He feels that he is racing against time, that it is slipping away from him, “running through my fingers like sand”: “Soon I will be forty, and when I’m forty, it won’t be long before I’m fifty. And when I’m fifty, it won’t be long before I’m sixty. And when I’m sixty, it won’t be long before I’m seventy. And that will be that.” Knausgaard apprehends everyone else’s mortality, too: “Until now, I thought, observing the crowds circulating in the concourse below. In twenty-five years a third of them would be dead, in fifty years two-thirds, in a hundred all of them. And what would they leave behind, what had their lives been worth?”

The New Yorker carries a review of Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 3,6oo-page 6 volume fictionalized autobiography that has been compared to Proust. Not all of the writing is angst and despair. According to another review:

Half the book’s bulk seems devoted to activities such as lighting cigarettes, drinking beer, going to the newsagents, making small talk. “I unscrewed the lid of the coffee tin, put two spoonfuls in my cup and poured in the water, which rose up the sides, black and steaming, then I got dressed.” Eleven lines are spent on a fly buzzing in the window, half a dozen on the mechanics of rolling a fag (“licked the glue, removed any shreds of tobacco, dropped them in the pouch…”).

An excerpt from the book in the New Yorker review mentioned earlier reinforces this view:

After a while I picked up the teapot and poured. Dark brown, almost like wood, the tea rose inside the white cup. A few leaves swirled and floated up, the others lay like a black mat at the bottom. I added milk, three teaspoons of sugar, stirred, waited until the leaves had settled on the bottom, and drank.

Mmm.

Excessive size and excessive descriptiveness are two of the common features of most books I have left unfinished. Yet there is an allure in the excerpts quoted from the book – what has been described as the banality of the everyday. As one of the reviewers puts it, “the banality is so extreme that it turns into its opposite, and becomes distinctive, curious in its radical transparency”.

3600 pages is more than a year’s worth of reading if you average 10 pages a day – an opportunity cost of 10 regular sized books. I am not sure if I can make Karl Ove’s struggle my struggle, yet.

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