It is My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard.
I am far from alone. Rachel Cusk at The Guardian says it “deserves to be called perhaps the most significant literary enterprise of our times.” Tyler Cowen calls it “the equal of the great continental novels of the early part of the 20th century.”
But the comment that got me to buy the book came over dinner, from Cyrus Samii. It’s a book, he said, about the struggle between a man who wants to love his family but also become the great artist he thinks he might be.
Everyday life, with its duties and routines, was something I endured, not a thing I enjoyed, nor something that was meaningful or that made me happy. This had nothing to do with a lack of desire to wash floors or change diapers but rather with something more fundamental: the life around me was not meaningful. I always longed to be away from it. So the life I led was not my own. I tried to make it mine, this was my struggle, because of course I wanted it, but I failed, the longing for something else undermined all my efforts.
Those of us striving for tenure and other recognition can’t but help see a little, maybe a lot of ourselves. This is possibly the most brutally honest and powerful book about fatherhood ever written.
It’s also a book about ideas. Really big ideas. But Leland de la Durantaye puts it well in the NYRB: “As with all great writers, the ideas or theories are woven into the story, dramatized, and this is as true of the question of what gives meaning as of any other question in the book.”
What really struck while reading this: Knausgaard describes his daily life as a mainly selfish artist in a staggering amount of detail. Staggeringly minute details. So minute you think the book would be unreadable. Yet it is the opposite. The man is an incredible writer and storyteller.
I have just started Book One (it’s not necessary to read them in order, I gather). Excellent so far.