Weekendnotes, September 8-9

On Saturday mornings, Splice rounds up the previous week’s best literary criticism and serves it up to you in a single dish. You didn’t have any plans for the weekend, did you?

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Actually, after last week’s end-of-summer deluge, good criticism has been pretty thin on the ground this week. First up: did you know that Karl Ove Knausgaard has a new book out? Of course you did. It’s The End (trans. Martin Aitken and Don Bartlett), the final volume in his six-part semi-autobiographical saga, My Struggle, and Christian Lorentzen has cast an eye over it for the Times Literary Supplement:

Among his father’s possessions, Karl Ove and his brother found a Nazi pin, and later, when his grandmother died, a Norwegian edition of Mein Kampf. Exploring these “unexplained mysteries” had been part of his plan from the beginning. The result is engaging but this section rarely rises above the level of a highly prolix book review. In his consideration of Hitler’s youth, Knausgaard finds much to identify with, especially in Hitler’s stormy relations with his father and early attempts to become an artist…

More positively, Knausgaard was interviewed by Claire Armitstead for the Guardian podcast and the result is a frank, enthralling re-evaluation of the books he has published over the last decade.

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Meanwhile, one of the more intriguing experimental novels to appear on the small press scene has been reviewed by Matt Brandenburg at Storgy: it’s Marc Nash’s Three Dreams in the Key of G, out now via Dead Ink:

I wish I could give you the exact plot of the book. I know it has to do with three characters: a mother, an older woman whom might be the head of a cult, and DNA. The book weaves between the three of them, the Mother telling us her story through her diary, the old woman, Jean, writing in her blog, and DNA speaking to us with its different genome sequences.

Their stories are told through a rambling stream of conscious. Thoughts jump from one thing to the next, sometimes going off on a tangent before settling on a point they were trying to make pages before. Some of the passages are beautiful, highlighting Nash’s mastery of the English language. It’s just too bad they are hidden amongst a slog of sentences that bog down the beauty.

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And returning to Sheila Heti’s Motherhood, released earlier this year, this week’s Full Stop featured an essay in which Leora Fridman considers the ethical questions raised by the novel in light of the critical responses it has received:

I am not here specifically to defend Heti’s section breaks, jumping points, or digressions, though I may in parts do just that. What I am here to do is consider how the criticism of this book plays right into a larger story Heti is telling: one in which there is simply not a (socially acceptable) space for women to deliberate about whether they want to have children. The languid thinking in Heti’s book flies in the face of this lack of space, and ultimately serves to point it out. By stating that Heti needs an editor, is self-absorbed, even that she should have had a child to make the book more interesting, critics have themselves engaged in the story of the book — the story that space for such balancing-beam thinking is strange, a waste of pages, childish, and narcissistic. With these critiques, reviewers have even further illuminated our normative social understandings around the decision to reproduce — and also, I’d argue, the normative understandings of time that demand we choose one (established) way to be, and stick with it.

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Finally, it has been a while since Jessie Greengrass’ Sight was released in the UK, but the book has just been published in the United States and is the subject of an essay that compares it to Motherhood in the New Yorker:

The novel’s Sebaldian form, its rejection of the conventions of novel writing, suggests that Greengrass is of that camp of contemporary writers, which includes Heti, Karl Ove Knausgård, and Rachel Cusk, among others, for whom traditional realism’s promise of verisimilitude and transparency is just another delusion. So, too, perhaps, is a sense of narrative arc. The narrator’s suffering does not end once her daughter is born: “I was too frightened of the feel of her; and so we began to count again, not down this time but up, back through days and weeks to months, and still that joy I had been promised didn’t come.” In writing as apparently confessional as this (in an interview, Greengrass has acknowledged that, if not strictly a work of autofiction, Sight “comes from a similar place”), one looks for at least a hint of wryness, some evidence that the writer is able to poke a little fun at herself. But Sight is a stubbornly serious and often brooding book. Even awaiting the birth of her second child, the narrator is still asking herself whether she was right to give life to her first — recalling how, during her first pregnancy, she fortified herself against self-doubt with “the commitment to make myself the best mother I could to make up for having made myself one at all.”

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And away you go! See you back here on Monday, when we’ll be reviewing Sight as well…