Touch of Evil by Karl Ove Knausgaard
If the novel possesses some degree of inexorable it could be found in the symphonic movement towards philosophy on life and death. Egil – careless father, beneficiary of a small inheritance, friend of Arne and lustful interest of Tove – is the opening of human form through which these larger questions are pushed.
If I’ve ever felt a disorienting discomfort, rather than breaking free from the economics of novels that look like novels, it was here. Egil is offered not only a summer house from his father, but also a lot of real estate from its author. His pontificate can become oppressive, like being buttoned up at a party by his most important guest. I wanted to apologize for going to the bathroom so that I could come back, for example, to Kathrine’s story. (Is or is she not pregnant, and by whom, or what?)
My impatience, however, was actually confusion. Not on the plot, but on the intention. I didn’t know what Knausgaard meant for me to read or treat Egil and his essay, “On Death and the Dead”. By that I mean, I don’t know what Knausgaard thinks about this character, who hits me like a dodge. Is Egil a genius? Or a dilettante windbreaker? Either way, is it meant to be heartbreaking? Was Knausgaard trying to achieve the effect of JM Coetzee’s novel “Elizabeth Costello”, which takes the form of lectures by the eponymous protagonist, whose flaws and deadly clashes are exemplified by her flawed and failing “lessons”? Are we in a meta-territory, where the author critically comments on his own character (his and protagonist), or is the character just his 1: 1 replacement, and all for good?
A similar disorientation haunted me while reading “My Struggle”. In book 2, for example, Knausgaard, while looking after his young daughter, opposes what he sees as a softening of gender identity: a man covered in baby food, pushing a stroller. “I walked the streets of modern, feminized Stockholm,” he writes, “with an angry 19th century man inside of me”. If only, Knausgaard thinks, he had clarified his needs to his partner before she got pregnant. “Look, I want kids, but I don’t want to stay home and take care of them,” he imagines telling her. ” Are you okay with ? “
I never really know if Knausgaard, whose work has occupied so much literary space both literally and figuratively, is knowingly ironicating himself, his sulking masculinity and his bourgeois / high-art household chores. Reading it, I sometimes have the impression of being made aware – and supposed to sympathize with, or find scorchingly candid and therefore daring and original – the internal reproaches of the “genius” male artists that a few women of my own. professionally married, and which these women now care for as if they were also their children.
With Egil too, I can’t say what level of irony is involved in his portrayal. Which could have been the effect Knausgaard wanted. As with Kathrine, maybe or maybe not conceive, none of the mysteries of “The Morning Star” are supposed to be unraveled. And I might not really care that they are, at least as far as how the novel might convey the unique way this should feel, in order to earn, by its own estimation, the category distinction. I cared mostly because knowing the answer, one way or another, could expose one of the few dark recesses remaining inside Knausgaard’s well-lit brain. Sometimes you can reveal more about writers when they aren’t openly exposing themselves.
Heidi Julavits is the author, most recently, of “The Folded Clock”.
THE MORNING STAR
By Karl Ove Knausgaard
Translated by Martin Aitken
666 pp. Penguin Press. $ 30.