Walker's Bookshelf

Book of the Day: Winter by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Do the seasons have minds of their own? When winter unleashes snow, does it contemplate the transience of its most transformative action? Or are such complexities merely the imposition of the human mind as it observes the landscape’s seasonal changes? In Winter, Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, best known for his multipart autobiographical My Struggle epic, deftly walks the thin line between poetic detail and tedious miscellany as he traces the months of December to February through snowdrifts and the secrets of manholes.

In sixty short essays, Knausgaard frames contemplations on a myriad of phenomena within letters to his unborn daughter. He begins the letter in his preceding volume, Autumn, the first of a seasonal quartet that takes us through her birth and into the early stages of life. Knausgaard uses language itself to rise to the ultimate tasks of parenting: guiding a child to know and understand the world and recognizing the very soul of one’s child as “small, soft, good and faithful.”

The ruminations focus generally on physical concepts, covering a spectrum that includes personal acquaintances, otters, chairs, and ears but extend sometimes to the less tangible: winter sounds, habits, and “the social realm.” While Knausgaard allows the dark and unpleasant a space in his work, his fleeting essays serve primarily as a symphony of thoughtful attention. He tells his daughter, “It’s strange that there is a first time to see a face, a tree, a lamp, pyjamas a shoe. In my life that almost never happens anymore.” But through Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer, Knausagaard imbues his surroundings with the sense that it is possible to live for forty-six years and still view the world through the lens of fascination. To have a father who is so attentive to the intricacies of the world as to find it worthwhile to uncover the quirks and profundities of q-tips, who can approach life as a quiet celebration of noticing : this is the ultimate gift for a newborn child.

If Knausgaard seems at times to place a grating amount of value on his own thoughts, Winter ultimately serves as a recognition of smallness in the face of enormous love, the act of writing the collection perhaps mirrored best by Knausgaard’s fumbling attempt to apologize for upsetting his older daughter by wordlessly making good on a promise to hang a string of paper lanterns in her bedroom that “will hang above her bed like a garland.” Knausgaard’s four books hang like a garland for his newest born, the reverent observations of a man and father who recognizes his own futility but, as we all do, forges ahead through the seasons.

Volumes from Knausgaard’s seasonal quartet can be found among the biographies, now housed in our newly re-opened historic wing.

Written by Nora Curry