Norway is one of the richest and most egalitarian places in the world. Its citizens are well catered for. Hence Karl Ove can bounce from the Writer’s Academy, where he gets a bit of paper, a certificate, saying he’s a writer, to work in a radio station when he’s called up and claims he can’t serve because he’s a conscientious objector, to another course studying Fine Art. That takes him from around aged 19 until he’s 26. By the time this instalment is finished he’s aged 32 and black font on the cover acclaims him as ‘The International Literary Phenomenon’.
There’s an episode of Father Ted when, where Father Ted, after successfully leading a group of Catholic clerics out of a women’s lingerie department where they’ve wandered into and get hopelessly lost, wins an ecclesiastic award. Father Ted concocts a long list of people, who didn’t believe in him and he wants to put them right and get a few things straight. Here we’ve got Karl Ove, A la recherché du temps perdu, telling us a few home truths.
Karl Ove born in 1968 always knew he was going to be a writer, but wasn’t sure if he would make it. But he kept the faith, even when at the age of nineteen and the youngest student in the group at Writer’s Academy, his work was routinely dismantled by the staff and other students. Cliché after cliché after cliché reported his tutor on a piece of work he’d submitted. Karl Ove’s most successful piece of writing was something he plagiarised from another student. See how honest I am he’s saying, I really was a shit writer and a worse human being. After reading his first ‘Struggle’, ‘ A Death in the Family’ and reporting back with much the same conclusion, I might have felt justified. But like Father Ted, Karl Ove proves us all wrong, wins literary award and becomes acclaimed, but he has to keep the faith to be the person he was meant to be.
Ensen, Karl Ove’s friend who lives in a nearby flat in Bergen, is one of the first of his acquaintances to be published. Karl Ove is 26 by this stage, Ensen 22. Karl Ove is gutted. He is better at drinking than writing. He’s better at playing the drums than writing. When he asks Ensen if he thought he’d get published, his friend says yeh, but he thought it would be a book of critical essays, possibly about art. That sounds very much to me like Nae chance, pal, you are incredibly boring and even though you’ve never worked, you should seriously think about getting a day job. That’s not quite true. Karl Ove works summer shifts at a mental handicap hospital and later a mental health hospital. I recognise the scenarios and the narrative of each day being a Struggle. Karl Ove is interesting here because I’ve been in similar institutions and have got a pet theory that they are much the same, wherever you go. Karl Ove offers evidence that I might be right. Karl Ove like most students gets drunk for days on end. Since it’s Norway he meets Bjork in Iceland, which is next door, and is sick outside her apartment. But Karl Ove is one of those nasty bastards when drunk. He flings a shorts glass at his older brother Yngve, which hits him below the eye. That’ll teach Yngve for stealing his girlfriend Ingvild, even though she wasn’t sure of him and they never properly dated. Karl Ove admits he’s a terrible person. He smashes up a phone box. The police in Bergen are brilliant. They send him up the road and tell him to sleep it off. Even when he hooks up with and marries the girl of his dreams, Tonje, at 28 he does something so despicable he can’t bear to admit to his millions of readers. I’m not talking about the bit where he thinks Tonje, likes his brother more than him and leaves his future wife hysterical because he slashes at his face with a cut glass. The hardest cut of all is when he sleep with another woman. Her boyfriend turns nasty and accuses Karl Ove of rape. Tonje at the end of this ‘Struuggle’ admits to Karl Ove that she’s done the dirty and slept with another man. We’re back in Book 1 territory with his father dead and his granny staying in the same house as her son, smelly, alcoholic and slightly loopy. Karl Ove doesn’t know if he can forgive Tonje. Fuck off then. That’s what I say. But nobody ever listens to my bleating. Father Ted got it about write about writing, false modesty being a wholly Protestant failing.