Zola vs Knausgaard – Round 1

I am reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘ A Man in Love’ in tandem with Emile Zola’s ‘Germinal’, to see who is suffering the most.

So far in ‘Germinal’, the main character ร‰tienne Lantier is wandering the countryside looking for work. He is homeless, cold and hungry. He is so desperate, that the sight of a forbidding coal mine with its wretched workers, seems like a good plan. He manages to get a job there, helped by Maheu, whose own life aint exactly rosy. His job is dangerous and hard, he has a wife, many children, and an elderly father, all sharing beds and getting up at four in the morning to go down the pit. Maheu is even jealous of his three month old daughter for always having food. And one of his daughters has a hunch back, and he can barely afford to feed everyone. Their bare feet are mottled with cold and coal dust, and getting up in the hungry dark is a living torture.


In the meantime, Karl Ove Kausgaard has made it out of a child’s birthday party alive, and is reminiscing about the day he went to ‘Rhythm Time’ at the library with his toddler daughter. His wife had gone back to work and Karl was being a house husband. Before she returned to work, this was an activity his wife had taken their child to, and so asks him to continue. He is not looking forward to it, and arrives to find he should have booked, as they are full. Delighted, he attempts to make a break for it, but the lady running the show, who also turns out to be a hot babe, says she will make room for him. Karl then has to sit on cushions on the floor, as they take it in turns to introduce themselves via the medium of song. They go around the room, each parent adding their own name, and not only does Karl hate the singing, but they are also made to get up and twirl their babies about in a dance. Karl finds this not just embarrassing, but degrading, and emasculating. The fact he thinks the group leader is hot makes it worse (although he does say as a married man he’d never act on it), as she is seeing him sing and dance. Here, Karl is an idiot. Nothing is more unattractive than a person who deigns themselves to be too cool for whatever activity they are doing. Singing half-heartedly looks stupider than just going for it. The sexy play leader would like him more if he cheered up and joined in, and wasn’t afraid to make a plonker of himself.

Dante and Virgil will be along shortly, to let us know what circle of hell this is.

Dante and Virgil will be along shortly, to let us know what circle of hell this is.

After, Karl goes shopping, and spends a fortune on books to get over ordeal. Here’s I agree with Karl’s actions, as book-buying binges are a great way to heal a scarred spirit, but in general, although he describes his experience with more torment as 19th century French poverty, it’s not as bad as actual 19th century French poverty. And I truly hate any kind of mother/toddler activity, so I had to think about that. And let’s not forget, poor Maheu and his large starving family cannot go book shopping after a tough day down the pit.