Book of Knut: A Novel by Knut Knudson, Halvor Aakhus, 268 pgs, Jaded Ibis Productions, jadedibisproductions.com, $50.00 (colour), $16.99 (b&w)
Short order cook/hospital orderly/ writer manqué Knut dies in a flood, leaving behind a water-damaged quasi-autobiographical novel for his mathematician girlfriend. Addled by loss and confused by Knut’s parallel involvement with her (also recently- deceased) mother, the (unnamed) girlfriend tapes great chunks of Knut’s book onto graph paper, promiscuously annotating and fact-checking his work with paintings, musical scores, mathematical theorems, all manner of homework problems and a David Foster Wallace-esque profusion of footnotes. The whole forms the lysergic, synesthetic Cornell Box-cum-textbook that is Halvor Aakhus’s Book of Knut.
Approached on its most basic terms as multimedia objet d’art, Knut is a fabulous, cred-imparting coffee table trophy, a flamboyantly amped- up Griffin and Sabine for the Mensa set. But drill down one level, to the “simple” (if über-dense and difficult to summarize) literary consumable, and this thing will intimidate and be fuddle. The lay reader will almost certainly be unable to process the manifold higher-order perorations — trust me, examples would just make your brain explode — let alone determine whether it all coheres into some form of useful commentary on the larger proceedings, or is instead just a showoff-y Aakhus brain-dump.
Most readers, I suspect, will quickly find themselves distilling the book’s content even further, stripping away the jazzy, ADHD-ish accoutrements to track that part of the book that offers at least a gentle nod in the direction of traditional narrative linearity. This central story — essentially Knut’s novel, set against the girlfriend’s more earthbound, reality-checking counter-narrative — lays out a poisonous academic satire interwoven with a gut-roiling drama of family dysfunction. Though his characters, all theoreticians of some description, can seem a little like theorems themselves, Aakhus writes like a mad, driven angel, and emotional engagement is never entirely forsaken. The grand effect (says the reviewer, uncertainly) is a treatise on the mathematical/ ontological commonalities that link all things, and the ways that this reductive commonality ultimately does nothing to prepare us for the inevitability of loss. Complex, moving, scary, Knut is as a potent an argument both for and against creative excess as you will ever need. (Paul Duder)