“Everyone Wants a Piece of Karl Ove Knausgaard”

By James Yeh, originally published in VICE Magazine (2015)

Photo by Abazar Khayami

Karl Ove Knausgaard was smoking in the alleyway. It was a bright May afternoon in New York, and the Norwegian author was wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses and dressed in a tan blazer and blue jeans—a kind of summer literary casual. Knausgaard was back in the US, making the publicity rounds for the fourth and newest English installment of My Struggle, his six-volume autobiographical novel turned international sensation (an excerpt from which was published on Our meeting had been slotted between an interview he'd just finished with Leonard Lopate, on NPR, and another he'd be giving for VICE Meets—which would be followed three hours later by a conversation with the writer Rivka Galchen in front of more than 800 fans at the 92nd Street Y. It's like this every time he comes to New York.

We were taking a break from a fancy lunch—smoked trout and mussels—at a fancy restaurant on the Lower East Side, a meal that the uncommonly polite and gracious Knausgaard thanked me for three times over the course of his visit. It was a warm gesture, and a useful one, something to minimize the awkwardness. After all, without this lunch, what would we actually have in common? Despite all I'd read—roughly 1,000 pages of his deeply personal writing, which is, I'm ashamed to admit, only roughly half of his output available so far in English—the two of us were strangers. And yet, like his other readers, I was privy to so many uncomfortable details about his most intimate moments (or what we believe to be details about his most intimate moments—the books are, after all, described as fiction): how he sliced up his own face drunkenly one night after being spurned by Linda, the Swedish poet who would later become his wife (Book Two); how he had been unable to stop crying after his father died (Book One); how at 18 he had still never once masturbated—"never beat off"—a fact that led to frequent "heavy nocturnal emissions," his underpants "soaked with semen" (Book Four).

Continued in VICE Magazine.