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Archive for July, 2020

Boyhood Island‘ is the third book in Karl Ove Knausgaard’sMy Struggle‘ series. In this book, Knausgaard describes his childhood from the time of his birth, till around thirteen years of age. This book is different from the first two books in the series. Which is good news and bad news. The good news is that the story told is pretty straightforward – it starts from year zero and runs till around year thirteen. So we can read it as a novel about childhood, as a coming-of-age story. The bad news is this. In his other two books, Knausgaard digresses a lot from the main story, he takes an idea or theme and runs with it for many pages, and these parts have some of the most beautiful passages in the book. But this book doesn’t have those digressions. So those beautiful passages are missing. I missed reading those long sentences and those multiple pages that I highlighted continuously. But I still liked ‘Boyhood Island‘.

One of my favourite characters in the first part of the series, ‘A Death in the Family‘, was Knausgaard’s mother. She was such a wonderful person. She plays only a minimal role in the second book, but she is back here, and it was wonderful to read more about her. One of the main themes of this third part was Knausgaard’s relationship to his dad. Knausgaard’s dad appears to be a menacing figure who bullies his kids but who also shows them the occasional kindness, and treats his wife, Knausgaard’s mother, well. Those parts were hard for me to read, because my dad was menacing too when I was a kid (not as bad as Knausgaard’s dad, but still), and sometimes the incidents that Knausgaard described were triggering for me and brought back some parts of my childhood and made me angry. At one point Knausgaard’s dad moves away from home for a year to pursue further studies at university, and after dropping him at the airport, Knausgaard’s mom comes back home and asks him, “Would you like to help me bake some bread?“, after which Knausgaard the narrator tells us, the readers, “That might have been the year dad lost his grip on us.” My heart leaped with joy when I read that.

Knausgaard’s grandmothers on both sides are so charming and affectionate and I loved the parts where they make an appearance in the story. This was one of my favourite passages about one of Knausgaard’s grandmothers.

“I never quite understood what the power relationship was between grandma and grandad. On the one hand, she always served him food, cooked all the meals, did all the washing-up and the housework as though she were his servant; on the other hand, she was often angry or irritated with him, and then she gave him a mouthful or made a fool of him, she was sharp and not infrequently sarcastic, while he said very little, preferring not to respond. Was it because he didn’t need to? Because nothing of what she said altered anything important? Or because he couldn’t? If Yngve and I would be present during such sparring, grandma would wink at us as if to say this wasn’t serious, or use us in her sally against him by saying things as ‘Grandad can’t even change a lightbulb properly’, while grandad, for his part, would look at us, smile and shake his head at grandma’s antics. I never saw any form of intimacy between them, other than in their verbal exchanges or the closeness that was evident when she served him.”

There is lots of other stuff in the book – friendship, football, comics, books, music, first teachers at school, first crush, the adventures that kids have. I won’t tell you more. You should read the book for yourself and find out. I will just say one thing. I was so happy that Knausgaard mentioned my favourite Western comic hero, Tex Willer, a couple of times. This is the first time I’m seeing Tex Willer mentioned in a book.

Boyhood Island‘ is an interesting book on childhood, on coming-of-age. It made me think about other famous childhood and coming-of-age stories, like J.M.Coetzee’sBoyhood‘, R.K.Narayan’sSwami and Friends‘, Stephen King’sStand By Me‘, and my favourite, Marlen Haushofer’sNowhere Ending Sky‘. I enjoyed reading it.

Well, that is nearly 1600 pages of ‘My Struggle’ done 😁 2400 more pages of ‘My Struggle’ left 😁

Have you read ‘Boyhood Island‘? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read Václav Havel’s play ‘Temptation‘ for a long time. I finally got around to reading it.

The story told in ‘Temptation‘ goes like this. In the office of a scientific institute, some scientists are lounging around. The Deputy Director and Director walk in. They all have a brief conversation. The Director tells everyone that some strange things are happening at the institute which needs to be investigated. It later turns out that he was implying that someone was dabbling in the occult. Later the scene shifts to one of the scientists, Foustka’s house. And we discover that Foustka is the one dabbling in the occult. Then a mysterious stranger visits Foustka. Without saying anything directly, the stranger refers to the party in Foustka’s institute later in the evening and tells him that he wants to help Foustka and make a deal with him. Interesting things happen at the party, not necessarily something exceptional, but things which look real but stretch the fabric of reality, things which are too good to be true.

Who is this stranger? What happens at the party? What happens to Foustka’s dabbling with the occult? This is narrated in the rest of the play.

I found ‘Temptation‘ interesting, but I didn’t love it. Václav Havel takes the Faustian fable and sets it in ’80s Czechoslovakia in the middle of an institute mired in bureaucracy and tries to explore what happens. The play has an absurdist quality as some of the scenes get repeated with some minor changes, and the dialogue in those scenes are vague without meaning anything, and nothing much happens in them. We feel like we’re watching ‘Waiting for Godot‘. The ending was surprising and I didn’t see that coming.

The mysterious stranger is an interesting character and he speaks some of my favourite lines. This one made me smile 🙂

“Your answer had eighty-six words. Considering its semantic value that isn’t exactly a small number, and if I were you I wouldn’t reproach anybody too severely for redundancy.”

This one made me think.

“My dear Sir, the truth isn’t merely what we believe, after all, but also why and to whom and under what circumstances we say it.”

This one – a mafia don could have spoken this one 😁

“To deceive a liar is fine, to deceive a truth teller is still allowable, but to deceive the very instrument that gives us the strength to deceive and that allows us in advance to deceive with impunity – that, you truly cannot expect to get away with.”

Have you read ‘Temptation‘? What do you think about it?

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I was flitting from one book to another in the last few days of June, without settling on one book. Then I picked Knausgaard’sA Man in Love‘ and the days of flitting were over.

In ‘A Man in Love‘, Knausgaard continues the story he told in the first part, ‘A Death in the Family‘. I won’t bore you with the plot outline – the book is 664 pages long, and I won’t be able to do justice to it. I will just say that most of the book is about how Knausgaard met his wife Linda, how they fell in love, and started a family, and how each of their three children bring a lot of joy and test their patience everyday. So the book is about love, family, children, being parents. The book is also about books, literature, reading, writing.

There is one thing about Knausgaard’s prose that I noticed while reading this book. The book fluctuates between two styles. The first is the regular storytelling where there are events which move the story and there is a lot of dialogue. The second is where Knausgaard takes a topic or a theme and runs with it for many pages. The first aspect of the book was good. But my favourite was the second one. That was where Knausgaard took a pause from the story and wrote most of my favourite passages. Sometimes I highlighted whole pages continuously, that it became too much. Later, I just marked the top of the page to indicate that the whole page has been highlighted. I have heard readers say that they liked this part more than the first part of the series. But I think I liked the first part more. I think that is probably because the first part had more of those contemplative passages than the second part. Or maybe I was just new to Knausgaard’s style and so the first part left a bigger impact.

As the book is about family, and as Knausgaard is famous for his unflinching close observations, the story is not always pleasant. It might sometimes feel uncomfortably too close to home. So, read at your own risk.

I’ll leave you with two of my favourite passages from the book.

“When I think of my three children, it is not only their distinctive faces which appear before me, but also the quite distinct feeling they radiate. This feeling, which is constant, is what they ‘are’ for me. And what they ‘are’ has been present in them ever since the first day I saw them. At that time they could barely do anything, and the little bit they could do, like sucking on a breast, raising their arms as reflex actions, looking at their surroundings, imitating, they could all do that, thus what they ‘are’ has nothing to do with qualities, has nothing to do with what they can or can’t do but is more a kind of light that shines within them. Their character traits, which slowly began to reveal themselves after only a few weeks, have never changed either, and so different are they inside each of them that it is difficult to imagine the conditions we provide for them, through our behaviour and ways of being, have any decisive significance.”

“What had started out as a long essay slowly but surely was growing into a novel, it soon reached a point where it was everything, and writing was all I did. I moved into the office, wrote day and night, sleeping an hour here and there. I was filled with an absolutely fantastic feeling, a kind of light burned within me, not hot and consuming but cold and clear and shining. At night I took a cup of coffee with me and sat down on the bench outside the hospital to smoke, the streets around me were quiet, and I could hardly sit still, so great was my happiness. Everything was possible, everything made sense. At two places in the novel I had soared higher than I had thought possible, and those two places alone, which I could not believe I had written, and no one else has noticed or said anything about, made the preceding five years of failed writing worth all the effort. They are two of the best moments in my life. By which I mean my whole life. The happiness that filled me and the feeling of invincibility they gave me I have searched for ever since, in vain.”

Have you read ‘A Man in Love‘? What do you think about it?

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