Knausgård draws mixed reviews

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Author Karl Ove Knausgård’s latest and last volume in a series of six highly personal novels about his own life hit the bookstores this week, and met mixed reviews. Some call it “a monster of a novel” demanding “hard work” to get through it. Others call it “incredibly good” and “intellectually rich yet problematic.”

Amidst all the media hype about Karl Ove Knausgård's latest novel came evidence that he'd shaved and cut his hair. PHOTO: Oktober Forlag/Anders Hansson

The novel, simply called Min kamp 6 (My struggle 6), was a year late arriving at the publisher, Oktober Forlag in Oslo. Knausgård, a Norwegian who lives in southern Sweden, was supposed to have delivered it by the autumn of 2010, but wasn’t satisfied and claims he destroyed what he’d written and started over.

At a daunting 1,120 pages, the last in his series also examines in unmerciful detail his own life, ambitions, weaknesses, uncertainty and relations to friends and lovers, wife and children, also his own parents. That’s offended many of them along the way. Number 6 deals heavily with the realization of the novel series itself, the circumstances around it and literature’s relation to reality.

The author Knausgård in an earlier version of himself, while baring his soul in his book series. PHOTO: Oktober Forlag

Anyone thinking it would be enjoyable to read the last volume of Min kamp may be disappointed, warns Aftenposten’s book reviewer, Ingunn Økland. She branded his first volume as “irresistible” and others as containing “literary tension of the highest brand.” She wasn’t so enthusiastic about his fifth book, however, and this one requires “hard work and is often terribly sad.”

The book “is no good novel,” but offers an “honest and gruesome picture of the costs of reality literature,” intoned Aftenposten in its summary. Others had more praise, with respected critic Kåre Bulie writing in Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that Knausgård’s sixth novel is “dizzyingly ambitious … so thematic and intellectually rich and yet problematic” that it’s unlike any other Norwegian novel.

Most critics seemed to think it was worth waiting for, and its publisher opted for an initial press run of 25,000 books. In a country with just under 5 million residents, a book is generally considered to sell well if 5,000 copies are purchased. Many books are granted a press run of 2,000 copies. Knausgård’s five previous volumes have sold more than 400,000 copies, an enormous amount for a Norwegian author, and sales expectations are high once again for the new book despite a price tag of NOK 399 (USD 72).

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Thursday that Knausgård, age 42, already has earned nearly NOK 15 million on the first five books. Estimates are that his royalties alone will top NOK 1 million by Christmas.

The book’s publication just before the Christmas shopping season will help, and it’s also due out in other languages. The first book came out in six countries and all told, the rights have been sold for all the books in 14 languages including English.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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