Christopher Tayler writes:
‘For the heart,’ A Death in the Family begins, ‘life is simple: it beats as long as it can. Then it stops.’ The first 165 pages focus on Knausgaard’s adolescence: his early investigations of beer and girls and indie rock, his band’s disastrous gig outside a shopping centre, his closely observed non-adventures at a New Year’s Eve party. From time to time he broods on his thoughtless behaviour to other kids and his terrible 1980s haircuts, but it’s clear that he’s not really interested in the standard coming-of-age material. It’s only in the light of the book’s second half – in which Karl Ove and Yngve, now in their late twenties, clean up the mess left behind by their father, who became an alcoholic after divorcing their mother, and eventually drank himself to death in their grandmother’s house – that the languorous account of the years leading up to the parents’ separation takes on any kind of dramatic shape.