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Writing the Beautiful Game – Book Review

It can be difficult to write a book about a singular event that feels universal, but Karl Ove Knausgaard and Fredrik Ekelund’s book Home and Away – Writing the Beautiful Game (translated from Norwegian in 2016) achieves impressive breadth while being at least nominally an account of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

In a series of letters between the two Scandinavian authors, they reflect on the matches throughout the tournament, while veering into discussions on topics as wide ranging as art, politics, class and literature. 

Home and Away – Writing the Beautiful Game – Book Review

writing the beautiful game book coverBy Greg McKay – 

Exploring these subjects, Home and Away is unlike any other book on football I have read. A hallmark of some of Knausgaard’s best work, the authors manage to take the sport of football and turn it over time and again as if they are looking at it from a variety of different angles. In doing so, they reveal not only how they view the sport and what that says about the authors themselves but how the sport reflects wider cultural elements.

As with any great football writing, the book is grounded in the authors’ shared passion for the sport. Knausgaard writes, “Tomorrow the World Cup starts. I am happy. I remember all the world championships from 1978, what I was doing, how I was living, who I was and the world in which the contests existed.” One wonders how many football fans can relate to the centrality of the World Cup in their lives, almost as if they count the years as they pass in fours.

Letter from Knausgaard

The book begins with a letter from Knausgaard, who is watching the World Cup from a small, rural village in Sweden, to his friend Ekelund who has traveled to Brazil to be surrounded by the experience and witness the contest in person. Knausgaard laments the difference in the authors’ characters that has led him to stay in Sweden with his family while Ekelund soaks up the sounds and smells of the competition first hand.

This leads Knausgaard to a discussion of his appreciation for “traditionally cynical teams” and tendency towards life-denying actions, whereas Ekelund is the opposite, appreciating the flair of Brazilian football and tending towards seeking out lived experiences. In other words, the friends have different approaches to the way they have lived their lives that informs their view of football.

Knausgaard and Ekelund

Though Home and Away is at its most engaging when exploring football from a multitude of angles, the book is also an interesting collection of correspondence between two excellent writers. Knausgaard, who became a worldwide sensation with the publication of his six-volume My Struggle, is the brooding author at home describing what he views as a rather mundane domestic existence, while Ekelund recounts adventures in Brazil and eagerly keeps up with his friend’s family life. In this sense, the book is an intimate account between two friends, sprinkled with a healthy dose of good humor.

Other books have attempted to explore football in unique ways but few manage to discuss the sport in as original a manner as Home and Away. As a reader, it leaves you thinking more about the place football has in your life and what your tastes and tendencies may say about you as a person.

In other words, is there some connection between being a fan of the industrious Scott Parker and the fact that your Glaswegian grandmother had a seemingly endless list of chores and constantly reminded you to “waste not, want not”. Or, is your support of social justice issues and appreciation for the success of relative footballing minnows like Bosnia & Herzegovina inextricably linked?

While the average football fan may not have given such questions much time in between the endless matches and YouTube highlights, fortunately Knausgaard and Ekelund have explored such topics at length.

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