Admittedly, I had abandoned the book months ago, having burned through 470 pages or so; abandoned with a willful intention to not finish the series. Overhyped. Pretentious. Boring. Adjectives I would never have used to describe my journey through Book 1.
Then on Saturday, after arriving home from a vacation, I picked it up again. It was like having picked up a video game and remembering exactly what everything in your inventory did and exactly where everything was in the world. And even if I didn’t remember everything, there were enough clues along the way to make me remember. Before having picked it up, there were so many moments to remember, and upon picking it up again, the original magic that struck me when I read the first pages of Book 1 was upon me again.
It was great.
There are two section specifically that almost seemed to be written for my girlfriend and me. The first occurs on page 505, where Karl Ove, an already exhibited consumer of music and books, goes out for another excursion and spends (probably) way too much money.
After I had paid for the books I went down to the lower section of Sergels torg, to the music and film shop, where I bought three DVDs and fice CDs, next up to Akademi bookstore, where I found a dissertation on Swedenborg published by Atlantis, which I bought along with a couple of journals. I wouldn’t get around to reading much of this, which did not prevent me from feeling good, however.
A mind looking for some enlightened distraction and also something to write about. Over these last few months, it had become apparent to me just how much I needed to simplify. There were too many things I was putting in front of myself to consume, like an entire weeks meals cooked up and expecting to be eaten on a Friday night. And it was stressful.
But why include this in the book, along with any number of seemingly incidental details throughout? Why not stick to the task at hand? Tell us, Karl Ove, of a “Man in Love”.
And after the questions are out and one has zero to five answers, one remembers that the entire book is written this way. He is building a world, as banal as the ones any of us – the Western middle class – are living, whether we be artists, nurses, out-of-work actors, soon-to-be-published writers, teachers. How serendipitous to have picked up the book again just as I was having feelings of being overwhelmed by my own possessions.
There isn’t any magic in it, though. Not in the coincidence of me picking up the book again to have it read some life parallel out (I don’t believe in coincidence). Not in the way Karl Ove writes almost structure-less yet reels you in. It’s all magic, but there are no tricks. No apparent illusions. Just a life. Yet there it is, on the page, written almost as if you yourself could be living it.
What is that worth? Does it make the book a masterpiece? To some perhaps. To Karl Ove though:
If I have learned one thing over these years that seems to me immensely important, particularly in an era such as ours, overflowing with such mediocrity, it is the following:
Don’t believe you are anybody.
Do not fucking believe you are somebody.
Because you are not. You’re just a smug, mediocre little shit.
Do not believe that you’re anything special. Do not believe that you’re worth anything, because you aren’t. You’re just a little shit.
So keep your head down and work, you little shit. Then, at least, you’ll get something out of it. Shut your mouth, keep your head down, work, and know that you’re not worth a shit.
This, more or less, was what I had learned.
Here we are, Reader. The book has sold, well, a lot of copies. I mean, he is a literary celebrity.
So why had I abandoned it? Well, one gets tired of talking to the same person for months on end. Some people burn through a series after being seduced by the first volume. My Struggle for me is a series (maybe all series for someone like me) who needs a break every now and then.
Then, it’s possible to see all the happy, magic accidents of his mother speaking about love regarding Karl Ove’s alcoholic father, maybe the villain of this book, if this were the type of book to have villains. How it perfectly parallels the end of the first book, the father on a slab. How it matter-of-factly yet still subtly comments on Karl’s own relationship with Linda. And Karl is a father now, too.
So many echoes. So many literary tricks that aren’t tricks at all.
I can’t wait to start book 3. I’ve already started waiting.