Dancing In The Dark: My Struggle Volume 4 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I would have loved to buy a hot dog from her,
just to watch her squeezing the ketchup and
mustard from the plastic bottles over the sausage.
Knausgaard fatigue might soon be a diagnosable condition, listed in future editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, if only readers failed to persevere past the first few volumes of My Struggle. I was certainly moved to take some time off between books, to recuperate and steel myself for the next onslaught. But just what it is that so thoroughly drains is something of a mystery, when I most certainly feel full and almost buoyant by book’s end. Is it the weight of confession? Is it the exposure of thoughts I’d had and still have, thoughts I believed were unique to me but were now laid bare for all to read? Some measure of shame? Whatever it is, it makes for a tense time to be around me, that’s for sure. It’s a strange thing to be bursting to talk about it but be too exhausted to explain the context.

Anyhow, volume four sees Karl Ove embark on his abortive teaching career, aged 18, in some far-flung corner of northern Norway. What this comes down to in essence is a typically brash and arrogant young person, not yet an adult, crashing into his own limitations because of insecurity – he’s still a virgin and painfully aware of it – and an over-fondness for getting smashed out of his tree. He’s a pretty despicable knob too. He urinates on a tramp; he nearly gets stabbed by some guys he insults; he trashes a hotel room on a football trip; he litters; and at one point he describes his latent and atavistic impulse for violent rape. Because of his various personal problems, hubris being the least, he runs into several problems at school – awkward and uncommunicative students, what he considers to be an interfering headteacher, and worse of all, sixteen-year-old girls fluttering eyelashes and smiling coquettishly – all of which serve to exacerbate his need for release which he then seeks in alcohol, believing himself to be trapped in a paradox of desire and impotence. Indeed, he manages to devote a large portion of the book to his problems with premature ejaculation. He is, in short, a pretty typical teenager. Except for the excruciatingly honest confessions – I don’t ever recall being quite so brutal with myself.

And yet somehow he still manages to win over the reader. His questionable reliability (I’m sure he’s said elsewhere he barely remembers a thing from his childhood) and fetishistic obsessions should really alienate but they don’t. We might not like what he does but eventually, it’s hard not to like him. Or admire him. Or something. I’m not sure what it is. And frankly, the resolution to his sexual crises is something many readers might find hilarious, but others will certainly not. I don’t know if I’m looking forward to the next volume.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on.