turner. Using the same tools as any thriller writer Knausgaard starts off early in the book: “Last summer, half a year before you were born, I had been summoned to a meeting with the Child Protection Service. It was a routine meeting, they always arranged one when it happened, the thing that happened here ….” The reader does not know what “the thing that happened here” might be – only that it must be bad (Child Protection Service? Knausgaard is meeting with them alone?). The book continues by interweaving two parallel timelines – the summer when “the thing that happened here” happened, and a single day the following spring, Walpurgis Night, which has its own (more mundane) thrills and chills (Knausgaard forgets his bank card at home, has no milk to feed his infant daughter on a long trip, and almost runs out of gas).

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