A sunny Saturday morning brought a big crowd out early to hear controversial Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard talking about his hugely successful work My Struggle.
Selling half a million books in Norway, the tell-all autobiographical series of six books made Knausgaard the most talked about author in Norway. And his popularity was high at the festival as well, with the first event selling out so quickly a second had to be scheduled.
Published in 14 countries, Knausgaard’s revealing stories shocked his own family, exposing details about their personal history, including his father’s degrading death and his own wife’s struggle with manic depression.
Writing up to 20 pages a day on what he referred to as a boring personal project, Knausgaard said he did not foresee what a huge success the series would be.
“It was a total surprise, like a storm breaking loose. I stopped reading the paper and watched TV. I had to tell my friends to stop talking about the book with me.”
The first book received a number of literary prizes in Norway and sparked widespread debate about whether it was morally right to write so openly about his ex-wife and other family members, all clearly identified in the books.
In the last book he details his wife’s reaction to the attention the series attracted. She is manic-depressive and was hospitalized when he was writing the last book. “Writing about my wife is the most painful thing I have ever done,” he said, explaining that his reason for including her breakdown in the book was to be open about mental illness and remove the shame.
Asked by the audience why he did not write the series as fiction, he said: “I did not believe in fiction really. I did not consider other people’s feelings as I felt this was literally important.” He felt it was his right to write about his own father, even though family members were strongly against it.
Knausgaard concedes that he fears his children will feel he took something away from them, as they get older. “I think about them eventually reading the books every day.”
His final advice to the audience on doing something similar was “Don’t try it”, as he ended his talk with a laugh.