My Struggle: Book 4 finds an eighteen-year-old Karl Ove Knausgaard in a tiny fishing village in northern Norway, where he has been hired as a schoolteacher and is living on his own for the first time. When the ferocious winter takes hold, Karl Ove--in the company of the Håfjord locals--confronts private demons, reels from humiliations, and is elated by small victories.
Those of us who have fallen under Knausgaard’s spell and have signed on for the project are now rewarded with Book 4, the fleetest, funniest and, in keeping with its adolescent protagonist, most sophomoric of the volumes translated into English thus far ... There are no chapter breaks to mark these time shifts, in keeping with the novel’s replication of the flow of memory. There is, however, a plot. Book 4 is a quest novel ... His misfires become a comic motif in the novel, though the laughs are never cheap because each instance is suffused with an intensity of feeling and a disarming, highly sympathetic honesty ... Book 4 is also the airiest book in the series. The pages are rarely dense with text. The essayistic passages that elevate the earlier volumes, bold in their old-fashioned European profundity and full of keen, original, brilliantly associative thinking, are nowhere to be found. Everything here is dramatized, scene after scene, compellingly so but without the gravitas of the earlier books and suggestive of a lighter, more carefree period in Knausgaard’s life.
'Karl Ove’s Complaint', the volume might have been called, because of its excruciating detail about premature ejaculation and nocturnal emissions ... Running alongside the author narrative (will his writing come to anything?) is the sex narrative: will he get laid? ... If there is courage in his candour, it is there in the structure of the book, too ... A 240-page flashback! When he is accepted on a writing course in Bergen at the end of this volume, Knausgaard will doubtless be taught that no book should ever be split down the middle like that. But rules are there to be broken, and his veering off course doesn’t ruin the momentum ... The narrator may be intellectually earnest, an aesthete who meditates on the sublime, but he is also a hapless fool, prone to Chaplinesque pratfalls. In exposing himself as a bundle of contradictions, Knausgaard also allows us to see ourselves. And for the most part, however unattractive his teenage self looks in this volume, it works wonderfully well.
This fourth volume, Dancing in the Dark, depicts him as a teenager and is the least flattering self-portrait to date. Although he presents himself as singular, much of what makes him objectionable stems from normal adolescent arrogance and confusion ... The sense you have, as you read, that you are being admitted to his life and mind depends on your taking him at his word. You have to believe in the authenticity of his account, and in that respect his frank exposure of his selfishness, arrogance and other personal defects enhances his credibility.