The Morning Star: A Novel

by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Other authorsMartin Aitken (Translator)
Hardcover, 2021

Status

Available

Publication

Penguin Press (2021), 688 pages

Description

"A major new work from the author of the renowned My Struggle series, MORNING STAR is an astonishing, ambitious, and rich novel about what we don't understand, and our attempts to make sense of our world nonetheless Last night a new star appeared in the sky. The Morning Star. I know what it means. It means that it has begun. One long night in August, Arne and Tove are staying with their children in their summer house in southern Norway. Their friend Egil has his own place nearby. Kathrine, a priest, is flying home from a Bible seminar, questioning her marriage. Journalist Jostein is out drinking for the night, while his wife, Turid, a nurse at a psychiatric care unit, is on a nightshift when one of her patients escapes. Above them all, a huge star suddenly appears blazing in the sky. It brings with it a mysterious sense of foreboding. Strange things start to happen as nine lives come together under the star. Hundreds of crabs amass on the road as Arne drives at night; Jostein receives a call about a death metal band found brutally murdered in a Satanic ritual; Kathrine conducts a funeral service for a man she met at the airport - but is he actually dead? The Morning Star is about life in all its mundanity and drama, the strangeness that permeates our world, and the darkness in us all. Karl Ove Knausgaard's astonishing new novel, his first after the My Struggle cycle, goes to the utmost limits of freedom and chaos, to what happens when forces beyond our comprehension are unleashed, and the realms of the living and the dead collide"--… (more)

Media reviews

If you can imagine HP Lovecraft having studied German romanticism, throw in some Emmanuel Carrère-style theological musings, some Jo Nesbø-ish gore, and set it all in the forested backdrop of Norway, then that might give something of the unusual flavour of this unclassifiable book.

User reviews

LibraryThing member AlisonY
Each chapter in this book it told from the perspective of different people whose lives are all intertwined, some more obviously than others, with the common thread being that all see a large new star arrive in the sky out of nowhere. In Isaiah 14 the Morning Star was the name given to the devil
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before his fall from grace, and for the narrators in each chapter it symbolises bad times to come. Some of these are domestic unravellings which had already begun, while others are much darker.

It's an unusual yet familiar book in many ways. It bears much of Knausgaard's familiar stamp present in the My Struggle series - only he can make descriptions of Norwegians stacking their dishwashers something that transfixes me in some weird, rubber-necking way. (And the number of cigarette lit - are Norwegians still a big smoking nation, or is this coloured by Knausgaard's own addiction? It feels quite alien now in the UK, where smoking has become the territory of a small minority). There's a strong Nordic pull in his writing for me - his depiction is of a society / country quite different to my experience of growing up in the UK, where children seem to be allowed much more freedom and independence at a young age, and where marriages and relationships seem generally ultimately doomed. Whether that's a fair representation of Norwegian reality or is just more a representation of Knausgaard I will never know (or perhaps it's just total fiction), but nonetheless it fascinates me and I can't look away.

For the first half of the book I wasn't sure that he needed the morning star as a plot device - I was enjoying the individual stories of characters screwing up in various ways, and introducing that supernatural element felt unnecessary. As the novel progresses, however, he takes the bad omen element into a much darker place in some of the chapters, on occasion blurring the lines between what is reality and what is imagined, and I felt ultimately it worked. Whereas other authors may have taken this magical realism in another direction, Knausgaard uses it to lightly prod concepts such as the occult and the undead, but he doesn't lose his trademark 'reality bites' narrative style by getting overly lost in the idea, and instead it feels intriguing and unsure territory for the reader.

Those who have read Knausgaard previously will know that he can't help himself when it comes to interjecting a generous peppering of philosophy into his books, and in this one his thoughts are relating to death itself and whether it is actually inevitable. This becomes a much wider scientific and philosophical discussion than Christian belief in immortality, and as is often the case I felt like Knausgaard indulged himself in that a little longer than the book warranted. Having said that, although these deep-thinking bursts in many of his books always feel very much self-gratifying, they're also interesting in an unexpected way.

It's a hefty read at 666 pages (see what he did there?), but it never felt a chore to read (although I won't miss its weight in hardback form). If you like your book endings nicely tied up then this is not the book for you as Knausgaard leaves us all over the place with the various stories, but apparently there's a sequel in the works so I for one am delighted.

4 stars - I think for sure this will be a love it or hate it novel for people, but if you're already a paid up member of the Knausgaard fan club I think you'll enjoy it.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
Epigram: "And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and Death shall flee from them."

First line: "The sudden thought that the boys were asleep in their beds inside the house behind me while the darkness descended on the sea was so pleasant and peaceful
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that I wouldn't let go of it at first, but tried instead to sustain it and pin down what was good about it."

Last line: "It means that it has begun."

This novel takes place over two days over which we follow in turn the stories of a dozen or so characters, each generally narrating their sections in the first person. Some of the characters have several sections devoted to them, a couple appear in only one section, and most of the characters have two sections. Some of the characters are related, sometimes only subtly, and appear in each other's sections, but some have apparently nothing to do with any of the other characters. What connects them all, however, is that on the evening of the first day each sees the appearance in the sky of a giant luminous star that has never been there before. Some view it as a natural phenomenon. Others think it is a sign or omen of something. For the reader, however, as we move through these characters' stories, the star is a massive forboding presence, and we sense and dread that something (good or bad, we don't know) is about to happen. And along with the star, all the characters, as they go about their day-to-day lives experience other unusual events. Many of these involve animals--a herd of crabs crossing the road, thousands (maybe millions) of ladybugs landing on a verandah, a fact-to-face soul-searching encounter with a deer. Others have strange human encounters--a mentally ill man previously unable to communicate tells his health aide, "You are doomed." A strange man in McDonald's tells a young woman, "I am the Lord," and his touch on her head electrifies her. A priest looks into the coffin of the deceased (who passed away several days before) whose funeral she was conducting, and sees the man who accosted her at the airport the night before. Several see faces or creatures that don't seen human. And so on, and so on.

Now all of this might ordinarily have annoyed me and made me impatient, and I wouldn't have believed in the world the author was creating. I'm thinking in particular of a book in which the author was attempting to create a sense of dread and forboding by having her characters experience all kinds of unusual, disconcerting, and yes, unreal, events. I hated that book, Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, and yet I loved this one. Why? I don't know if I have a satisfactory answer, but one big difference is that Knausgaard's characters are so real, and they act and react in ways that are inherently consistent. If we have difficulty in understanding some of these weird things that are happening, we can understand these characters. They react in ways we would expect, based on their characters as presented to us. In Leave the World Behind I found the characters to react randomly, without rhyme or reason, in ways that made no sense.

It has been said of Knausgaard that he takes the mundane (in great detail) and makes it mesmerizing. I agree. I think Alison said in her review something along the lines that when she reads Knausgaard, he makes even his descriptions of loading the dishwasher fascinating. And in this book, I found the accounts of the two days in the lives of these dozen or so characters mundane details, and oddball events, mesmerizing.

Now, what I didn't like. There is a definite lack of resolution to the book. We are left hanging in the air as to several of the characters. And there is no information/resolution as to what the morning star (which appears each evening) is. But maybe we have a hint, in the last line of the novel, quoted above, "It means that it has begun."

The other thing I didn't care for is an issue that was raised on another thread re Knausgaard in general, his philosophizing. In his other books I've read, I didn't recall this as being an issue. However, in this book, there is definitely a lot of philosophizing, particularly in the sections relating to Katherine, the priest, and Egil, the documentary film maker, who is also the "author" of the final essay, "Death and the Dead." I will admit to not having read these parts as closely as I should have.

Despite these two dislikes, overall I loved the book. It was "unputdownable," and I read it compulsively. Highly recommended.

4 stars
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Awards

Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2023)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — 2022)
National Translation Award (Winner — Prose — 2022)

Language

Original language

Norwegian
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