Has it really only been two years since Karl Ove came into my life? It seems that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t caught up in the drama and minutiae and grandeur that is his 6 book opus, My Struggle. The fourth book, alternately titled Dancing in the Dark is the latest to be translated into English and deals primarily with Karl Ove as an eighteen-year-old man on the cusp of his life as a writer. After gymnas, he has taken a job as a teacher in the far north of Norway, far from everyone and everything he has known. Part of this is by design, as he is intent on becoming a writer and he has envisioned that this isolation will give him the time and solitude to really work on his craft.
Of the four I’ve read thus far, this book was the lightest and quickest read. I was easily drawn into his life again, knowing what I know, but this new perspective of hope and promise was intoxicating. If you have read any of his work or have read anything about it, the term oversharing probably comes to mind. Well, I’ve become accustomed to it and found the voice here rather endearing (as well as maddening and sometimes —eeewwwww!). Still, I think one doesn’t need to read the first three to enjoy this novel on it’s own.
He sets off for the small village where he will be teaching, which takes a plane, ferry and bus to reach:
” I opened a new subdivision in my life. ‘Booze and fornication’, it was called, and it was right next to ‘insight and sincerity’, separated only by a minor garden-fence-like change of personality.”
So begins his school year in the north, a place so different from where he grew up, in southern Norway. The locals and other teachers are open and friendly though; up here folks routinely just drop in on one another with no notice. He likes the work at the school and is really getting somewhere with his writing. As winter comes on, those months of truly endless dark and isolation ( an avalanche has blocked the road and one can only get out of the village by a special ferry that comes twice a day) begin to take their toll. His writing suffers, he drinks more and more and his attempts at getting laid are horrifying embarrassments.
Still, there are lovely passages about how is finding his way as a writer, or depicting the singular life of this village, or even just reading One Thousand and One Nights to one of his classes and observing their faces and demeanors:
“To them it made no difference that a world more different from theirs, from where they sat on the edge of the world in complete darkness and freezing temperatures, could hardly be imagined; the story took place in their minds, where everything was possible, where everything was permitted.”
Those dark times were indeed dark but of course he comes to the end of the school year, to sit in the sun at the fjords edge, drinking a beer with a colleague and the tone has shifted again and you can hear the hint of a smile in his voice, feel his perspective shift and widen. He’s been accepted into a writing program in Bergen that will begin in the fall and will get to reconnect with his older brother Yngve in the meantime. And better yet, at a music festival later that summer, he finally gets laid.