Love And Death, Now And Forever

JW McCormack reviews the second book of Karl Ove Knausgård’s six-volume autobiographical novel, My Struggle:

If it is death, and the knowledge of death, that renders us undifferentiated and eventually indifferent, love is what sets us apart and individualizes—to a point, at least. Linda and Karl Ove’s early days trace often destructive highs and lows. Early on, he slashes his face with a broken glass after she briefly rejects him; in Stockholm, Linda threatens to leave over small matters while Karl Ove navigates his separation from his first wife. They behave, in other words, like children. And still, the world is a changed place that lives again with the intensity of childhood:

If someone had spoken to me then about a lack of meaning, I would have laughed out loud, for I was free and the world lay at my feet, open, packed with meaning, from the gleaming, futuristic trains that streaked across Slussen beneath my flat, to the sun coloring the church spires in Riddarholmen red in the nineteenth-century-style, sinisterly beautiful sunsets I witnessed every evening for all those months, from the aroma of freshly picked basil and the taste of ripe tomatoes to the sound of clacking heels on the cobbled slope down to the Hilton Hotel late one night when we sat on a bench holding hands and knowing that it would be us two now and forever …

Of course, love too can be a matter of pragmatic routines—it too is subject to the sublimating undertones of modern life. But the love that surrounds even the most debasing rituals of family life in Book Two (I’m thinking of a “Rhythm Time” class Karl Ove is obliged to participate in with his daughter) makes this volume more uplifting than the first, where the realities of death were the main concern. In love, Karl Ove is “cast back to the time when my feelings swung from wild elation to a wild fury … and the intensity was so great that sometimes life felt almost unlivable, and when nothing could give me any peace of mind except books with their different places, different times and different people, where I was no one and no one was me. That was when I was young and had no options.” Knausgård argues that we are most unalike as children and most similar when dead. In the middle, love restores the madness we are born with and gradually cured of.