For the UK title:
This fifth volume of Knausgard’s novel closely picks up after the fourth. Here we find young Karl Over in love with a girl who he has spent exactly 20 minutes with. They will both be students in Bergen in the fall when she begins university and he begins a one-year writing course. He’s 19 and fresh off his teaching job in the country. He’s only 19, so the writing course seems to be a big deal and he definitely feels like it’s a big deal even though he doesn’t really know almost anything about writing, other than his preternatural desire to write. We see him show up, and like a lot of 19 college students he’s more concerned about affecting a particular posture than really diving into school. As we the younger versions of Karl Ove, your sympathy with him relies very heavily on how seriously you take him. His feelings are very earnestly felt, but that doesn’t mean the novel presents them in unironic terms. There’s a scene where a girl is trying to deliver some truly devastating news (well for him) and he’s spending this moment trying to distract her from the news so that the hammer doesn’t have to fall by forcing her to wait around while he makes some tea and then reads a poem by the Holocaust survivor Paul Celan. I hope I am not the only person who has laughed out loud at the reading of “Death Fugue” but I felt the scene dripping with absurdity and irony. He often plays straight man to his own irony too. Karl Ove also happens to be a dangerous young man, who will sometimes get blackout drunk and not recall all his actions, and like a lot of 19 year old boys, his actions range from benign to criminal.
At the end of the course, we shift to three years on as he’s trying his hand with literature study, settling in with a serious girlfriend and still trying to write his first novel, while taking some sidejobs in care facilities. This second part is focused more heavily on two things: a developing relationship with who will become Karl Ove’s first wife and the publication of his first novel. Readers of previous novels have already witnessed the end of this marriage, but this explains more in detail not only how they go together but the cracks that develop almost instantly in their relationship. The publication of the novel goes hand in hand with these cracks.
This is the most uncomfortable of the four books so far, because Karl Ove finds himself blacking out drunk a lot and in a few cases having questionable sexual relationships were issues of consent are blurry, and given that his novel involves the sexual exploitation of a girl of 13 by a 20 year old teacher (something that presumably did not happen in Knausgard’s actual life — and we know did not happen in Karl Ove’s life) there’s some grossness over all. This is especially true for me since I have not read that novel (it’s not been translated into English) and so the details of it come from this novel.