Boyhood Island by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Boyhood IslandTranslated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett, ‘Boyhood Island’ is the third instalment of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ambitious six-book cycle of autobiographical novels known as ‘My Struggle’. Having explored some of Knausgaard’s later childhood in ‘A Death in the Family‘, the second volume ‘A Man in Love‘ jumped forward in time to concentrate on his experiences of fatherhood. As you may guess from the title, ‘Boyhood Island’ jumps back in time again to Knausgaard’s childhood.

‘Boyhood Island’ focuses almost entirely on Knausgaard’s early life in the 1970s primarily between the ages of approximately six and thirteen living with his parents and his brother Yngve on the small island of Tromøya off the southern coast of Norway. As ever, Knausgaard captures his childhood experiences very vividly in characteristically detailed prose. In particular, his relationship with his alcoholic father is explored further although, in many ways, he remains something of an enigma despite largely dominating the book.

I read ‘A Death in the Family’ and ‘A Man in Love’ quite close together early last year and while I enjoyed both volumes, I also thought they were both very intense, particularly the first book. While I had been expecting ‘Boyhood Island’ to be largely more of the same in terms of style – and much of it is – there are a few differences. There is noticeably less jumping backwards and forwards in time and even though the prose is virtually plotless moving from one anecdote to another, the narrative is less meandering compared with the two other volumes. Consequently, I also think this volume felt more “fictional”, whereas I was previously more conscious that Knausgaard was writing a very personal and heavily autobiographical account when reading the first two. I don’t know if Knausgaard did this deliberately or not, but I’m glad he didn’t maintain that level of emotional intensity on top of the sprawling prose.

‘A Death in the Family’ and ‘A Man in Love’ were longlisted and shortlisted respectively for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2013 and 2014. Knausgaard and translator Don Bartlett have now made it a hat-trick with ‘Boyhood Island’ which has also been longlisted for this year’s Prize. It is certainly the “quieter” and slightly less harrowing volume in the cycle so far and it’s possible that the lack of novelty may prevent it from progressing further to the shortlist. Moreover, while I found the marginally more conventional style of ‘Boyhood Island’ quite refreshing, I expect that reading it as an individual volume might be quite an underwhelming experience without the context of the other books in the cycle.

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12 responses to “Boyhood Island by Karl Ove Knausgaard

  1. I am addicted to these and have Vol 4 lined up to read ….just as soon as I have the time to do so . I agree that I’m not sure that this would work as a ‘stand alone ‘. I can’t quite work out why I find them so hypnotising but certainly the quality of the translation must have something to do with that . An amazing tour de force by Don Bartlett.

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  2. JoV

    I have been wanting to get into the series so much, hindered by lack of time. I heard the third instalment seems to be less interesting but hearing what you said, I think I may lilke it just as much! If I get to vol 1 and Vol 2 rest assured I’ll read everything in the series!

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  3. My question is: how in the world do you manage to read all these books so quickly? Especially since some of them seem dense.

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    • It’s been a challenge as normally I only review one book a week! I have a long commute to work and took a holiday recently which helped 🙂 Most have been dense but relatively short in length – only a couple are more than 350 pages.

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  4. I did love the first book, but strangely not enough to read the others… I think just knowing that there are six in the series put me off. One of the guys in our Book Club got hugely into them through reading it together and had plans to read them all.

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  5. Pingback: The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Shortlist 2015 | A Little Blog of Books

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