When I met Karl Ove Knausgård

All he wanted was a smoke.

All he wanted was a smoke.

I was a little obsessed with Karl Ove Knausgård last year. The Norwegian writer, now living in Sweden, has been described as the 21st century’s Proust for his 3,600-page, six-book autobiographical work ‘My Struggle’ (Min Kamp). ‘My Struggle’ is a work of brutal, harrowing honesty about a normal, irritable man’s life.

Knausgård has admitted that he sometimes feels that he has made a “Faustian bargain”, achieving huge success by sacrificing his relationships with friends and family. He has also admitted that his life after ‘My Struggle’ has often been hell (there’s a Youtube clip of him in tears describing it).

A frustrated writer doubting his ability to ever break through with the only thing he ever wanted to do, Knausgård decided as a last resort that he would write the story of his life. “Either I do this, or I might as well die.”

The first three books are published in English, but when I came to the end of the third I felt I had no choice but to read the rest in Swedish rather than wait for the English translations.

Anyway, I had to go to Trondheim with work in the Autumn. I had volume 4 packed, and was almost finished it by the time I landed in Trondheim after two flights. At arrivals, the first person I set eyes on was….Karl Ove Knausgård.

I couldn’t believe it. But he’s a distinctive-looking guy, and with his denim jacket, long, slightly unkempt silver hair, lined, downbeat face with an unlit cigarette between his lips, it was certainly him. He was stood with an all-male entourage by the exit. Already holding his book, I hastily took a pen from my bag, and dialled Hedda’s number for a ‘you’ll never guess who I’m with’ call. Just as I made the call, Knausgård and his crew made for the exit. I hung up and walked up behind him.

“Excuse me, Karl Ove,” I said. He turned round. Gormlessly, silently, I held up my book. He gave a hint of a smile, trying to disguise the fact he couldn’t be arsed. I was suddenly conscious of the fact I was wearing a tie. I was definitely a wanker to him. One of his entourage made a sound like the first syllable of a stifled laugh. “What’s your name?” he asked, taking the book from me, seemingly uninterested in why an English-speaker had a Swedish copy of his book. “Calum. C-A-L-U-M.” “Like that?” “Perfect.” He wrote: ‘To Calum, with all my best!’ and signed below, before writing the place and date in the top right corner. Stretching out the moment (when everything about his body language suggested he wanted to fuck the fuck off), I said: “Nice to meet you, I’m a big fan.” I offered my hand. Unmoved, he took it, before disappearing out the door. What a guy.

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