Scott Esposito at The Quarterly Conversation:
Respected, parodied, revered, despised, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle has been with us for just four years. Few in the English-speaking world knew the Norwegian’s name in 2012, but in just four years he has come to seem so omnipresent that NYRB critic, author, and beloved contrarian Tim Parks recently chastised us against “the impression of [Knausgaard's] huge and inevitable success.”
There is some truth there. He has not sold in numbers that would put envy on J.K. Rowling’s face—there is a degree of hype—but with U.S. sales of the first four volumes of the series likely topping 200,000 copies, Knausgaard is certainly far more successful and better-known than all but a handful of authors of the last few years. And now that we have Book 5 the end is in sight; the method behind the entire cycle has at last come into view. It is time to take stock.
At the start few would have predicted Knausgaard’s extraordinary success, but there were signs. James Wood rhapsodized Book 1 in The New Yorker in one of his best reviews of 2012, drawing on a beloved Walter Benjamin essay to examine Knausgaard’s fascination with death. In support of that first book Knausgaard gave well-attended events in New York City, and he received a lengthy profile by The New York Times. Surely if you swing a cat in many metropolitan areas it will collide with a few authors who have attained similar notoriety; still, it was a promising beginning.