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28.3.14

À mon chevet: 'My Struggle'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
I turned and crossed the square, aware that behind me she was walking in the opposite direction, back to the party. A crowd of people had gathered around the front door beneath the trees. Arve wasn't there, so I went back, found him, told him what Linda had said to me, that she was interested in him, now they could be together. But I'm not interested in her, you see, he said. I've got a wonderful girlfriend. Shame for you, though, he said, I said it wasn't a shame for me, and crossed the square again, as though in a tunnel where nothing exited except myself, passed the crowd standing outside the house, through the hallway and into my room where the screen of my computer was lit. I pulled out the plug, switched it off, went into the bathroom, grabbed the glass on the sink and hurled it at the wall with all the strength I could muster. I waited to hear if there was any reaction. Then I took the biggest shard I could find and started cutting my face. I did it methodically, making the cuts as deep as I could, and covered my whole face. The chin, cheeks, forehead, nose, underneath the chin. At regular intervals I wiped away the blood with a towel. Kept cutting. Wiped the blood away. By the time I was satisfied with my handiwork there was hardly room for one more cut, and I went to bed.

Long before I woke I knew something terrible had taken place. My face stung and ached. The second I awoke I remembered what had happened.

I won't survive this, I thought.

I had to go home, meet Tonje at the Quartfestival, we had booked a room six months before, with Yngve and Kari Anne. This was our holiday. She loved me. And now I had done this.

I smacked my fist against the mattress.

And then there were all the people here.

They would see the ignominy.

I couldn't hide it. Everyone would see. I was marked. I had marked myself.

-- Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book Two -- A Man in Love (trans. Don Bartlett), pp. 139-40
The six volumes of Knausgaard's compelling autobiographical novel cannot be translated into English fast enough for me. (Book Three is set for U.S. release on May 27.) This is one of the most disturbing passages in the second book, which occurred when the author was at a writers' conference. His first marriage is about to fall apart, and he has met the woman who will become his second wife, but things go terribly wrong. The clinical self-regard of the narrative voice is staggering, Knausgaard's dissection of his own shame. He recounts what he did and how horrified he was at the thought of others, both strangers and loved ones, seeing him -- as he shares the same events with his entire reading public. It is difficult to read, but impossible to stop.

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