Karl Ove Knausgaard’s silly pulp fiction is a baffling failure
In Why I Write, a particularly nuanced lecture on art and creativity delivered in 2017, Karl Ove Knausgaard reflected on the vision of the Game of Thrones television phenomenon. He described the experience as a captivating entertainment, causing a wave of charged emotions, but which left him “empty … in an unpleasant way”. âIt was almost like the plot hypnotized me,â he said.
In 2019, the last installment of his epic six-volume piece of autobiographical fiction, My Struggle – which made him a global literary superstar – was published outside of his native Norway, ending with the phrase: “I am not. no longer a writer. Yet despite the apparent abandonment of literary fiction, in the quartet of short Seasons essays published in English at the time of Why I Write, Knausgaard refers to work on a new book, a “kind of thriller” with a ” religious theme â.
Knausgaard wrote about God and Death for enlightening purpose throughout his career, from telling the story of the angels in the first novel A Time for Everything, to the grotesque death of his alcoholic father in My Struggle – The key, defining event of the series. All this to say that the signs of a Knausgaardian metaphysical thriller were opaque, to say the least, but intriguing. For The Morning Star to fail on so many levels then is a baffling experience and not particularly entertaining.
The sci-fi / horror storyline, as it is, takes place in a sort of Roswell version of Bergen in southern Norway, where the appearance of a huge, bright star in the sky turns the physical world upside down. surrounding area and the life of nine inhabitants. , whose situations echo aspects of Knausgaard’s own life familiar to readers of My Struggle and Seasons. (Most crudely in the case of a writer with an abused woman suffering from psychosis.)
Suffice it to say, none of the character’s plots go a very interesting (or logical) place and some of the timelines just don’t make sense. The recurring theme, from the epigraph, is something along the lines of “death to death”, with various characters and animals reappearing after death. Has an obscene figure, akin to the controversial life extension guru Aubrey de Gray, triggered some sort of genetic mutation that means no life can truly die, which has gone hellishly mad?
The most prosaic explanation – âArmageddon! – is unfortunately so much less interesting than that. The writing lands mainly like Frankenstein’s boot: âDeath is irreversible. No one can return from the dead. Ramsvik having done so only meant that he was not dead. The star âwas beautiful. As beautiful as death was beautiful.
That the Morning Star also exhibits inferior variations on some of Knausgaard’s previous spiritual contemplations – such as the fact that we may exist for God and not in the image of God, which innocent man should aspire to be. “obedient like grass when bent by the wind”, and how tragically we have strayed from the natural world – is a shame, for it has the ability of a serious writer to bring life to be seen and considered anew to the reader.
The most interesting theme, and the one he explored around his father’s death in My Struggle, is once again that in a significant way, “death has no place” in contemporary culture. But the digressions here are a far cry from his meditations in this series, in which he describes the vision of his father’s corpse, after a painful day cleaning the house where he died in misery, and considers death “no more than ‘a pipe that spurts out a leak, a branch that cracks in the wind, a jacket that slips from a hanger and falls to the ground’.
They are also a far cry from pieces such as the fine essay on a poem by Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelof in Summer – the fourth and best volume of the Seasons Quartet – in which he reflects that perhaps “God is immanent in life and hidden in every movement, yet to be born â, aâ possibility, always present, never realized â,â that God be in the combines and the grain vomited and the shade of the trees and the meander of the roadsâ¦ â. But not much in this Stephen King silliness is consistent or resembles any conviction in much the same way.
To make a musical comparison (references characteristic of pop music are usually taken into account), it is roughly believable. major wild punk rock ripe for future discovery. (It would take a “mesmerizing” storyline to make a deal with Netflix.) But, alas, it’s being hailed as the first in a new series, rather than the wrong kind of fun.
Knausgaard noted that for his father, suicide was a constant and revealing topic of conversation. In this superficial and inept foray into pulp fiction, Knausgaard appears to have the perverse intention of awkwardly hammering out spiritual themes that he has examined much more eloquently elsewhere, and has the gifts of articulating more into a clear vision. To what end?
The Morning Star (translated by Martin Aitkin) is published by Harvill Secker at Â£ 20. To order your copy for Â£ 16.99, call 0844 871 1514 or visit Telegraphic bookstore