cover image My Struggle, Book Four

My Struggle, Book Four

Karl Ove Knausgaard, trans. from the Norwegian by Donald Bartlett. Archipelago (Random, dist.), $27 (350p) ISBN 978-0-914671-17-6

Part four of Knausgaard%E2%80%99s sprawling autobiographical novel gives a clear picture of narrator Karl Ove%E2%80%99s late teenage years and his transition from the reckless abandon of youth to the responsibilities and demands of adulthood. The book centers on the year he spends teaching children%E2%80%94some not much younger than he is%E2%80%94in a provincial town in northern Norway. Though his primary aim is to earn money to finance his writing career, he learns a bit about the quirks of smalltown living, making a few friends and enemies along the way. A large chunk of the book is devoted to the year or so leading up to Karl Ove%E2%80%99s decision to take the job, as he begrudgingly finishes high school. These sections give readers a clearer understanding of Karl Ove%E2%80%99s life after his parents%E2%80%99 divorce, and of his father%E2%80%99s downward spiral into alcoholism that ultimately led to his death (as described in book one). Meanwhile, Karl Ove drinks heavily, experiments with drugs, and gets into a bit of trouble. But he also matures and develops his own artistic sensibilities. The internal battle between his carnal urges and his ambitions and morals is an ongoing theme. Unapologetically crude, this entry is the funniest and least self-conscious in the series to date; there%E2%80%99s a humorous momentum propelling the narrative as Karl Ove attempts to lose his virginity. Unfortunately, the casual breeziness of the prose can make it hard to keep track of Karl Ove%E2%80%99s countless love interests and acquaintances, as many are only briefly mentioned. The book is strongest when Karl Ove is figuring out who he is as a writer, and when he begins to take his craft seriously, hinting at the success that will come in the author%E2%80%99s own life. (Apr.)