Karl Ove Knausgaard Reads in Manchester

The air is close and smells of McDonald’s while I wait on a bench lined with plants, which, in the reflection of the window over my shoulder makes it look like I’m squatting behind a bush to shit or prey or pray.

People are rarely facing Mecca when low down behind bushes.

It’s meant to be summer. It feels that way without looking it, the air close, the phantom touches of green flies tickle after they’ve left. It’s like no-one’s told the sky, a sulking bruise, an unwanted cousin of the eclipse the Americans have been posting and gramming themselves looking at. They’ll all be blind tomorrow and at least those in front of me on Cross Street know I’m not doing anything I shouldn’t be on this bench. At worst I look riddled with nervous tics or Tourette’s, swatting the green flies every couple seconds. It’s the pretending not to I can’t stand, but for America, a blind Trump won’t isn’t the same as a silent fart, he will stink and linger for a few more years no matter how much they Tweet him to stop.

Sounding listless? I’m waiting for Knausgaard to come read to me in Waterstones. Karl Ove that is, or Kar Love as I intend to call him when I meet him at the end. He won’t have heard that one before and he’ll like it I bet. If not, I’ll tell it the translator of his new book, Autumn, and they can explain to him why it’s funny or tailor it to a similar quip that works in Norway.

I’m not convinced of Knausgaard.

A brief delve into the first of his Struggle series looked like typing, not writing, to me. Maybe worse. There was nothing pointless in it, in fact it’s his talent that you read along with the life around him he finds so beautifully pointless, or a struggle. He’s at least a couple octaves off being someone sat using a thesaurus or an abundance of similes to justify his being at a keyboard, instead he picks at one thread until it’s unravelled and the endorphins are spent while the reader is drawn into that kinetic energy with its broken clock feel.

Takes one to spot one.

I’m here to figure out how it works, and the fucker’s already a half hour late. Presume he’ll write about it in some point.

I’ve come to see what I will look like in his place at the front of the fiction room on Deansgate, to see myself there, find the flaws I’d have fretted over were it my own book, see them not matter now they’re out loud for others to make of what they will. 

Knausgaard is obviously a genius. He’s a master but it’s a voice you think you already know so the excitement and journey is his and you are sharing in it. That’s a resounding compliment or a grim review, depending. He isn’t Pepys either, not Bukowski, but in assuming the seat of the profound diarist he is so utterly flesh and blood you know him.

There’s an affable, calming aura to him sharing the briefest of  nervous grins when he sits, natural, one leg at a right angle over the other, chilled in his chair, not plastered to the back of it as I would be, not holding onto the arms of it for dear life like he’s feeling the speed of the world turn. The rock star from the book covers and photos isn’t there, nor the tortured artist with the lined face embellished by shadow. He’s a gentle man, silver and beige against the walls of books behind him. 

I’m at the back with the disableds and the tardy, settling contentedly into both labels. 

Kar Love  stands to read, rocking side to side like a mantis. He reads like the words aren’t his, the translation a rough outline of something he felt dearly when alone, at home, on another continent, writing about Autumn to his unborn daughter. There are no bags under his eyes when the last line is read, no display of being immersed. You wonder if the words’ grip has left him be, the voice so much rougher, so weary when you imagine it in your head.

He’s modest, his legs crossed differently now, answering in earnest both hands on the mic, mouth over it like hot chocolate in the winter cold, telling how it was how his chapters of love started with vomit. It’s an inspiring insight to hear him put it this way, so humbly. There’s no pretentiousness, no struggling writer, just an artist telling frankly how he arrived at his destination. 

Speaking of his new book, Autumn, he uses the example of items, nouns, the things ten metres away from him when he’s sitting down to write, searching for inspiration. He speaks of a toothbrush, how you get what you can out of it until you put it down, at which point there is gravity to write about. You don’t know where it will end.

If there’s another in the room that takes the same as him from writing, they’re not doing it. Inspiration or maybe infection is the word. I’ve come here to feast off him, writing in the back row. From here I know I won’t sleep until something is finished for one of the comp deadlines.

Knausgaard tells of the abdication of yourself when writing, that it should be more like a process of reading where you assume another state of mind, the same as painting, music and football, you can’t be too present. 

This, though, is an author so deeply rooted in biographical writing that he can’t move, can’t smoke outside after without eyes thinking they know him and his Struggle. These things are fact now, they exist now they’re on the page like they’re not his anymore but something tangible to be dissected. I wonder if his memories have been rewritten even for him and then twice over when translated to English to be reads out loud like something that sort of happened to him and his family once, here in front of strangers.

On what he wanted to achieve, what the book Autumn is for, was to acknowledge that it’s there, the beauty of the world, but that with the struggles of every day life you see only glimpses of it. He said everything he writes is ten metres in front of him, all around him. He wanted to lift that up to keep it for himself and for his daughter. Nothing is insignificant no matter how small it seems. 

Shame, he says, doesn’t exist until you give it away. The shame is in you but it’s something else. It’s when you hand it over it becomes shame. 

The end of the Struggle series marked being done with that way of writing, and the beginning of a different kind of introspection.

When the hoarse lad somewhere in the middle asks inevitably for advice for aspiring writers. Kar Love says to write, to keep writing, to keep failing, doing it and doing it and something will come of it. Anyone can write a poem, a story, but getting into the place where you are comfortable in it is difficult. 

I left him to his cig when the Q and A was done, for there are deadlines looming and Kar Love wouldn’t have done his job if I hadn’t been inspired to get home to leave.

Keep reading, keep writing, even when a master is talking . It’s okay, people will think you’re texting or on Facebook.