Karl Ove Knausgaard on Holding Babies: An Illustration

Illustrations © Nathan Gelgud

In case you spent your summer catching up on all six volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, and your thirst for the prose of the prolific Norwegian isn’t quenched, there’s good news. Just in time for autumn is, well, Autumn, his new book. Even better: it’s the first in a quartet, so there’s more to come.

For those (like me), who only have a rough sense of Knausgaard’s work, having read chunks of My Struggle and other articles and stories that have popped up in magazines, Autumn is something of a surprise. Rather than exhaustive autobiography filled all the minutiae of every narrative event, Autumn is a slim book made up of short reflections on nature, emotion, and parts of the human body.

knausgaard-main-580Framed as a “letter to an unborn daughter,” Knausgaard begins on August 28th, telling his daughter “Now, as I write this, you know nothing about anything, about what awaits you, the kind of world you will be born into.” Then, in the next 200 pages or so, he fills her in. He writes about the smell of gasoline, the “surprisingly multifarious” physiognomy of bottles, and the time a young Knausgaard watched a man—maybe his father—bash the head of a harmless black adder in with rock. “I still wish he hadn’t done it, and I still don’t understand why he did, but he seemed to hate it more than any other thing. I had never seen him like that before, and never saw him like that again.”

The chapters or miniature essays in Autumn are about the length of maybe two subway stops. This isn’t to say they’re brisk—Knausgaard can achieve heaviness in a single sentence—but it’s an earned heaviness, one that comes from sincere observation. When he tells his unborn daughter how good it feels to hold an infant, he carries the absolute joy along with the darkness that’s contained in the act of protection: the “feelings that burst forth in the adult are irresistibly good” but it’s only because we know “how much pain the world will inflict.”