July 23, 2014

The myth about the Norwegian “Knausgaard-free days” is dead; long live the myth about “Knausgaard-free days”


Image via Wikipedia.

Image via Wikipedia.

Some myths take a lot of dismantling: one that’s had a long run recently is that Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle books were so popular on their original publication in Norway, so dominated everyday conversations, that “Knausgaard-free days” were instituted in Norwegian offices in order for people to actually get work done.

Alas for the dream of a nation consumed by literature, this turns out not to be true. Over at Pacific Standard, Casey N. Cep tells the story of how a blogger named Daniel Bloom spotted this claim circulating in the US and UK press on the Knausgaard phenomenon, doubted it, and made it his mission to get to the bottom of it (or as he memorably puts it, “i immediately FELT INSIDE MY RADAR BRAIIN that the claim of K-free days was TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE”). Cep eventually traces it back to a 2012 Random House UK press release, though the publicists involved believed that the information came in fact from his Norwegian publisher, Oktober.

That route seemed promising, but it too eventually dead-ended, drowned in piles of press clippings and, probably, a distinct lack of urgency from the publishers’ point of view:

Archipelago Books, which publishes Knausgaard’s work in the United States, also deferred to Oktober. Kendall Storey, an associate editor and publicist at Archipelago, tried to press Oktober, too, but after two weeks wrote: “They really believe that the article does exist; however, there is just so much Knausgaard related press in Norwegian outlets that it has been a nightmare to track down.”

So was there a remote office, a department — or heck, even a corner store  — that had actually in some way, official or unofficial, attempted to resist the Knausgaard onslaught? Did somebody just make a joke about it one day, a joke that took on a life of its own? Or would the Norwegians admit it was their invention after all, a lie that told a far greater truth than plain unvarnished fact itself? That would be interesting, right? a fictional throwback in response to the books’ anti-fictional, anti-novelistic gauntlet?

Well, no. An anonymous agent at the Aschehoug Agency, which represents Oktober, wrote in to Bloom’s blog yesterday:

“Thank you for your e-mails, Dan Bloom. I read the piece by Casey Cep in the Pacific Standard magazine about your factchecking search for truth about all this titled “How I became a Knausgaard truther” yesterday. It has been shared a lot in Norway. It is good! I first heard about the ”Knausgård free days” from Americans when I was in NYC this spring. I have never heard about it before! Sorry I do not know from where or from whom this story originated. I wish you good luck in your continued search for the truth!” Best wishes, Aschehoug Agency

So, ok, maybe someone in the English-speaking world is responsible for making it up after all, when the marketing sheet had only two bullet points or the press release was full of “ø”s and “å”s. And though this seems to pretty conclusively lay the question to rest, this type of literary myth has vampiric qualities. For instance, I’d never heard about it until yesterday (nor full disclosure, have I read the books), and yet now I’ve spent hours on the internet, mulling over the lower reaches of chat rooms and comment threads, weighing one Norwegian citizen’s word and thumbnail photo and apparent allegiances against another, knowing it makes no sense. But as Bloom himself comments, the story’ll probably be back, just around the time Volume 4 comes out.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.