Novelists worship him. Critics fall over themselves to explain his genius. His celebrity fans say his books are like drugs. ‘I just read 200 pages and I need the next volume like crack. It’s completely blown my mind,’ Zadie Smith tweeted. What they’re all raving about is Karl Ove Knausgaard’s bestselling series of six autobiographical novels, My Struggle. The books recount in microscopic detail every aspect of Knausgaard’s own life: his bullying alcoholic father, his marriages, the raising of his children. As James Wood, the literary critic at the New Yorker, has said: ‘Many writers strive to give you the illusion of reality. Knausgaard seems to want to give his readers the reality of reality. And he achieves this. You read Knausgaard as if in real time.’ What is it that makes Knausgaard’s highly confessional books so addictive? What does it say about our voyeuristic urges that the minutiae of his life are so gripping?
In October 2015, Karl Ove Knausgaard came to the Intelligence Squared stage for an exclusive UK appearance to discuss how — by a remarkable process of literary alchemy — he has made the mundane episodes of his own life both utterly compelling and of universal significance for so many readers.