Knausgård and the Autofictional Novel

By Claus Elholm Andersen

Subjects: Literary Criticism, Literary Theory, Twentieth- And Twenty-first-century Studies, European Studies
Hardcover : 9781438495668, 252 pages, December 2023
Paperback : 9781438495651, 252 pages, June 2024
Expected to ship: 2024-06-02

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Table of contents


1. A Commitment to Reality

2. Reforming the Form

3. A Son of Shame

4. Fiction and Trust

5. The Very Edge of Fiction

Afterword After Autofiction

A probing, generative analysis of Knausgård’s My Struggle, with implications for our understanding of the novel form more broadly in the twenty-first century.


Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård’s six-volume, 3600-page autobiographical novel, My Struggle, has been widely hailed for its heroic exploration of selfhood, compulsive readability, and restless experimentation with form and genre. Knausgård and the Autofictional Novel explains why. Across four chapters, Claus Elholm Andersen shows how Knausgård confronts, challenges, and rejects the symbiotic relationship between novels and fiction, particularly via a technique of "auto-fictionalization." The fifth chapter then explores the further breakdown of this relationship in autofiction by Sheila Heti, Rachel Cusk, and Ben Lerner, taking readers to what Lerner called "the very edge of fiction."

Claus Elholm Andersen is Paul and Renate Madsen Assistant Professor of Scandinavian Studies in the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+ at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


"…the book provides an inspiring tour de force through a myriad of discussions surrounding the work both in the media and in academia … Andersen's book is sure to attract many readers and spark new ideas in the extensive research on one of the most interesting authorships in our time." — Life Writing

"Claus Andersen has written the best study available in English of Karl Ove Knausgård’s shifting, slippery, but at the same time deeply earnest literary strategies. In a series of brilliant readings, Andersen probes at the real struggle of My Struggle—how the author holds together the fictive and the real, how he attempts to be both postmodern and unfashionably 'Romantic' at once, how he tells a novelized story yet honors what Andersen rightly calls Knausgård's 'longing for reality.' Using the concepts of 'the fictional pact' and the 'autobiographical pact,' Andersen triumphantly makes the case that Knausgård moves between and unites both these modes of writing, while simultaneously blurring the divisions between them. This is a luminous piece of criticism, one that also expands to consider the larger contemporary autofictional tradition." — James Wood, staff writer and book critic at The New Yorker

"With impeccable scholarship and a fine eye for textual details, Claus Elholm Andersen argues that the question of novelistic form is at the heart of Knausgård's My Struggle, a novel often accused of being formless. His discussion of form in Knausgård's autofiction is fascinating. This book is an important contribution to current debates about the nature and meaning of autofiction." — Toril Moi, author of Revolution of the Ordinary: Literary Studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell

"A valuable contribution to the study of Knausgård, autofiction, and contemporary literature more generally, this book argues that My Struggle indexes a crisis in the nature of fictionality in the twenty-first century. In developing the idea of 'auto-fictionalization,' Andersen complicates conventional understandings of the so-called autobiographical pact and models what a more sophisticated discussion of the relationship between fiction and life should look like. The book shines in its exploration of narrative theory, theories of fictionality, and the publishing contexts that informed Knausgård’s career trajectory." — Lee Konstantinou, author of The Last Samurai Reread