Before I begin this review, I have to make a small confession. I have never read Michel Houellebecq’s books. This is odd, I concede, since Houellebecq is considered a great contemporary author, and one cannot be said to be keeping abreast of contemporary literature without reading his work. His books have been recommended to me ever since 1998, most often “The Elementary Particles,” by one friend in particular, who says the same thing every time I see him. You have to read “The Elementary Particles,” he tells me, it’s awesome, the best book I’ve ever read. Several times I’ve been on the verge of heeding his advice, plucking “The Elementary Particles” from its place on my shelf and considering it for a while, though always returning it unread. The resistance to starting a book by Houellebecq is too great. I’m not entirely sure where it comes from, though I do have a suspicion, because the same thing goes for the films of Lars von Trier: When “Antichrist” came out I couldn’t bring myself to see it, neither in the cinema nor at home on the DVD I eventually bought, which remains in its box unwatched. They’re simply too good. What prevents me from reading Houellebecq and watching von Trier is a kind of envy — not that I begrudge them success, but by reading the books and watching the films I would be reminded of how excellent a work of art can be, and of how far beneath that level my own work is. Such a reminder, which can be crushing, is something I shield myself from by ignoring Houellebecq’s books and von Trier’s films. That may sound strange, and yet it can hardly be unusual. If you’re a carpenter, for instance, and you keep hearing about the amazing work of another carpenter, you’re not necessarily going to seek it out, because what would be the good of having it confirmed that there is a level of excellence to which you may never aspire? Better to close your eyes and carry on with your own work, pretending the master carpenter doesn’t exist.
~ Karl Ove Knausgaard, from his review of Michel Houellebecq’s “Submission”
Since the emergence of the six volumes of My Struggle, which began in 2009 and continues as the books are translated into dozens of languages, Karl Ove Knausgaard, 46, has become one of the 21st century’s greatest literary sensations. […] It was jarring to think that this unassuming guy, driving a scuffed van cluttered with toys, old CDs and a baby seat, is quite probably in line to receive a Nobel Prize in literature for his epic saga of what he describes as “the tormented inner life of one male.”
~ Liesl Schillinger, Why Karl Ove Knausgaard Can’t Stop Writing
Photo: Evening Standard