Knausgaard Vs Zola – Round 2

*I am comparing the lives of the characters in Zola’s ‘Germinal’ with how things go for Karl Ove Kausgaard in the second book of the ‘My Struggle’ series, simply because I am reading them at the same time, no other (sensible) reason.*

Well, it seems Karly boy may have the edge this week, as in the two areas I’ll be covering, I think he comes off worse.

Firstly, neighbours. The Maheu family live next door the Levaque family. Through the walls, they can hear footsteps on the stairs, and the activities of Mrs Lavaque and the lodger, Bouteloup, who works opposite shifts to her husband. It seems when one is down the mine, the other is up *ahem* in her estimations. They find this quite entertaining, it’s not a bad neighbour situation.

Karl, and his then heavily pregnant wife live by a Russian lady, in Stockholm. One night, they are woken by screaming, and then pounding Euro-dance music. It seems there is a phone line set up in the city to report noise, but this kind of super-organisation is too Swedish for the Norwegian Karl, and he just wants to knock on her door and tell her to to stop. This doesn’t go well for him, it is seems his neighbour’s husband has left her and she’s getting very drunk to a booming bass line. His wife ends up going, and the lady immediately apologises for keeping a pregnant lady awake, and turns off the music. For about 20 minutes. They write her a note asking her to keep it down for future evenings, but the neighbour turns nasty, and after that even assembling a cot in the early evening is enough to have the neighbour screaming at them for noise, while she continues to blast them with music.

The second area concerns this guy –


Étienne Lantier in ‘Germinal’ has fallen for Catherine Maheu. She’s being ever so nice to him down the mine, showing him what to do and such, and he’s been thinking about kissing her, as apparently, that was fine in the French workplace in those days and nobody got done for harassment. She is then suddenly kissed by Chaval, who really doesn’t like  Étienne, and so he’s pretty miffed. I haven’t read far enough to know if this being miffed gets much worse or not, but right now, I’d say he’s just in a sulky mood.

Meanwhile, Karl Ove has left his first wife because of those non-specific reasons some people leave marriages for, that it’s not fulfilling him any more, etc, he still loves her but wants more, blah, and now, having left her in Norway he’s staying in Sweden, and he’s seen a girl he once really fancied. They were on a writing course together some years before, and he became smitten with her, but she totally fancied his mate, so Karl got really drunk and smashed a glass then set about methodically scoring deep lines into his face. Well, the next day, he felt a tad silly, and had to deal with people staring at him, and repeatedly had to tell them he was just really drunk, and he’s okay really (no sir, no, you are not okay).  However, once his marriage is over, he meets her again, and they do get together, but after a few kids come along, he’s looking at other women and and being annoyed when she doesn’t tidy up enough. Because kids, at the end of the day, even if someone bewitches you so much you cut you race to ribbons when they fancy your mate (or sing Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ to them at karaoke, get a tattoo, etc), the Hollywood shine will fade, and you will end up bickering while trying to strap a child into a car seat.

Karl Ove Knausgaard

While I do knock Karl, I am in constant awe of his  incredible honesty, and his wife’s patience and tolerance of this public, published honesty.

However, while affairs of the heart are worse for Karl at this point in the books, on a suffering front, the clear winner are the pit ponies in ‘Germinal’. The chapter about bringing them down into the terrifying, deep, dark, to not leave again until blind, worn-out and broken, was just awful. Zola is now on my list of authors who shouldn’t be allowed to write about animals.


Gerard Depardieu as Maheu there on the right, showing the police his cleavage. I need this film.