on Michel Houellebecq’s ‘Submission’

1108-BKS-Knausgaard-LEAD-master675Karl Ove Knausgaard at The New York Times:

“Through all the years of my sad youth Huysmans remained a companion, a faithful friend; never once did I doubt him, never once was I tempted to drop him or take up another subject; then, one afternoon in June 2007, after waiting and putting it off as long as I could, even slightly longer than was allowed, I defended my dissertation, ‘Joris-Karl Huysmans: Out of the Tunnel,’ before the jury of the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne.”

So ran my first Houellebecq sentence, the beginning of the novel “Submission.” What kind of a sentence is it? It is not in any way spectacular, more distinctly literary, certainly not the opening of a blockbuster — and not just because it concerns a man whose youth was dismal and his relationship to what the vast majority of people would consider a highly obscure author of the 19th century, but also because the sentence in itself (at least as I read it in the Norwegian rendering, which I sense perhaps is closer in style to Houellebecq’s original than Lorin Stein’s graceful English translation) is anything but impressive, rather it is strikingly ordinary, sauntering in a way, slightly disharmonious and irregular in rhythm, untidy even, as if the author lacks full mastery of the language or is unused to writing.

What does this mean? It means that from the outset, the novel establishes a human presence, a particular individual, a rather faltering and yet sincere character about whom we already know something: His youth was unhappy and endured by the reading of novels, which became so important to him he felt compelled to study literature, in a sheltered environment in which he wished to remain for as long as possible, the environment in which literature is read and written about.

more here.