BOOK REVIEW: SPRING BY KARL OVE KNAUSGAARD
by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Spring is the third volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Seasonal Quartet and covers a single April day spent with his baby daughter. In contrast to Autumn and Winter, which focus on compiling short pieces on ordinary objects (apples, toothbrushes, cars) and abstract concepts (love, pain, forgiveness), Spring reads more like part of the My Struggle series: with the actual events happening over a brief period of time, Knausgaard weaves in memories, thoughts, and observations to create a complex narrative. He continues the idea of explaining the world to someone who is new to it. This time, however, the story is more personal and emotionally nuanced, and one that his daughter will be unable to understand until many years later.
Perhaps one of the most captivating qualities of Knausgaard’s writing is its ability to turn the most mundane aspects of life into a gripping plot. Knausgaard might write about smoking a cigarette after putting a slice of bread into a toaster, yet still create psychological suspense through the parts that seem to hover just outside the main narrative. What has happened to Knausgaard’s wife? What is the mysterious reason for the regular appointments with child services? The plot unfolds gradually, providing the readers with pieces of information until it reveals the full story.
Knausgaard uses those trivial moments to draw out the deepest thoughts and emotions. A neighbourly chat about the weather turns into an internal monologue on what personality is; a bird spotted on a car trip leads to considering what Anne’s life might look like in forty-odd years. The thought process moves seamlessly enough for the readers to follow it without much effort. Knausgaard’s day might be ordinary, but his thoughts have enough honesty, detail, and intelligence to entertain on the way.
Despite addressing his work to a small child, Knausgaard is careful to limit his assumptions about who Anne is when she reads it later in life. When he considers her future, for instance, he writes: “[perhaps it will be] with a husband, perhaps not; perhaps with children, perhaps not; perhaps with a job you will find fulfilling, and perhaps not” (71). Or he asks: “How to explain this remarkable feeling to you? Maybe one day you will experience it yourself – and maybe not” (127). Works addressed to babies are automatically based on some assumptions: not only that the addressees are alive and literate to read it later in life but that their personality and relationship with the writer allow them to understand what was being communicated. Knausgaard, however, seems to focus on observing and reporting, not addressing his daughter as much as capturing a moment in time.
This ability to capture fleeting thoughts and feelings is perhaps Spring’s most endearing quality. Despite the stylistic difference, the book reads like the perfect continuation of the previous volumes, amplifying the meaning behind them. Autumn and Winter attempt to explain the world to a person who has never experienced it, looking with curiosity and detail at the objects that we have long stopped noticing. In Spring, these objects become reasons to stay alive: never forget, Knausgaard writes, the joy you felt looking at your polar bear toy and your little blue dress. If not the most original, this is perhaps Spring’s most wonderfully captured thought: that there is beauty and meaning in the mundane.
SPRING COMES OUT IN THE U.K. ON 15 FEBRUARY AND IN THE U.S. ON 8 MAY.
A Polish Canadian pursuing an MSc in Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University. Graduated from Queen’s University (Canada) with a degree in English Language and Literature and a certificate in Academic Writing. Loves Inside Llewyn Davis, Peter Gabriel, and flat design.