I’ve been putting off writing this review. It was with a sigh of relief that I got to the end of the book and took it back to the library, and I have found it hard to muster the enthusiasm to revisit the novel in a review.
But, here it is: I found A Death in the Family immensely tiresome and dull.
As it says on my Review and Comments Policy page, I’m not keen on sad memoirs, and even though A Death in the Family is supposed to be a novel, it reads just like a dreary memoir in Part 1, and then in Part II it reads like a nauseating memoir…
As I have better things to do, this review will be brief.
It’s a first person narration of the tortured thoughts of a character called Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose life is dominated by his emotionally distant father. I assume the criticism of his father (which is laid on with a trowel) is meant to be ironic, because the narrator is not exactly World’s Best Father himself, admitting that he would rather write his books than be bothered with his children, and admitting to shaking them harshly when they interfere with his peace and quiet. (Does he know how many babies die from Shaken Baby Syndrome? I have taught a little one with permanent brain damage cause by an angry male, it is a wicked thing to do and there is no excuse for it).
Despite what is portrayed as a childhood dominated by fear of his father, Karl Ove seems well able to rebel, and this long book devotes pages and pages to his rebellious phase which consists of mucking about at school, teenage drinking, raucous parties, playing the guitar very badly, and the usual inconclusive efforts to seduce girls. This part is completely banal.
Part II is when his father dies from alcohol abuse, and Karl Ove and his brother go to sort out the disgusting mess that his grandmother’s house has become. No detail is spared.
Well, the blurb claims it’s Proustian. This is not the first time I’ve come across the term Proustian used to describe a life described in minute detail, but as you know if you’ve read Proust, Remembrance of Things Past a.k.a. In Search of lost Time is not self-indulgent or boring. It is enchanting. It weaves a magic spell as you read…
But Trevor at The Mookse and the Gripes thought A Death in the Family was very good indeed, and obviously the judges were impressed, and it’s running up bestseller lists everywhere, so don’t take any notice of me!
I read this book as a member of the Shadow Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Jury. To view other reviews of this and other nominations please click here or on the IFFP graphic.
PS 5/1/14 Tony at Tony’s Book World felt as I did. See his review here.
Author:Karl Ove Knausgaard
Title: A Death in the Family a.k.a. My Struggle Pt 1
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House, 2021
Source: Kingston Library
Fishpond: A Death in the Family