The Sunday Magazine

Karl Ove Knausgaard: A controversial author

A few years ago, Karl Ove Knausgaard was a successful, award-winning novelist in his native Norway, the sort of writer who attains cachet and a measure of celebrity at home, but not the sort who becomes widely known beyond the borders of his small country; not the sort whose books are translated into languages around the world and become an...
Photo by Maria Teresa Slanzi

A few years ago, Karl Ove Knausgaard was a successful, award-winning novelist in his native Norway, the sort of writer who attains cachet and a measure of celebrity at home, but not the sort who becomes widely known beyond the borders of his small country; not the sort whose books are translated into languages around the world and become an international literary cause célèbre.

Then five years ago, Karl Ove Knausgaard published A Death in the Family, the first instalment of a six-volume, 3,600-page autobiographical novel provocatively entitled My Struggle. 

It has made him a household name in Norway, where nearly one-in-ten people have bought at least part of the series. And it has made him one of the most discussed and controversial authors in the world.

Reviews of his books are littered with comparisons to Marcel Proust. But the work that made him a darling of the international literati has made him a pariah to his own family. While countless novelists have used their families as raw material for their fiction, Knausgaard and his family are the subject of My Struggle, and he hasn't fictionalized it. 

He uses everyone's real name, and if he's unsparing in his depiction of himself, he is fulsome in his descriptions of his closest relatives, warts and all...in some cases, mostly warts.

Knausgaard doesn't leave much out over those 3,600 pages. It has led to lawsuits and deep rifts between him and different members of his family. His legions of fans in Norway and around the world wouldn't have it any other way, though. They find such unfiltered candour almost addictive, and an utterly unique reading experience.

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