Karl Ove Knausgaard’s novel The Morning Star lacks lustre and sparkle – Independent.ie

The Morning Star Karl Ove Knausgaard Harvill Secker, €20.99

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s new novel The Morning Star has nine narrators and 19 chapters and is, not surprisingly for this prolific author, over 600 pages long.

It’s August, and we’re in the resort of Sørlandet in southern Norway. Meet literature professor Arne and artist wife Tove. Their friend, Egil, a driver by day, is staying in a cabin nearby. Kathrine, a priest, is on her way home from a seminar; the journalist Jostein is out on the town, and his wife Turid, who is an assistant nurse, has the night shift. Above them all is a mysterious star.

So far, so good. But then a death metal band is massacred, and a cadaver comes back to life – or does it? All sorts of fantastical things are possible as the star shines its enigmatic light. But, remember, Knausgaard is the poet laureate of the bland, and with it comes an oddness of tone or rather a tonelessness – to the overall proceedings, including a desperate sameness of drama and dialogue.

Sadly, the characters are wooden  their speech lobotomised, as one critic described the characters in Don DeLillo’s equally speculative Zero K.

In fact, the whole narrative reads without the nuances of idiomatic English. That is no slight against the experienced translator Martin Aitken. The humourless deadpan could equally be about a lack of cultural nuance, but there is no doubting a grating linguistic infelicity throughout.

While Mamet declared to writers that within a scene of dramatic literature 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 garlanded Norwegian writer gives us what lies beneath, the whole hulking weight and slow-motion tidal drift of the mundane; “Hello, how are you?” “I’m good and you?” ad infinitum.

In other words, Knausgaard over-explains everything. There’s no irony, no humour, just an overly earnest slog through the humdrum thoughts of his characters who are always asking themselves the most obvious, uninteresting questions which is a very strange juxtaposition to the more interesting surreal elements in the novel. 

Talking of the surreal, there’s a lot of talk of God. Turid tells us, “God wasn’t modern.” And the tracts on Nietzsche in Knausgaard’s My Struggle are back. But the homespun philosophising doesn’t offer insights, amplify or enrich our understanding of the human condition. It bores. “Human consciousness is the biggest mystery that exists.”

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Nietzsche isn’t the only effort at aggrandising the flat tedium of these characters’ inner lives; there’s also passing mention of Rilke, but the prose is not supple or subtle enough to accommodate the profundity of such a European master.

When The Morning Star does shine, it’s on that surreal note; the priest meets a man, but officiates at his burial soon thereafter. The dates don’t compute. Was he a ghost, or is she imagining something?

The surreal is often revealed at the end of each chapter, and I became impatient for these titbits, but not in the tantalising way a very well written novel can disclose its secrets.

In The Morning Star the important, cliff-hanging and sometimes oddball reveal at the end of each chapter is delayed by the occasional musings of its characters who ask each other what the appearance of this strange star might mean; a UFO, a supernova, a natural phenomenon, a sign? Nobody knows.

The mass of detail worked well in Knausgaard’s non-fiction epic My Struggle, but here it feels staged and wearisome.

The final chapter in the form of an essay does not help. The Morning Star is a disappointment.

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