Bookworm: ‘I’ve never heard of Karl Ove Knaussgaard-free days before, but I’m having one right now’

MAYBE it’s just too early in the year for critical faculties to be completely engaged, maybe it’s because we’re still swimming in a sea of publishers’ hype ... whatever the reason, this is the time of the year when book publicists’ claims really do sound plausible.

Take Harvill Secker, still awash with all that Stieg Larsson money and determined to bring another Scandinavian writer to our attention. They have started by mailing out a proof copy of Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s novel A Death in the Family. On the front, Knausgaard’s saturnine mug stares out next to the words “Meet Europe’s New Literary Star” and on the back a juicy blurb promises: “If Marcel Proust and Jonathan Franzen had collaborated, the result would look like this.”

Knausgaard’s book is, we are told, “a phenomenon that is sweeping through Europe”. La Repubblica said it was “more real than reality”. Best of all, in his native Norway, companies “have taken to declaring Knausgaard-free days because the staff were spending too much time standing around the coffee machine discussing it.”

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I’ve never heard of Knaussgaard-free days before, but I’m having one right now and it’s not bad. Come March, though, they will clearly be impossible, so make the most of them.

DESIGNED FOR LIFE

But if you can‘t wait for Knausgaard, what about Zeisel? Personally, I can’t wait for Eva Zeisel’s book On Design which Duckworth are due to publish in June. Why not? Well, how about the fact that she’s 105? I don’t know how well up you are on Hungarian industrial designers, but as far as they go, Eva Zeisel is the tops. She was born Eva Striker in Budapest in 1906 and was the apprentice to the last pottery master trained in the medieval guild system before she emigrated to work as the main designer in ceramic factories in Weimar Germany. In 1932, she left Berlin to work in Russia for five years. At this point, her life starts to overlap with both politics and literature.

In 1936, she was falsely accused of plotting to assassinate Stalin. The next year, she was released to Vienna, where she told all to her former lover. His name? Arthur Koestler, who remembered her story in 1940 when he wrote his anti-Stalinist masterpiece, Darkness at Noon.