Norwegian literary sensation Karl Ove Knausgaard is best known for his six-volume autobiographical novel My Struggle.
Knausgaard has previously alienated members of his family with his scorching literature, which has sold an estimated 10 million copies worldwide. Now with his newest book, he is bound to upset social justice warriors with some frank thoughts about the negative reaction to his work from women.
Home and Away is a collection of letters between Knausgaard and fellow Norwegian Fredrik Ekelund, ostensibly about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Heat Street has read the book, being published next January, and it’s when Knausgaard turns his attention to the feminist response to his writing that matters get interesting.
Knausgaard writes: “I have experienced interviews on stage where everything was focused on what is wrong with them [his books]: they, without my being aware of it, I presume, express patriarchal values which are oppressive to women.
“I remember once having my attention drawn to the fact that only male writers were mentioned in one book (which is wrong, but they are in the majority, that is true) thereafter to a scene about men’s and women’s relationships with children, where I said something like…as the child had been in the woman’s body, and as women feed children with milk from their own bodies, women have a different relationship with children from men.
“This was also incorrect, I was given to understand, and everything in the questions indicated that the book was a work of misogyny. What I had done, which was to write, was suddenly about what I hadn’t written but what I should have written. So the conversation was no longer about the book but about the values of the woman who had read the book and was now interviewing me.
“It was implicit in what she said that these values were the correct ones while those of the novel were insane.”
Knausgaard, 47, then chronicles the subsequent experience of giving a talk to young people at a writing academy: “It was the same angle of attack: the books were oppressive to women and, or as I understood it, evil, or at least informed by evil…these people were certain. And they were so young!
“They were around twenty years old. The writer who ran the course, a well-known feminist and activist, was also the one who asked the most accusatory questions. So they had invited me to put me on trial and tell me all that was wrong with me and my books.
“There was no place for doubt in the room. They were right, and they raged at my books with the remorseless fury of the righteous.”
Knausgaard, who is particularly popular with literary hipsters, reserves particular anger for the female response he gets in Sweden.
He writes: “When I am written about by women in Sweden I am always prepared to be accused of terrible things…this resistance from the Swedish Women’s Movement is absolutely insignificant, nothing I go around fretting about, but I am writing this anyway because the notion that the Swedish view of humanity and the Swedish ideological standpoint should be universal, that is the one true path, period, is so utterly and insanely irritating to have to witness.
“It is totalitarian and deeply misanthropic, while in its own eyes it is open and humanistic.”