Some Rain Must Fall by Karl Ove Knausgaard review – the crucible of his struggle

The fifth and penultimate volume in the Norwegian author’s My Struggle cycle feels like epicentre of a thoroughly absorbing series

A section divider, roughly a third of the way through Some Rain Must Fall, the penultimate volume in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle cycle, is a reminder, if one were needed, that this is not quite a stand-alone novel. The break is a distraction even for the committed reader: it takes a Knausgaardian feat of memory to remember that the first volume was also cleaved in two. Yet despite its jarring inclusion, the part break proves a reminder of Knausgaard’s sheer ambition and his committed attention to the moments and memories that define a life.

Arriving in Bergen as a 19-year-old creative writing student, Karl Ove gets drunk, writes badly, plays drums badly and falls in love, leaving 14 years later as a writer of repute. Early on, we get a typical Knausgaard irony – he claims “surprisingly little” memory of the time – followed by 600 pages of his now familiar micro-minutiae focus. Before the section break, the prose feels like an extension of the straight, time- and space-limited narratives of volumes three and four, but afterwards Knausgaard alters his scope and range. Shifts in the way time is handled, skipped over, truncated or expanded suggest a difference in Knausgaard, a greater urgency to understand the events and emotions that define him.

As such, Some Rain Must Fall feels like the crucible of Knausgaard’s struggle: the raining landscape on which his wrestling with identity, art, family, sex and self-knowledge is pitched. It’s here that Knausgaard relates the slow slide of his father into full-blown suicidal dipsomania, Karl Ove’s fractious relationship with literary success, his intense self-doubt and sometimes staggering arrogance.

Several scenes – visiting his now-fat and untidy father, temping at a facility for the mentally ill, his father’s funeral, a breakdown in a bar lavatory – are some of the finest and most challenging of the work thus far, ones that echo Knausgaard’s past and intimate his future, while the last 200 pages or so manage an almost thrillerish pace. Though it can sometimes feel wearying and solipsistic, Some Rain Must Fall nonetheless coalesces into a vital and quite brilliant totality: a portrait of the artist who is not yet quite an artist; a portrait of a man not quite yet a man.

For that, much credit must be attributed to Don Bartlett’s idiosyncratic and compulsively readable translation; his word choices remain a vital element in Knausgaard’s astonishing, brutal and consistently absorbing project.

Some Rain Must Fall is published by Vintage (£8.99). Click here to order a copy for £7.37


Stuart Evers

The GuardianTramp

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