With a few exceptions, the acclaimed Norwegian novelist’s musings on literature, philosophy and the cosmos too often drift into abstraction
The essay collection is having a moment. Weariness with the 20th-century novel’s puppet-show contrivances – to which Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series was itself a response – has incited new interest in a hitherto marginal genre. Many are having a go at it, fewer are doing it well. Knausgaard’s new collection, which covers literature, contemporary art, photography, nature writing and loose cosmic musings, does not show him to be a first-rate practitioner of the form.
In the Land of the Cyclops heightens the suspicion that Knausgaard fulfilled his authorial project with the completion of his six-part autofictional epic in 2011. Everything since then has had the feel of an addendum or miscellany – not least his 400-page collaborative book of emails about football, Home and Away. The Seasons Quartet, in which glum Knausgaard considered a different concept or object each day (Pain, Buttons, Labia), left the impression that his worldwide acclaim had, as we say in Ireland, given him notions. Indulged as a wide-eyed sanctifier of the commonplace, at times he resembled the laughable writer in Martin Amis’s novel The Information, who, beneficiary of sudden success, takes to gazing performatively at apples and stones, the better to project the childlike wonder befitting a literary sage.