In The Land Of The Cyclops : Karl Ove Knausgaard. Translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken with additional translation by Ingvild Burkey and Damon Searls.

Knuasgaard's plodding essays read more like lectures than like criticism. They're more oil than vinegar.

In his fiction, Knausgaard's crucial gift is for sweeping low over the humble details of life and imbuing them with more meaning than one thought possible. Ideas do percolate through his novels, but they bubble up organically; they're spray, not wave.

When the pundit in him does fully reveal itself, as it does in the final book of ''My Struggle,'' in which he wrestles epically with the legacies of Hitler's ''Mein Kampf,'' his wheels start to lose traction. 

One senses in that final book, as one does in these essays, that Knausgaard has [as the R.E.M. song puts it] said too much but hasn't said enough. 

A few essays are more personal. In one, written in diary form, he admits to a great deal of self-loathing and a certain innate coldness. ''Intimacy,'' he writes, ''I can't stand it.''

He writes about his more reserved parenting style as compared with his wife's, ''Closeness has a price, distance has a price, so which do you choose?''

This book's title essay, which first appeared in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter in 2015, throws the most sparks. It was composed after Knausgaard was referred to, by at least one critic, as a literary pedophile, and -

And was compared by another to the mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik, after it was noticed that his first novel is about a 26-year-old male schoolteacher-

Randy Newman's catalog includes a remarkable song, heard to best effect on his 2011 album ''Live in London,'' called ''I'm Dead [But I Don't It].'' It's about being an artist's best work and is thought to be in the rearview mirror.

Knausgaard pushes back against those who believe fiction should portray only noble action and sentiment : the professional takers of offense, the mismanagers of ambiguity. No discerning adult, he implies, genuinely believes he is advocating pedophilia.

''What happens to a society,'' he asks, ''when it stops addressing what it knows exist and yet refuses to acknowledge?''

He suggests that too many liberal newspapers are now ''hostile to literature, because morality there reigns above literature, and ideology above morality.'' He adds : ''You never see a writer risk anything in public.''

He's right to notice that we're living in an era when fiction, because it's refuge for unpoliced thought and feeling of every stripe, matters more than ever.

Elsewhere in this collection, you get the sense of a writer laboriously working out things that have been better worked out by others.

The World Students Society thanks Review author Dwight Garner.


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