Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Not So Secret Diary of Anders Mole, 181/2

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

A Not So Secret Diary of Anders Mole, 181/2

Article excerpt


DANCING IN THE DARK MY STRUGGLE 4 by Karl Ove Knausgaard, trans Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker, PS17.99) IN 2010 a book-length manifesto by David Shields called Reality Hunger predicted that literature would be at its sharpest when it was most real, when its genres were most blurred and, one might add, its authors, their ex-partners and relatives most embarrassed. Realism, with its good-mannered conventions, was to be replaced by the exciting and dangerous process of incorporating raw life into literature.

It was a prophecy for the coming of Karl Ove Knausgaard, the modern patron saint of self-cannibalising writers. His six-volume confessional autobiography, outrageously titled My Struggle (Min Kamp), is still being translated into English from Norwegian. In Scandinavia it proved such a talking point fuelled by unfolding dramas such as his ex-wife confronting him live on radio that a "Knausgaardfree" day was declared in workplaces.

But My Struggle is not only notorious, it is also great literature, Proustian in its particular, and sometimes relentless, attention to the texture of lived experience. James Wood declared its significance over many pages of The New Yorker, while Zadie Smith said she needed the next instalment "like crack".

Here, finally, is volume 4: a portrait of the author as an 18-year-old virgin, set to a soundtrack of Prince, David Byrne, Sting and, yes, Bruce Springsteen. Karl Ove is in the dark, the almost perpetual dark of wintry northern Norway and sure enough, he's dancing. "It was impossible not to move, impossible, it ignited every part of my body, me, the world's least rhythmic 18-year-old, sitting there squirming like a snake, and I had to have it louder full blast and then, already up on my feet, yes, then I had to dance, at that moment, even if I was alone."

We find Karl Ove working all his spare hours as an (unpaid) music critic, then as a teacher to pupils barely younger than him. …

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