Christopher Tayler writes:
Karl Ove Knausgaard’s first two novels, Out of the World (Ute av verden, 1998) and A Time to Every Purpose under Heaven (En tid for alt, 2004), attracted admiring reviews and won prizes. ‘I was discussed,’ he told the Telegraph recently, ‘but as you discuss literature – in a kind of sober way.’ That changed in the autumn of 2009, when the first three books of My Struggle (Min kamp) – a six-part novelised autobiography narrated by the writer in his own person, which he’d embarked on, he said, as a ‘literary suicide’ – caused an epidemic of ‘Knausgård-manien’. Critics spoke of ‘an existential literary experiment without parallel in Norwegian literature’ and of the books’ ‘sensationally high literary quality’. Readers testified to their addictiveness – sales reached 200,000 in a population of under five million – and reporters laid siege to people he’d written about. By the time Book 6 was published, in 2011, Knausgaard’s first wife had made a radio documentary about him and his uncle had threatened legal action against his publishers. Hyperbolic reviews had also come in from Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Italy.