Question: What if Rachel Cusk and Karl Ove Knausgaard made a baby?
Answer: A new form of great novel writing would move through the generations.
Two of the most fascinating writers today, in my opinion, are the Canadian-born, British writer Cusk, and the Norwegian Knausgaard. Both are rule breakers with deep insight. They have, some say, reinvented what a novel and what literature can be.
Knausgaard, the author of My Struggle—his six massive volumes of what have been labeled as auto-fiction—turned his life into a novel, a novel full of his intimate perceptions of the truths about his day-to-day life, his troubled father, his growing up, his marriage, his writing life, and even Hitler. There is no plot. The work is simply the story of a life. Like the structure of the great movie, Boyhood, it takes what seems, at times, to be mundane, even unnecessary detail, and turns much of it into fascinating observation and great reading.
And Cusk, specifically her trilogy—Outline, Transit and Kudos—could also be labeled auto-fiction. Although some critics might disagree. Cusk might disagree. The main character is clearly based on the author—a writer, a teacher, a divorced mother. Again, like My Struggle, this trilogy takes you within the details of a life but, in Cusk’s case, it does this through the process of conversations with others. The form is new, but yet old in the sense that it takes us back to the beginning—the first of what we now call the novel—in the 14th or 15th century. Cusk’s is a “telling” trilogy. And in that sense it breaks the rules of modern, contemporary, and popular novels which rely mostly on “showing.” And because of this, Cusk’s trilogy is out of the norm, like Knausgaard’s. And like Knausgaard’s work, it is essentially plotless. There are few, if any, traditional or modern narrative arcs. I would argue that these differences make both works controversial and unlikable to some readers. But for me they are magnificent.
In many ways, these two writers are much the same—twin mavericks, originators, writers who give us a fresh way to experience story, Neither might like this characterization. But it is obvious Cusk and Knausgaard believe at some level that the traditional modern-day novel is obsolete, maybe even useless in the effort to tell real truths, the way a good novel can.
Writing here in the shed, it is impossible not to consider what Cusk and Knausgaard have done. Impossible not to find myself thinking about how their work, their approaches will or have influenced others, including me. When I was reading Knausgaard’s volumes, my wife joked that he had become my writerly mancrush. She might now be wondering if Cusk is my writerly womancrush.
Cusk and Knausgaard are rebels in terms of literary depth and the most interesting and maybe the most influential writers working today. I am not a literary scholar, I am not an expert critic, but what I am is a writer who is continually trying to find his way, continually discovering that writing is a fluid, living thing; I am writer who has found that formula is meant to be abandoned, that approaches to narrative are neither static nor set in stone, and that the writing world needs more writers like Cusk and Knausgaard who say the hell with what has been done before in terms of style or form, and are willing to take the heat for it.
Their baby, if he/she became a writer or an artist or musician, would be just like them, something the world needs more of, a glorious nonconformist. I’m certain of it.
Here are some links to discussions with both authors that you may find worth the watch: