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Try Something Different: KNAUSGAÅRD and NEUMAN

Thursday, Apr 24, 2014 at 2:31pm

"If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking."
- Haruki Murakami

This article was written by our very own Chris Hall, and appeared in the March/April issue of our news magazine, The Bookseller. Access a digital edition of the news mag here.

Norway's Karl Ove Knausgaård has undertaken one of the most interesting literary projects in recent years. He's written a cycle of six novels called My Struggle, and what's interesting about it is that the story he tells is completely and intimately his own. In other words, it is a kind of memoir. But it's a memoir that details (and I mean details) periods of his own life as well as his family and friends in books that he calls novels. When does a memoir become a novel? For me it's in the minutiae because he can't possibly remember his own past in so much detail. Because as a reader I have no idea what he remembers, I don't know where the fiction meets the nonfiction.

And that raises all kinds of questions about the two concepts that we normally consider so distinct. When his father dies are we allowed to think of it symbolically? How do we generate meaning from our lives and how is that different from how we find meaning in the fiction we read? I can't stop thinking about it. The same goes for Zadie Smith, apparently, since she gave the work one of the best blurbs I've ever seen: "It's unbelievable," she says, "I need the next volume like crack. It's completely blown my mind." The cycle starts with A Death in the Family and continues with A Man in Love, both available now. Volume three, Boyhood Island, releases in late April with the others following thereafter.

Another author to watch hails from Argentina. His name is Andrés Neuman. A few years ago he wrote a novel called Traveler of the Century. In it a young man arrives in Wandernberg, a city in southern Germany with an indeterminate location due to its shifting coordinates. Our hero, who fancies himself an experienced traveller, finds that he is forever getting lost and swears that the city's layout changes slightly each day. He meets and befriends various characters including an old organ grinder, a Spanish businessman, and an enchanting young lady named Sophie. And then he finds he cannot leave. The first part of the book reads like a traditional 19th century novel with lots of philosophy and intelligent conversation. As you progress through the book, however, it becomes more and more clear, both in style and content, that this novel was written in the twenty-first century. The resulting compression in time makes us aware that we look at history through the lens of our own time and vice-versa. Hence it puts the reader in the position of the traveller in the title.

Fascinating stuff. None other than the great Roberto Bolano said of Neuman: "The literature of the twenty-first century will belong to [him] and a few of his blood brothers."

In April, Neuman's new novel, Talking to Ourselves, arrives and I can't wait to see what he's up to next.

Categories: Saskatoon, Winnipeg, New Releases, Newsletter

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