Karl Ove Knausgaard’s novel The Morning Star lacks sparkle and sparkle
The Morning Star Karl Ove Knausgaard Harvill Secker, â¬ 20.99
Karl Ove Knausgaard’s new novel The morning star has nine narrators and 19 chapters and, unsurprisingly for this prolific author, has over 600 pages.
It is August and we are in the seaside resort of SÃ¸rlandet, in the south of Norway. Meet professor of literature Arne and wife of artist Tove. Their friend Egil, a daytime driver, lives in a cabin nearby. Kathrine, a priest, returns home after a seminary; the journalist Jostein is in town and his wife Turid, an assistant nurse, takes care of the night shift. Above them is a mysterious star.
So far, so good. But then a death metal band is slaughtered, and a corpse comes back to life – or does he do it? All kinds of fantastic things are possible when the star shines with its enigmatic light. But, remember, Knausgaard is the award-winning poet of the bland, and with that comes a quirk of tone. – or rather a sluggishness – to the whole procedure, including a hopeless similarity of drama and dialogue.
Unfortunately, the characters are made of wood – their lobotomized speech, as one critic described the characters in Don DeLillo’s equally speculative Zero K.
In fact, the whole story reads without the nuances of idiomatic English. This is not an affront to experienced translator Martin Aitken. The humorless pinch could also be due to a lack of cultural nuance, but there’s no doubt squeaky linguistic infelicity is everywhere.
While Mamet told writers that in a dramatic literature scene they should arrive late and leave early, Knausgaard invariably arrives early and leaves late.
His maximalism is such that while Hemingway gave us the tip of the iceberg, the Norwegian garland writer gives us what lies beneath, all the enormous weight and slow-motion drift of the socialite; “Hello how are you?” “I’m doing well, and you?” To infinity.
In other words, Knausgaard over-explain everything. There is no irony, no humor, just too serious toil through the mundane thoughts of its characters who always ask themselves the most obvious and uninteresting questions. – which is a very strange juxtaposition to the novel’s more interesting surrealistic elements.
Speaking of surrealism, we talk a lot about God. Turid tells us, âGod was not modern. And the leaflets on Nietzsche in Knausgaard‘s My battle are back. But domestic philosophy does not provide insight, amplify, or enrich our understanding of the human condition. It annoys. “Human consciousness is the greatest mystery there is.”
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Nietzsche is not the only effort to magnify the flat boredom of the interior life of these characters; there is also a passing mention of Rilke, but the prose is not flexible or subtle enough to accommodate the depth of such a European master.
When The morning star shines, it is on this surreal note; the priest meets a man, but officiates at his funeral shortly after. Dates are not calculated. Was he a ghost, or is she imagining something?
The surreal is often revealed at the end of each chapter, and I’ve grown impatient for these tidbits, but not in the mouth-watering way that a very well-written novel can reveal its secrets.
In The morning star the important, suspended and sometimes eerie revelation at the end of each chapter is delayed by the occasional reflections of its characters who wonder what the appearance of this strange star might mean; a UFO, a supernova, a natural phenomenon, a sign? Nobody knows.
Massive detail worked well in Knausgaardthe non-fiction epic of My battle, but here it feels staged and boring.
The last chapter in the form of an essay does not help. The morning star is a bummer.