Autofiction

On the Line: Notes from a factory by Joseph Ponthus, translated by Stephanie Smee

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June 2021, no. 432

Few books immediately suspend time; few need no warm-up and almost demand to be read, reread, underlined. Stephanie Smee’s rendition of Joseph Ponthus’s multi-award-winning first solo book, On the Line: Notes from a factory, is one such read. It is the autobiographical story of an intellectual with a career in social work in the suburbs of Paris, who, having moved to Brittany for love, can’t find a job in his field and is forced to sell his labour as a casual worker in the local food-processing industry. Here we couldn’t be further from postcard Brittany, whose wild nature, hazy skies, mysterious language, and inhabitants inspired a Romantic generation of poets in search of an exotic fix without the hassle of leaving the Hexagon.

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Boyhood Island by Karl Ove Knausgaard

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October 2014, no. 365

In Boyhood Island, the third volume in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s internationally acclaimed My Struggle cycle, we are taken back to where the series began: an island in southern Norway, seven-year-old Karl Ove and his older brother Yngve live under the tyranny of a cruel and taciturn father in the mid-1970s. Unlike the first volume, A Death in the Family (2012), which stays with young Karl Ove for only a few pages before casting off in many different directions, Boyhood Island follows him from ages seven to thirteen in a rarely broken, linear fashion. It ends neatly on the last day of class for the year, as Karl Ove’s family prepares to leave Tromoya, and he farewells a group of friends.

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Who does this book think it is? Fiction or autobiography, for teenagers or adults? Every book has an idea of its own identity, established by its author, editor, and publisher, and proclaimed through its cover, the style and form of the text, and the accompanying publicity. A Long Way Home seems to suffer from an identity crisis.

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