Spring – 5/5 Stars
Summer – 4/5 Stars
The first two volumes of Karl Ove Knausgard’s Årstidsencyklopedien Cycle (which translates to something like Seasonal Encyclopedia) function more or less as the title suggests. A few years ago, after completing what is likely his masterwork My Struggle, a six-volume series of novels based on an interpretative view of his life (and I have to say having read the first three, that while they do focus on a lot of minutia, they are much more structures, focused, and broadly appealing that any description can represent), Karl Ove Knausgard turned his writer’s pen to his current situation. Now in their mid-40s, he and his wife are expecting another child. They already have three, and as they met and were married in their early 30s, their start in that life was already delayed. So this new child represents a set of difficulties as they are older, there’s a large gap in time between their previous children and this one, and as becomes somewhat apparent in this collection and from following the news of the writer’s life, there’s some tension in the marriage. The first two volumes, then, are journals of objects and ideas from the everyday life of Knausgard written in both letter form and encyclopedia form to his unborn child. While each month of the journal is punctuated from a few diary entries, the bulk of the books are the entries themselves, ranging from entries on “blood” to “shoestrings” and the like, and the writing itself is sometimes straightforward and information, other time impressionistic and meandering. The writing is generally good, while the books are more of an acquired taste.
“Spring” is a clear departure from this formula, and the slim volume (200 pages) is entirely diary entries from after the and before the birth of this new child. These diaries include everyday occurrences like sitting down for coffee with a neighbor to having a taut and tense conversation about his wife’s depression. These swings in content, but on display in frank honesty, represent a view into the life of Knausgard, whose life is already so on display in the novels. But the diary format is more raw, less refined; unfocused, but more expansive. And because it’s less combed over and edited, it’s interesting. Knausgard doesn’t always have the best sentence in every moment that he writes, but throughout this text, they’re quite good.
“Summer” is even more of a departure. In part, he goes back to the encyclopedic entries and shares more interesting, sometimes too quaint, insights on the objects and ideas from his life. These include musings on “ladybirds” (lady bugs) and “slugs” as well as “summer rain” and “electric handmixers” and while these entries are every bit as good as they were in the first two volumes, it’s hard to miss the turn the previous book took. About a quarter the way through, however, Knausgard begins his first diary series, which lasts for the better part of 100 words. In this journal entry, while not as stirring as the events in Spring, he tells us early on about his frustration with the reviews of the previous volumes, which lauded Spring, while critiquing the banality of the first two. As happens in his My Struggle novels, the writing has turned back on itself. In these sections now, not only we do get more of his daily life, which thankfully is less eventful than the previous book (the utter starkness of his descriptions of his wife’s depression is truly harrowing), but we also get more nods to the writing itself. Where he had a encyclopedia entry on “slugs” before, we now have slugs appearing in the narrative. In addition to this difference, Knausgard is willing to comment on previous entries within this same diary and either curse his actions in the original event, or question how he wrote about them later. And throughout these entries, it’s also clear at times that his newborn child as audience conceit has begun to fall away. Lastly, the other large difference here is that he devotes large section of time to narrating the experiences of his older family members.
The focus of the whole project has been to record a sense of the everyday in his writing for either future generations or his daughter in particular. The writing is always beautiful, but the content is sometimes uneven. And the reader is genuinely rewarded when Knausgard reflects on the writing process and writers he enjoys. These books do not amount to a memoir, with its tight focus and thematic connections, and if that what someone is looking for, the novel (however nonfiction they are at times) are a better source.