Boyhood Island: My Struggle Volume 3 by Karl Ove Knausgaard
|... lodged in my memory with a ring|
as true as perfect pitch.
John Self recently tweeted a review from author and The Times contributor Melissa Katsoulis about book five, Some Rain Must Fall, in which she notes that Knausgaard himself makes reference to a novel as a 'giant dick, impressive at first sight but too big for the blood to create a fully functional erection,' unknowingly presaging his own work. I'm frankly surprised it took until 500 pages into the fifth instalment for her to make this analogy. Admittedly, being behind a Murdoch paywall I have no idea where she goes from this opening teaser paragraph, but I can guess–she has Knausgaard fatigue.
Boyhood Island is a continuation of his unsparingly, brutally honest biography, this time covering his years spent on the southern Norwegian island of Tromøy (called Trauma in old Norwegian...), formative, school-going years, and is written as a sometimes free-flowing stream of inter-related memories. Throughout, one is aware of the presentiment of doom (often humorous but always tragic) in pretty much everything he does–swimming with his father (he has a panic attack and his father is disgusted), buying sweets (some girls take them off him and he cries), finding an excuse to kiss his girlfriend (he near assaults her in his attempt to kiss for longer than his classmate and she dumps him). We learn more of the relationship between his father and mother, see more of the explosions of rage to which he and his brother Yngve are exposed by his father's jealously controlling nature, and we laugh (sort-of) through his first experiences of juvenile desire. It's all presented with the exaggerated importance that one feels about pretty much every situation as a child, and he does not stint with the embarrassing anecdotes. However, it borders on the excessive, has no real crisis point as he stumbles from tears to rapture and back again, and, on reading the final paragraph of the book, where he is about to leave his island life behind him for good, it made me pull up short and reconsider pretty much everything he'd written up to that point:
After the removal van had left and we got into the car ... it struck me with a huge sense of relief that I would never be returning, that everything I saw I was seeing for the final time ... Little did I know then that every detail of this landscape, and every single person living in it, would forever be lodged in my memory with a ring as true as perfect pitch.I snorted aloud at reading that. I just can't believe him. Okay, admittedly this is sold in the UK as hyperreal fiction, but although he explains that he barely remembers his mother apart from the presence she lent to his home and her absence when she was away, the balance it brought to life with a monstrous father figure, he seems to wish the reader to believe that every instance in the book is burned, branded into his mind and is reproduced as true. I had cause this week to look at a photo of my classmates from 20 years ago, and I struggled to remember their names. There are so few memories I can recall clearly–the hot fever of measles, a fight I think I must have dreamt because I didn't lose, burping in someone's ear which caused him to vomit up his swiftly eaten packed of cherry menthol Tunes, something about kicking the guttering from the wall and being called into the Headmaster's office (where he had the three carved wooden monkeys on his desk)–that it's incredibly difficult for me to consider this eidetic recall without skepticism. Of course, he may have framed snatched memories in the context of his over-riding impressions of his youth, fictionalising his childhood, but it is never presented as such by him. He recalls each neighbours' names, their professions, the children with whom he plays, those who avoid him, those after whom he lusts. He can remember what he was wearing, what he said to his mother as she cooked, each album he listened to, and I can barely remember my best friends without help.
In light of this, I've lost faith, I can't trust Knausgaard, and this unsettles me. I will have to find a different frame of reference in which to read book four, which will likely sit on my shelves for a good few months, and will be patient about following up with five and six. In fact, I have my doubts I will. Like with any well-written serial, the crises are never resolved, the action just keeps on building, and I always get sick of the journey at some point*. I wonder if I've reached this point of fatigue earlier than I expected.
*A notable exception being The West Wing, but then this was brilliantly written, and did eventually end, and it had it's own rhythm of terms of office and elections to keep the narrative oscillations whipping up and down.