Read Dancing in the Dark

Posted on 11th March 2015 by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Read an extract from the fourth part of Karl Ove Knausgaard's outstanding memoirs, Dancing in the Dark.

Slowly my two suitcases glided round on the carousel in the arrivals hall. They were old, from the end of the 1960s, I had found them among mum’s things in the barn when we were about to move house, the day before the removal van came, and I immediately commandeered them, they suited me and my style, the not-quite-contemporary, the not-quite-streamlined, which was what I favoured.

I stubbed the cigarette out in the ashtray stand by the wall, lifted the cases off the carousel and carried them to the forecourt.

It was five minutes to seven.

I lit another cigarette. There was no hurry, there was nothing I had to do, no one I had to meet.

The sky was overcast, but the air was still sharp and clear. There was something alpine about the landscape even though the airport I was standing outside was only a few metres above sea level. The few trees I could see were stunted and misshapen. The mountain peaks on the horizon were white with snow.

Just in front of me an airport bus was quickly filling up with people.

Should I catch it?

The money dad had so reluctantly lent me for the journey would tide me over until I got my first wage in a month’s time. On the other hand, I didn’t know where the youth hostel was, and wandering blindly around an unfamiliar town with two suitcases and a rucksack would not be a good start to my new life.

No, better take a taxi.


Apart from a short walk to a nearby snack bar stand, where I consumed two sausages with mashed potato in a cardboard tray, I stayed in the youth hostel room all evening, lying with the duvet over my back and listening to music on my Walkman while writing letters to Hilde, Eirik and Lars. I started one to Line as well, the girl I had spent all summer with, but set it aside after one page, undressed and switched off the light, for all the difference that made, it was a light summer night, the orange curtain glowed in the room like an eye.

Usually I would fall asleep at once wherever I was, but on this night I lay awake. In only four days’ time I would be starting my first job. In only four days’ time I would be entering a class­room in a small village on the coast of Northern Norway, a place I had never been and knew nothing about, I hadn’t even seen any pictures.


An eighteen-year-old Kristiansander, who had just finished gymnas, who had just moved away from home, with no experi­ence of working other than a few evenings and weekends at a parquet flooring factory, a bit of journalism on a local paper and a month at a psychiatric hospital this summer, I was about to become a form teacher at Håfjord School.

No, I couldn’t sleep.

What would the pupils think of me?

When I went into the classroom for the first lesson and they were sitting there on their chairs in front of me, what would I say to them?

And the other teachers, what on earth would they make of me?

A door was opened in the corridor, releasing the sound of music and voices. Someone walked along quietly singing. There was a shout: ‘Hey, shut the door.’ Afterwards all the noise was enclosed again. I rolled over onto my other side. The strangeness of lying in bed under a light sky must have played a part in my not being able to fall asleep. And once the thought was estab­lished that it was difficult to sleep, it became impossible.

I got up, pulled on my clothes, sat in the chair by the window and began to read. Dead Heat by Erling Gjelsvik.

All the books I liked were basically about the same topic. White Niggers by Ingvar Ambjørnsen, Beatles and Lead by Lars Saabye Christensen, Jack by Alf Lundell, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr., Novel with Cocaine by M. Agayev, Colossus by Finn Alnæs, Lasso round the Moon by Agnar Mykle, The History of Bestiality trilogy by Jens Bjørneboe, Gentlemen by Klas Östergren, Icarus by Axel Jensen, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, Humlehjertene by Ola Bauer and Post Office by Charles Bukowski. Books about young men who struggled to fit into society, who wanted more from life than routines, more from life than a family, in short, young men who hated middle-class values and sought freedom. They travelled, they got drunk, they read and they dreamed about their life’s Great Passion or writing the Great Novel.  Everything they wanted I wanted too. The great longing, which was ever-present in my breast, was dispelled when I read these books, only to return with tenfold strength the moment I put them down. It had been like that all the way through my latter years at school. I hated all authority, was an opponent of the whole bloody streamlined society I had grown up in, with its bourgeois values and materialistic view of humanity. I despised what I had learned at gymnas, even the stuff about literature; all I needed to know, all true knowledge, the only really essential knowledge, was to be found in the books I read and the music I listened to. I wasn’t interested in money or status symbols; I knew that the essential value in life lay elsewhere. I didn’t want to study, had no wish to receive an education at a conventional institution like a university, I wanted to travel down through Europe, sleep on beaches, in cheap hotels, or at the homes of friends I made on the way. Take odd jobs to survive, wash plates at hotels, load or unload boats, pick oranges . . . That spring I had bought a book containing lists of every conceivable, and inconceivable, kind of job you could get in various European countries. But all of this was to culminate in a novel. I would sit writing in a Spanish village, go to Pamplona and run the bulls, continue on down to Greece and sit writing on one of the islands and then, after a year or two, return to Norway with a novel in my rucksack.

That was the plan. That was why I didn’t do my military service when gymnas was over, like so many of my school friends had done, nor did I enrol at university, as the rest had done, instead I went to the employment office in Kristiansand and asked for a list of all the teaching vacancies in Northern Norway. 

‘Hear you’re going to be a teacher, Karl Ove,’ people I met at the end of the summer said. ‘No,’ I answered. ‘I’m going to be a writer. But I have to have something to live off in the meantime. I’ll work up there for a year, put some money aside and then travel down through Europe.’  This was no longer an idea in my head but the reality I was in: tomorrow I would go to the harbour in Tromsø, catch the express boat to Finnsnes and then the bus south to the tiny village of Håfjord, where the school caretaker would be waiting to welcome me.


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