A shrewd eye
Karl Ove, several years before this book's main events are set, admires a writer friend named Arve:
He had a shrewd eye for the world, so it appeared, and like all those who have accumulated experience, by and large what remained was laughter. Laughter was really the only appropriate way to confront human behaviour and emotions.
He thinks that Arve 'knew something I didn't know, he understood something I didn't understand, he could see something I couldn't see.' Arve responded:
"I'm forty years old Karl Ove. You're thirty. That's a big difference. That's what you noticed."
Knausgaard the writer looks back on this exchange, and the literary retreat that followed where Arve captured the audience with his readings, and where the woman who Karl Ove was entranced by was obviously more interested in Arve. Every evening Knausgaard seems to drink with the other writers, and stay up late, and walk through the forest. He longs for Linda.
What sort of madness was this? I thought as I walked. I was married, we were fine, soon we would be buying a flat together. Then I came here and wanted to wreck everything?
I wandered beneath the sun-dappled shade from the trees, surrounded by the warm fragrances of the forest, thinking that I was in the middle of my life. Not life as an age, not halfway along life's path, but in the middle of my existence.
My heart trembled.
Knausgaard is a soi-disant truth-seeker, so he is neither immodest or modest. His reaction at thirty is to tremble, not to laugh, not to wait for his understanding to improve with age. His portrayal of himself at this point is critical, but it is important because it helps us understand a main thread of the book: why he left Bergen and his wife and went, alone, to Stockholm. He does not have a 'shrewd eye for the world,' he has insurmountable existential pain.