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 night shift 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.
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.
... 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.