Knausgaard Vs Zola – Round 3
Germinal has started making my comparison complicated, as now we are no longer just with miners, with lungs full of coal dust, hump-backed children and pit ponies, we are also popping in on the Grégoires, who own the mine in question. They get up when they want (except on Wednesdays when they are rudely awakened by the dustman- sorry, couldn’t resist) and dip freshly-baked brioche into bowls of steaming chocolate, leaving them with greasy lips. Mr and Mrs Grégoires spoil their only daughter, who has very little structure in her life, or education, and she throws a book out the second it gets difficult.
La Maheude has gone to see them to ask for some money, the family have nothing, and the grocer has refused her credit. They give her some clothes and the left-over brioche, but refuse to give her any cash, so she goes back to the grocer and begs. He gives finally her some credit, but on the proviso she sends her eldest daughter to pick up the food, as the grocer is a horrible old letch.
So, it’s difficult to compare Karl’s life with this, as he has food and isn’t traipsing over freezing mud with kiddies in tow to bed enough money to be able to eat. However, he’s also not lazing about on coal profits, his existence sustained by the blood and early death of his workers.
Karl is feeling a bit hard done by, and I don’t blame him. The Knausgaards have an agreement that Karl will stay home with the baby, while his wife finishes a course. On this day in question, he has been running about after the little one all day, then his wife comes home from college, and he hands the baby to her. He then gets on with cleansing the whole flat and starts cooking, as people are coming to dinner. His wife then says she wants a break, and asks him to take the baby back, but she doesn’t appear to include cooking dinner as part of her break, so Karl is then juggling child and food.
Karl has learned that for many parents, a break in childcare or work just means an opportunity to clean. And his wife feels the child should be engaged with all the time, and not left to amuse herself. I do feel a bit sorry for him, but honestly, you’re not a bad parent if you give them an hour of brightly coloured children’s TV so you can get things done. This goes double if you are a single parent or your partner works away. When I had a toddler at home I only got to shower each morning as that was when she was hypnotised by ‘Bear in the Big Blue House’. Without Bear, I’d have probably smelled like one.
And kids learn an awful lot when left to their own devices, like how to open a bottle of blue food colouring, and dye themselves and the carpet a fetching, non-toxic colour. And how to accidentally dial 999 when attempting to phone Santa (and it’s a good job I came in when I did, or I’d have been apologising to more than just the operator.)
So now as we have new elements in this competition, I’m changing the premise from a boxing match to a swimming gala of misery. The La Maheude clearly wins, her family are hungry and ill. Karl comes second, as he’s discovering how millions of women have felt for thousands of years, and the Grégoires are coasting in at the end, on a lilo, with a cocktail. Boo the them. Boooo!