Writers & Company·Nordic Imagination

Karl Ove Knausgaard: after My Struggle, a new outlook on the world

The Norwegian author talks to Eleanor Wachtel about a new series of books inspired by the seasons — and his daughter.
Karl Ove Knausgaard's letter to his unborn daughter lies at the core of his series The Seasons Quartet. (Sam Barker)
Listen to the full episode55:13

In part two of Writers & Company's series Darkness and Light: The Nordic Imagination, Eleanor Wachtel talks to celebrated Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard. 

Knausgaard became a literary phenomenon with his blockbuster, six-volume memoir, My Struggle. Published from 2009-2011, the work sold half a million copies in Norway alone — a country of only five million people — and became an international hit, hailed as "a masterpiece," "unique" and "extraordinary." In the span of 3,600 pages, Knausgaard details his life with fierce energy and honesty, reflecting on everything from social customs to family ties — in particular, his relationship with his father. 

Now, Knausgaard is exploring the father-child bond from a different perspective. His new series, The Seasons Quartet, takes the form of a letter to his daughter — still unborn in the first two books. Part meditation on everyday objects and experiences, part revelation about his own life, Autumn, Winter and Spring bear Knausgaard's trademark candour, preoccupation with family and engagement with the world.

Awakenings

"When I'm writing, I always start with the landscape. Where I live now is completely flat and it's a very agrarian landscape — very different from where I grew up. But after living there for a while, I realized it was a small town in the south of Sweden, just like my town in the south of Norway, and has exactly the same kind of infrastructure. The Seasons Quartet is very much based in southern Sweden and, basically, the garden where I live. I do the same things every day and I don't look at things or think of things; I just use things as they are without seeing them properly and that feels like a decay of the soul. I wanted the text to reflect the change in nature and whatever goes on in life during a year. It felt like I was recording something. Personally, that is the purpose of writing — to be able to see the world and to engage with its presence because the world isn't very present in my life. Writing is not about the moment in me, it is about the moment in the world."

Nurturing writing

"Before I had children, writing was something isolated and something very precious. To be able to write, I went out to some islands very far away to be alone. When I had children, I had to change all of that because I had to write where I was — in the living room or wherever. I couldn't spend the time or energy building something for three years. I just had to write. It has become much less important and much more trivial, and that was so good for the writing because it's become much more connected to the world and to my world. Before that, I had high demands on my writing. But if you have three children, you can't afford self-criticism. You could see also that the quality of the writing started sinking when I had children, but that's a good thing because it's somehow more alive. That's what is completely different about the four books — none of it is about me, it's about the world outside of me."

A personal landscape

"My Struggle is very much about being a son and trying to become a father or an independent person. When I wrote The Seasons Quartet, it felt like my father was very distant. That's the way his presence is now — I think of him and then he's gone. That feels very healthy; it felt very unhealthy to struggle so hard to get out from under his influence. It's not like that anymore. When I started The Seasons Quartet project, I had one letter that I wrote privately to my unborn daughter. I wrote about our family and what she could expect about the world, our world, that she would be coming into. I had written half of it when I realised that there was a kind of sound of someone not telling the truth. I realised that if I do this, I have to have to write about the darkness, too. I can't write four books about her coming into the world and not mention the one dominating thing that's happened....But I didn't want it to be about me. In the last part of Spring, I tell her life is sometimes extremely difficult, but it's always worth living — it's the light of spring and it's the darkness at the same time."

Karl Ove Knausgaard's comments have been edited and condensed.

Music to close the broadcast program: Clouds composed and performed by Anne Hytta.