A fight against the dark
From 2013 to 2017, the narrator was periodically interned in a psychiatric ward where she was subjected to electroconvulsive therapy. As the treatments at this “factory” progressed, the writer’s memories began to disappear. What good is a writer without her memory? This novel, based on the author’s experiences, is an eloquent and profound attempt to hold on to the past, to create a story, to make sense, and to keep alive ties to family, friends, and even oneself. Moments from childhood, youth, marriage, parenting, and divorce flicker across the pages of October Child. This is the story of one woman’s struggle against mental illness and isolation. It is a raw testimony of how writing can preserve and heal.
3 June 2021
1. Are there any forms of agency available to our seemingly powerless narrator? If so, which ones?
2. In what ways are social classes discussed in the book? How does the narrator’s perception of her social class contribute to her own identity?
3. Are the characters in the narrator’s life supportive or dismissive of her adversity?
4. Who is Attila, encountered by the narrator towards the end of the book?
5. What is the narrator’s relationship to physical places – houses, streets, wards, countries?
6. How does the protagonist bring her dreams and the events of her past life to the surface of this narrative? What effect does this have?
7. What does October Child say about the types of responsibilities we have towards others and ourselves? What happens when we fail in these responsibilities?
8. In what ways can writing – and reading – be cathartic?
9. If you have read Linda Boström Knausgård’s other work, do you find any themes or characters that consistently reappear? Why do you believe they are important to her?
10. How does a real-life event transform when it becomes expressed in writing? Does writing things down fictionalize them, or preserve them, or both? What kind of transformation do you believe Linda Boström Knausgård sees in her writing?
Praise for October Child
“Deftly written and stunningly translated by Saskia Vogel, October Child joins the ranks of Knausgård’s other haunting and sensitive portrayals of mental health and family—but is a powerful addition with its examination of memory and the creative mind.”
“October Child is a work of remarkable empathy, leading the reader through an emotional experience that is difficult to articulate and clearly illustrates the author’s command of language and emotion, thanks in part to eloquent translation by Saskia Vogel. Boström Knausgård is indeed brave in her vulnerability and heroic in her ability to convey and crystallize a horribly abstract experience. Her book is an inspiring struggle to reclaim voice and agency.”
Winnipeg Free Press
“Artfully combining fiction and autobiography, the Swedish novelist here gives voice to her own, decidedly grim struggles, which included four years getting electroconvulsive therapy in psychiatric institutions.”
Globe and Mail
“Boström Knausgård’s novel depicts a deeply cruel situation that is impossible to accept as the contemporary reality it is. Writing down the memories of her children, of her marriage, and of growing up, is a method of preservation, but it also becomes a way to share them with readers. With Vogel’s close translation into English, Boström Knausgård’s simultaneously delicate and strong voice is maintained in its new language, as the author shares insights into a locked away world that most of us know little, if anything, about.”
“Swedish novelist Boström Knausgård brilliantly melds memoir and speculative nonfiction in her stirring account of the four years she spent in and out of a psychiatric ward….Part fever-dream, part quest to retrieve her memories, Boström Knausgård’s account expertly plumbs the treacherous crevasses of a creative mind.”
“October Child is stunningly frank and urgently told. Linda Boström Knausgård writes with what appears to be a willingness to expose herself utterly. This makes for a painful and powerful book that asks complicated questions of its readers and acknowledges the impossibility of simple answers. An extraordinary work.”
CHRIS POWER, author of Mothers: Stories
“A deftly written, emotionally candid, insightfully informative, and inherently fascinating account.”
Midwest Book Review
“October Child hits the mark.”
“Boström Knausgård’s writing style is poetic, dreamlike and filled with metaphors while also fragile and vulnerable, much like the human mind. October Child was a bestseller in Sweden and throughout Scandinavia. The English version, expertly translated by Saskia Vogel, deserves the same attention.”
West Words Reviews
“October Child is a bold book, not in its openness but in its aloofness, in its faithfulness to literature and language rather than to reason and science. Against the great story of psychiatry with its simple, ready-made answers, Boström Knausgård insists on the irrationality in humans and on the suffering of each individual.”
“Linda Boström Knausgård’s October Child took my breath away. I can’t recall when I last read a novel that struck me and held me fast in this manner.”
“October Child is a desperate reckoning with psychiatric care. But it is also an ingeniously composed novel with mercilessly beautiful language.”
“As expected, language that is self-assured and lyrical, yet in an unexpectedly acute and polemical tale.”
“Linda Boström Knausgård’s prose moves seamlessly and evocatively between worlds. She writes as if in a dream—it’s both eerie and gripping.”
“Linda Boström Knausgård writes with her usual linguistic momentum, there’s a kind of inviting energy in her voice. She balances her desperation with poetic precision and makes the urgency real for the reader.”
“Linda Boström Knausgård has the rare ability to place herself at the very center of emotions and make the past seem completely present.”
“Linda Boström Knausgård creates images and scenes with a vibrant presence and her language often takes lovely poetic turns.”
“Intense and painful.”
“Linda Boström Knausgård’s language is like water: occasionally it pours, sometimes it solidifies to ice. As a reader, I am frozen in her despair.”
“In a turmoil of the darkest emotions, one marvels at the clarity of the prose. Throughout her internment, the author asks herself a question: Will I be able to write again? Do I have what it takes? The simple and quick answer to that question is, Yes.”
“A bloodcurdling memorial work, as if secretly written from a bedside. It is a difficult read, painful because it is at once so insightful and despairing, so hopeless, and written with a frightening anger that spares no one, least of all the narrator. It is less literary than Boströms Knausgård’s previous work; and perhaps precisely because of this, in its vulnerable non-perfection, it is so overwhelming. One cannot forget it.”