Autumn focuses on early middle age, and renders it as it is often experienced: shorn of the novelistic glamour of incident and even of character ... The arrangement of these chapters into months, September, October and November, might give Autumn a schematic, not to say mercenary aspect: For each weekday of the season, the writer will produce 1,000 words on some household preoccupation. But Knausgaard’s sensibility is so acute, almost anything can become a bridge toward the memorable perception or the deep if embarrassing truth ... Stringing together so many of these transformations creates certain risks for the larger book. As with haiku, or knock-knock jokes, repetition of a constrained form will expose the frailties of any single instance, and Knausgaard isn’t always revelatory ... Knausgaard’s abandonment of literary conceit is itself a literary conceit, albeit one of a higher order. A given sentence may or may not shine, but in its riverine accumulations, My Struggle is as purposefully shaped, as beautifully patterned and, yes, as artfully compressed as any novel in recent memory. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of Autumn ... the modest ambitions of Autumn — 'to show you our world as it is now: the door, the floor, the water tap' — add up to a phenomenological rescue mission, one the writer undertakes on behalf of his daughter, but also of himself and his reader. Day by day, radiantly, the mission succeeds.
Where My Struggle was blunt and rangy and plagued by scandal Autumn is sweet and slender and very circumspect ... This is the opposite of escapist reading. Knausgaard plunges you into the material world, not just with his choice of subjects — apples, adders, tin cans, faces — but in the telling ... This becomes the central preoccupation of the book: to restore our sense of awe, to render the world again strange and full of magic, from loose teeth to rubber boots to hardened pieces of chewing gum. There are misfires but fewer than you’d expect. Simone Weil wrote that 'attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer' — and so it is here. Loose teeth, chewing gum, it all becomes noble, almost holy, under Knausgaard’s patient, admiring gaze. The world feels repainted ... It’s strange to see Knausgaard play it so safe. The book reeks of good taste and appropriate boundaries (save a few enthusiastic sentences about oral sex). He refuses to stray into the shadows. Whatever portraits we get of his family are Instagram-worthy. I longed for the fearlessness of My Struggle, its unwillingness to tame 'the ugly and unpleasant,' its oceanic sense of life’s dangers and unpredictability. But in Autumn, Knausgaard keeps us on the shore. The shells he gives us to admire are intricate, absorbing and beautiful; this book is full of wonders. But it isn’t, just yet, the whole story.
It’s an impressively cynical hustle, a publishing Ponzi scheme designed to attract interest to a new series in the narrowing interval that the Norwegian’s star is in ascendance. In fairness, something as thin as Autumn requires such machinations ... The author has always been an heir to the Romantics, but here he has dropped the bad-boy Byronic posturing of My Struggle in favor of gaseous Wordsworthian odes. The entries are either maudlin (to see porpoises swim is to feel that 'they are touching you, as if you have thereby been chosen') or jejune (churches, you will be amazed to read, 'represented another level of reality, the divine').