I read The Morning Star compulsively, and stayed awake all night after finishing it. I left the novel feeling as I often did after watching a great scary movie as a kid—totally convinced that whatever evil, implausible thing I had just witnessed on the screen awaited me in the next room. Not that this novel offers horror in the conventional sense. Under the mysterious sign in the sky, people go about the sort of stifled, frustrated lives that Knausgaard has made his domain: the creatively blocked, the spiritually starving, the terrifyingly sensitive, the queasily realistic failures ... a secular, superstitious novel in the spirit of Bolaño’s 2666 or The Savage Detectives. The discursive sprawl of the story is trussed up by the matrix of interpersonal connections, giving it form even as the characters rationalize away how spooked they feel by the events that unfold across the two strange days ... The Morning Star is attuned to the uncanny ... Death, like the astronomical object that haunts The Morning Star, hangs over you while shining its strange light. What you do is what all of us must do, which is learn to live with it.
This is a strange, gothic, Bible-obsessed novel, laced with buzzard-black themes and intimations of horror ... Admirers of the six-book My Struggle series — I’m among them, with reservations about the final volume — will want to know: Does The Morning Star cast the same sort of spell those novels did? The answer, for a long time, is yes ... About the details of daily existence, he manages to be, without ladling on lyricism, twice as absorbent as most of the other leading brands ... The Morning Star becomes, in other words, a somewhat programmatic novel of ideas. Knausgaard chews on notions of faith, free will, the transmigration of souls, the nature of angels, on meaning and nothingness in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and Rilke’s poetry ... Knausgaard is among the finest writers alive, yet there is something cramped about his work when he approaches ideas straight on, instead of obliquely ... Here the earnest wrestling is with how we think about mortality. At certain moments you sense he is in close contact with all the oldest and deepest wisdom; at other moments, the stream runs shallow.
This latest novel embodies all of Knausgaard’s known qualities. It takes place over two days, and it lasts forever—well, 666 pages, to be exact. The long, looping sentences of My Struggle have been replaced with something shorter and sharper, drier and more reportorial. At first it feels like you’re being shot with a BB gun full of cat food, but somehow the rhythm takes hold of you. You are a cat, and you’re HUNGRY ... It is a book of revelation, full of unlucky numbers on the march; a book where animals crawl and die as omens ... When I say ‘mundane day’ I mean it. As long as Knausgaard’s characters are simply thinking, we are in good hands, but as soon as they’re roused to act—to participate in the world around them—the reader is forced to climb with the author on the eternal staircase. This is precisely the punishment that lovers of Knausgaard’s work enjoy: to be locked into the step of life, to carry a coffee cup from the table to the sink in perpetuity ... Just as we begin to wonder where he is taking us, whether he is capable, he gets us there. Actually he does what we might never have expected of Knausgaard: he carries us into a Land, like a part-animal or genderless guide. It’s like discovering, in the last twelve seconds of a song, that someone can yodel ... Is it good? I have no fucking idea. It is enormous, unwieldy, a hoarder’s house, full of sliced ham, possible to become obsessed with, one of those books where someone must write himself out of what he has made.
At almost 700 pages, it’s a book that takes up considerable real estate not just on the nightstand or in a bag but also within the mind, demanding a particular kind of mental stamina ... There isn’t just one story to follow in The Morning Star but several, as the narrative bounces from one captivating, relatable, likable character to another ... dark, eerie, mesmerizing and, yes, totally worth its size.
... reveals itself to be the evil twin of My Struggle. It’s an uncanny, polyphonous, diabolical work that gives Knausgaard’s brand of banal realism a mythical-fantastical twist ... While the domestic hallmarks of his recent fiction — doing the dishes, kids squabbling over iPads — remain intact here, Knausgaard also mixes in both strong elements of horror and some of the more grandiose religious themes of A Time for Everything, his early novel about angels. In doing so, he reveals himself to be a surprise master of the uncanny. We see a cleric forced to bury the double of a man she just met; an organ donor, dead on the operating table, whose eyes open ... As longtime fans might expect, behind the prose lies a wealth of hardcover learning ... At the end of the novel comes a long essay concerning beliefs about death in different civilizations, deepening Knausgaard’s theme (if not quite successfully integrating it into the narrative) ... The storytelling gift that kept readers enthralled by My Struggle remains powerful. Like Stephen King, another inspiration here, Knausgaard stays shoulder-close to his characters, his paragraphs mimicking the erratic interleaving of their thoughts. And they all give good copy because, in all their mean-spirited, shame-filled, petty glory, Knausgaardian archetypes are nauseatingly compelling ... In places, The Morning Star may feel too close to Knausgaard’s previous work ... Nevertheless, Knausgaard remains a writer of supreme interest. This is a thoughtful, highly readable novel, packed with ideas and exciting flourishes. And in any case, his rate of production is such that a year from now, we’ll already be poring over Volume 2, reassessing everything we thought about the first one.
... made me feel as though I were drifting through a nearby galaxy, randomly encountering and re-encountering certain celestial beings, before being released, with a disembodied whoosh, into metaphysical deep space ... Knausgaard, when tuning in to life’s minutiae, and the musing that emerges from it, is such an easy writer, not as in not-difficult but as in fluidly engaging ... plot points that might define a different novel do not define this one. That neither the star nor the stalking evil seems essential to the reading experience makes the novel even more beguiling. When I started it, I assumed I was meant to find patterns and clues to connect the sections. To solve the structure, and thus identify the King-like mystery, after which there might be a pulse-yammering blood bath or just a deepening degree of more specified creep. Eventually, I shelved those expectations and happily shuttered that part of my brain ... Knausgaard’s sentences, in Martin Aitken's translation, are both plainly direct and lyrically, emotionally elevated. The present is lived to its sometimes transportive, sometimes meaningless fullest ... I’m never quite sure whether or not Knausgaard, whose work has taken up so much literal and figurative literary space, is knowingly ironizing himself, his masculinity sulks and his bourgeois/high-art domestic toils. Reading him, I can sometimes feel as if I’m being made privy to — and meant to sympathize with, or find scorchingly candid and thus audacious and original — the internal gripes of the 'genius' male artists whom a few women in my extended professional circle have married, and whom these women now care for as if they were also their children ... Sometimes more can be revealed about writers when they are not in the overt act of exposing themselves.
This engaging, if protracted, novel follows a group of Norwegians whose narrative orbits mostly avoid one another, except in their mutual experience of this odd astronomical happening ... Astronomically prolific Knausgaard’s relentless attention to the minutiae of everyday life defines the prose, and readers will recognize the novel’s realist texture from the author’s autofictional magnum opus, My Struggle ... Readers hungry for more of this author’s immersive storytelling will burn through this tome, while those new to Knausgaard may find it a compelling point of entry to his other works.
Across nearly 700 pages, Knausgaard mixes the cerebral, the mundane, and the downright scary in a horror thriller that’s the opposite of taut. Digressions into teenage drinking, drunken casual sex, and the nature of the eternal test the limits of suspense. Nothing cools the action like a 20-page disquisition on Kierkegaard’s notion of abandoning oneself to the divine. We hear as much from Jostein about his travails in finding just the right restroom where he can piss alone as we do about the scene of the black-metal murders ... Such is the Knausgaard way: love it or leave it. I loved it most of the time. What is it we want from our celebrated authors—something entirely different or more of the same? Without quite turning into Stephen King, Knausgaard has managed a page-turner that’s recognizably his own. The true sign of the master’s touch: he writes too much but always leaves you wanting more.
Initially, Knausgård’s patented accretion of detail feels enriched with a new and welcome undertow: unnamed dread. The atmosphere is still and eerily fragile. Something seismic is just off-frame, advancing ... As the book progresses, another possibility presents itself: that they are merely fleeing a sinking novel. Arne is set aside, not to return for 250 pages, and so is any pretence at effort. We cycle through interchangeable narrators, circle the same static event. Realisation dawns. That light on the horizon isn’t a new star. It’s a literary supernova – the entire Knausgårdian project entering spectacular, all-consuming heat death ... with no aura of performance to protect him, the inadequacy of his technique is exposed ... This is a book bloated with the inconsequentia ... Forced through narrative contingency to do anything other than list, Knausgaard panics and goes pre-verbal, leaning his elbow against the keyboard and hoping for the best ... Erected on a fatally weak linguistic foundation, the novel can only ever be a structural catastrophe. As if aware that his creation is crumbling, Knausgård buttresses it with occasional eldritch events. At best these are merely lazy...At worst they are unimaginative and offensive ... Finally, after casting aside language, paragraphs and multiple plot lines begun but never developed, Knausgård goes all in and abandons his novel, reconstituting his leftover intellectual gristle as a wholly indigestible 'essay'. It’s notionally by one of the book’s characters, but it scans as pure Knausgård-ese ... Most unsuccessful artworks are simply flawed – a good idea undone by poor execution; an ambition beyond one’s ability. The Morning Star is different. Its failure is total and totalising. This is not an idea that has fallen apart in the execution, it’s a novel that dreams of having an idea, a novel that, over hundreds of pages, seeks meaning in everything from the boiling of an egg to the passing of a soul into the afterlife, only to come back empty-handed ... It’s a cruel irony. Knausgård is known, most of all, for his willingness to bare himself. Now, just as he excises his semi-mythological persona from his work, he stands unflatteringly revealed. Once exhaustive, he is now simply exhausted. There are no quivering lattices of light here. There are not even green leaves, or a blue sky. The Morning Star is a dead planet, Knausgård its burned-out sun.
... aims for something different—the frolic and abandon of genre fiction—but it still reads like an allegorical enactment of My Struggle’s ruminations, which punctuated the narrator’s everyday existence ... For fans of the struggle, The Morning Star might be disappointing. It’s more pleasurable to watch a guy philosophically daydream while he’s buying tinned fish than it is to watch that daydream play out as fiction ... The characters of The Morning Star also have a dour sameness about them, and the plot, divided among them, is choppy ... I read this authorial sleight of hand, and Knausgaard’s use of nine first-person narrators, as a sign that he distrusts or resents his own unadorned voice, the one that enchanted millions of readers simply by reciting the mundane details of life. His autofiction played with that power of enchantment, impeding narrative immersion by changing modes of address (from fiction to essay and back again), frequent flashbacks, and constantly calling attention to the act of writing. Genre fiction has a larger field of play, but Knausgaard doesn’t trust that either. He won’t let us totally believe in the world he’s made and won’t—or can’t—end on a high note like King always does. And while Knausgaard speaks through different characters, readers will notice some very Karl Ove–sounding lines and preoccupations no matter who is addressing the audience.
Knausgaard’s first traditional novel since the 2008 translation of A Time for Everything offers a dark and enthralling story of the appearance of a new star ... Knausgaard wheels wildly and successfully through various forms. His focus on the beauty and terror of the mundane will resonate with fans of My Struggle as they traverse this marvelous, hectic terrain. For the author, it’s a marvelous new leap.
Each character is rendered with a detail-rich but cool, plainspoken register that’s Knausgaard’s trademark. And, much as he did in the final volume of his autofiction epic, My Struggle, he concludes with a philosophical longueur, here a contemplation about how myth, religion, and folklore address a porous boundary between life and death ... For Knausgaard fans, this mix of pointillistic domestic drama and New Age woo-woo will feel familiar, though the lack of a strong narrative arc feels more ungainly in an explicitly fictional setting ... A sui generis metaphysical yarn, engrossing in its particulars if broadly rambling.
... this is a strange, uneven book. It is a bit like reading a Knausgaard novel on to which a Hollywood blockbuster has been unsuccessfully grafted ... Ensemble novels such as this thrive on contrast, inviting us to consider how different people might understand and respond to a universal event. But one problem with The Morning Star is that everyone in it talks and thinks in very similar ways. Although the characters don’t feel like caricatures, they don’t really feel like fully realised individuals either: more like a collective Knausgaardian consciousness inhabiting nine different bodies ... In English, Knausgaard has never come across as particularly interested in style or voice (to say that Martin Aitken’s translation feels entirely competent is not, I hope, to damn it with faint praise ... Rather than being interested in the effects language can have, Knausgaard’s concern is with the meanings it can bear and the realities it can make thinkable. He doesn’t express emotions, or cause us to feel them, but notes them in passing, as though scanning items on a self-checkout. But language is more than a system of notation ... Philosophers have had these insights before. You’d be forgiven for thinking that novelists — especially when they’re moved to write about the fantastical — should move beyond them and show us how we might push through those constraints, escape those systems, rearrange the world. In that regard, The Morning Star falls short.