A Man In Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard
In 1908, Romain Rolland, the French author who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1915, coined the term roman-fleuve – literally, ‘river-novel’ – in order to describe his own ten volume work of fiction, Jean-Christophe. The metaphor he was invoking is easy enough to understand. A long, unbroken sequence of novels, the roman-fleuve at once commentates a generation and expresses all the ebbs and flows of a single life.
The most famous roman-fleuve is Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, but such books are not common. Indeed, contemporary novels that exceed more than a few hundred pages (let alone stretch into the thousands) are rare. But, just as Proust did a century ago, today the Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard has written a long, extravagant and ponderous roman-fleuve that expresses, more intensely and honestly than I would have thought possible, all the confusions and pleasures of being alive.
The first book in the My Struggle series, A Death in the Family, was published in 2012, and anyone who enjoyed it as much as I did has been aching to read the second volume, A Man in Love. The two books are unmistakably part of a larger work, but each covers conspicuously different emotional territory. Where A Death in the Family was concerned with the passing of the narrator’s father, A Man in Love describes how Knausgaard met his wife and the births of their three children, and is defined by lightness and the promise of fulfilment.
Knausgaard writes with an irresistible emotional heaviness. Where other authors might turn to irony as a form of self-defence, he exposes himself ever more relentlessly. He writes about his children and his family with a shocking rawness. Whereas Proust’s sentences are eminently quotable for their style, Knausgaard’s are almost without style. The My Struggle series stands apart from almost anything I’ve ever read. Knausgaard has no limits.