Sunday, April 19, 2015


Awaiting the advance copy of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Dancing in the Dark, the 4th volume in his autobiographic novel My Struggle, I wondered, “Can he do it again?” The first three volumes deal individually with the death of Knausgaard’s father, his own second marriage, raising three children and struggle to mesh familial responsibilities with his writing passion, and lastly childhood in rural Norway. They have been greeted with international acclaim, termed addictive, selling ½ million copies in Norway alone and translated into 22 languages.

Dancing in the Dark is a story of adolescence. It focuses on a year as a temporary teacher in northern Norway, when Knausgaard was eighteen and fresh out of the gymnasium, taking his tentative first steps as a writer. To make the life of a teenager enthralling to others is a tall order indeed. And yet he does it – brilliantly and seemingly effortlessly.

The volume will no doubt draw comparisons to Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Karl Ove is the quintessential, angry and introspective teenager, self-consciously flouting society’s norms and standards, propelled by his hormones, lacking in self-understanding despite perpetual self-absorption. He details the primary preoccupations of existence, losing his virginity and changing his consciousness with alcohol. Obsessed with female attraction, each passing glance gives him a stiffy, but at every intimate moment, and there are many as Knausgaard is a handsome lad and the girls are willing, he is betrayed by the classic specter of male desire – premature ejaculation! So twisted does his sexuality become, that he rejects those for whom he feels most strongly. At the same time we witness his parent’s divorce and his father descent into alcoholism. The author’s own drunken blackouts take on a darker reverberation. Above all, Karl Ove is alive and perhaps learning too. Many will find it uproarious; every male will be touched by its authenticity.

Knausgaard has smashed through the boundaries of the autobiographic novel. He simultaneously answers David Copperfield’s question, “Whether I should turn out to be the hero of my own life…” with Flaubert’s novelistic injunction, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” His style is unique. The present is continually unfolding, approaching stream of consciousness, with obvious access to the author’s internal experience, but with detachment. Knausgaard remains an outsider, an observer especially of himself.

I wouldn’t recommend starting Knausgaard with Dancing in the Dark. These tales of a randy teenager, while a faithful depiction of Norway in the 80s with an ending worthy of Tom Jones, have greater resonance when placed beside other events in a life scrutinized and turned into art. I can’t wait for the next installment!

- Brian

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