Early in Boyhood Island, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s mother gets lost and rues her sense of direction while praising her young son: ‘My memory’s not as good as yours, you know.’ However, in the book’s opening pages, Knausgaard informs the reader that his memory of his first six years is ‘virtually non-existent’. Boyhood Island, the third instalment in Knausgaard’s critically acclaimed Min Kamp (‘My Struggle’) cycle, covers the first 13 years of his life. His caveat about the reliability of his recollecting seems superfluous – who can accurately recall their first six years? If anything, Knausgaard’s proviso is there to strengthen his claim that these books are not memoirs but novels (though ‘fictionalised autobiographies’ could be closer to the mark). The young Karl Ove is indeed equipped with a good memory, but what counts is the way Knausgaard the writer has rebuilt his formative years with abundant and compelling creative licence.
Knausgaard’s childhood, a ‘ghetto-like state of incompleteness’, plays out on an island in southern Norway during the 1970s and early 1980s. His father, a teacher, is a tyrant to him and his older brother, Yngve. His loving, scatterbrained mother – ‘a counterbalance to the darkness’ – works at a psychiatric