Meghan O’Rourke reviews the “master of banality”:
My Struggle,the celebrated six-volume novel (or memoir) by the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, is—like nearly all grand endeavors—one of those books that shouldn’t work, but somehow does. He finished the project in 2009 in his adopted homeland, Sweden, where it was both a best seller and a lightning rod for literary debate. Three volumes have now been translated in the United States. The novel draws explicitly from Knausgaard’s own life—the narrator is named Karl Ove Knausgaard—and uses the real names of his wife, children, parents, and friends. Nearly four thousand pages, it is packed with the kind of quotidian detail that is hardly the stuff of high drama: some one hundred pages on the teenage narrator trying to buy beer; long descriptions of the mechanics of cleaning house and of a fight with his wife over the dishes. Knausgaard has said he wrote My Struggle fast and without much revision. He is not averse to cliché, his metaphors are mixed (“His fury struck like a wave, it washed through the rooms, lashed at me, lashed and lashed and lashed at me”); he often gets “needlessly” bogged down in exposition about who is walking where and exactly how his mother turns the key in the ignition and backs out of the driveway. Scenes that seem as if they are building to a crescendo, making the reader worry (will his mother get in an accident?), often just stop. On the face of it, Knausgaard seems to be making every mistake a novelist is taught not to make.