Knausgaard vs. Wood: Novelist to Face Critic in Lit-Fest Drumming Battle


We know many things about Karl Ove, the “character” featured in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s time-friending auto-epic novel My Struggle. We know, for instance, what his feces looked like as a child. We know, too, the texture of the cornflakes he once ate for breakfast. But we do not yet know that Knausgaard played the drums in a college band called Lemen (“Lemming”). And we also do not know that this band’s previous name was Kafkatrakterne (“Kafka-maker,” like “coffee maker”). The reason we do not know these things: the fifth volume of My Struggle has not been translated.

On the other hand, we do know that James Wood — our resident critic-in-exile — is an impressive drummer. Just watch:

And now we know another thing: James Wood and Karl Ove Knausgaard will appear next week in New York City, at the Norwegian-American Literary Festival, where they will participate in a Battle of the Bands — twice. The musical performances will take place alongside a series of conversations and readings, all of which sound fascinating.

Of course, the two writers aren’t billing this as a battle, but the truth is as thinly disguised as a Edward St. Aubyn roman à clef. To up the ante, Wood will add Knut Schreiner, lead guitarist of Turbonegro, to his five-piece (named “The Fun Stuff,” after his book). And Knausgaard’s Lemen includes lead vocalist and acclaimed author Tore Renberg.

What do these bands sound like? Who is the better drummer? You will have to attend to find out. In the meantime, here is a list of choice events from the festival:

Wednesday, May 20th, 7pm, The Westway — Lydia Davis, James Wood, and Dag Solstad (“the old man of Norwegian letters”) will be in conversation. (Davis is reportedly a big fan of Solstad.)

Wednesday, May 20th, 9pm, The Westway — Karl Ove Knausgaard will perform with his band, Lemen.

Wednesday, May 20th, 10pm, The Westway — James Wood will perform with his band The Fun Stuff, featuring Turbonegro’s Knut Schreiner.

Thursday, May 21st, 7pm, 192 Books — James Wood in conversation with four young Norwegian writers — Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold, Carl Frode Tiller, Gunnhild Øyehaug, and Lars Petter Sveen — two of whom, according to Wood, will be published in the US next year. The authors will read from their work in English.

Friday, 22nd, 6:30pm, Sunny’s — James Wood in conversation with Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Friday, 22nd, 8pm, Sunny’s — Karl Ove Knausgaard will perform with his band, Lemen.

Friday, 22nd, 9pm, Sunny’s — James Wood will perform with his band The Fun Stuff, featuring Turbonegro’s Knut Schreiner. (Note: The New Yorker ed. David Remnick may also be performing, but this is unconfirmed.)

All events are free on a first-come, first-served basis. (A $10 donation is encouraged at Sunny’s.) And according to Wood: “The music is going to be pretty good, I think.”