A Bad Omen

The Morning Star
By Karl Ove Knausgård
666 pp. Penguin Press. $30.

It has been some time since I have arrived at the final page of a book and immediately wanted to flip back to the beginning and plunge right in again, but a strong desire to do just that filled me upon reaching the top of page 666 and seeing that I had only five more lines to go.

There is so much here, so much more than I managed to pick up in a single reading I’m sure. Narrated in the first person by nine different characters, all of whom feel at times like various echoes of Knausgård himself, there are surely connections between them I missed, allusions that would have helped in uncovering the odd events that take place throughout the book I overlooked. The referenced songs and books that I skimmed over, failing to look up as I raced through page after page … they may have contained the key to unlocking it all.

It was only after finishing this — in last night’s small hours, my reading having slowed as the remaining pages shrunk under my right thumb, me savoring each one like scripture — that I learned that this is apparently the first part of what will be a new series.

The first part!!

Ha! We should have known. Karl Ove writes books like Krzysztof Kieślowski directed films — leisurely, not in a rush to get to the destination but for the pleasure of the journey. He’s in the getaway car, the roar of sirens in the distance, but he pulls over to the roadside diner to have some coffee and a slice of triple berry pie. He’s brought along a weathered copy of “Crime and Punishment” so he’ll be a while. We’ll return to our heist story in 200 pages or so … just be patient.

I have to admit that I was fearful even before picking up this very eerie — in the most deliciously gothicy Gothic Horror sort of way — novel. Fearful that perhaps Karl Ove was only a one-hit-wonder. Or, rather, a six-hit-wonder, as his game-changing, six-part “My Struggle” series truly raised the bar to a level even Simone Biles would have had difficulty clearing.

Alas, I needn’t have worried. Karl Ove is the real deal, which delights me not just as a reader, but as a human being. After vicariously living through so many of the ups-and-downs of his life as he portrayed them, from early childhood up through adulthood, I’ve come to find myself quite attached to Karl Ove and liking him all the more thanks to his 4,000+ page “struggle.”

After his incredible 400-page-essay on Hitler, “The Name and the Number,” in Book Six, Karl Ove couldn’t resist including another essay here, “On Death and the Dead,” written from the standpoint of one of the book’s main characters. It’s things like that, including scholarly essays in the midst of what the unacquainted might simply accuse of being “genre fiction,” that separate Knausgård from the pack. Knausgård has the ability to take what, in another author’s hands, would be a novel you buy at the airport bookstore and leave on the plane at the other end, and elevate it to art.

Of all the writers I enjoy reading, there are only two writing today whose books I must get my hands on as soon as they are released — to hell with waiting for the paperback! The French writer Michel Houellebecq is one, Knausgård is the other. I read Houellebecq not because I especially love his books for the pleasure of reading them but more so because reading them has always felt necessary in our times, so relevant to our world today. With “The Morning Star,” though, Knausgård has laid claim to that same territory.

What is the morning star? What does it signify? Something dark, it would appear, the strange events greeting its rise hardly the stuff of Disney fairy tales, but a herald of something far more Grimm …

An ominous beacon? A Sword of Damocles hanging over us all, casting society as we know it in its yellow gaze? Are there any real-life parallels you can draw to that in a world where climate change is an existential threat to us all (never mind the multitude of other potentially planet-altering crises currently staring boldly out of your paper’s front page)?

“The Morning Star” is about death and dying. Physical death, yes, yours and mine, but also the death of knowledge, of memory, of tradition.

This loss, this eternal forgetting, is at the door now, bringing with it the ability to doom us all. What could be more terrifying than that?

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