Nicholas Lezard

A bad taste in the mouth

In letters addressed to his unborn daughter, he ruminates on wasps, beds, thermos flasks, Flaubert, the sun and much else

Here is the opening sentence of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s meditation on beds.:

With its four legs and its flat, soft surface, the bed gently accommodates one of our most basic needs: it is good to lie down in bed, and it is good to sleep in them through the night.

Well, you learn something every day.

Actually you do, if you are very young, or at least you are meant to. For this is one of Knausgaard’s letters to his unborn daughter, and he’s written one book for each season, 20 letters per month, for her to be able to see the world, or for Knausgaard to see it again, anew. It is a mission freighted with honourable intent.

He writes on subjects that are dear to an infant’s heart: beds (as we have seen), but also daguerreotypes, Flaubert, thermos flasks, August Sander (you may well ask. German photographer, very good, not well known over here). Also: wasps, labia, lice, teeth, and the sun. Among others. You get the idea. Anything he fancies, really.

For some people it is difficult to find the right tone when speaking to children. On the one hand, they resent being talked down to. On the other, you have to make allowances for their smaller frame of reference. Knausgaard, it has to be said, manages, for the adult reader at least, to get things exactly wrong, quite a lot of the time. (The adult reader is the one he needs to worry about because children, even the ones who have made it out of the womb, do not have £16.99, or the Norwegian equivalent, to spend on books like this and, besides, have other claims on their attention.)

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