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"This is an extraordinary tale, and the angels' role in it is not easy to grasp. Traditionally, angels are the link between the divine and the human, at once messengers and the message itself... The angels are action and meaning in one."
-- A Time for Everything, Karl Ove Knausgård
It really is impossible for me to say how many different ways I loved this novel. It wasn't perfect, certainly. It was messy, and uneven in parts, but it was also strange, strong, addictive and compelling. It was powerful and gentle. It felt like a strange combination of The Red Tent and Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire with hints of Knausgård's later fictionalized memoirs (My Struggle) thrown into the Coda.
Primarily, this novel is a frame story that allows Knausgård to discuss his fictional 16th-century theologian and philosopher Antinous Bellori, who started writing about angels after an experience in his youth with a couple fallen messengers. The story unfolds as Knausgård discusses Bellori's Opus 'The Nature of Angels'. This giant work contains an exegesis on all the angels of the Bible. For this book, Knausgård focuses on four major episodes in the Bible that each, at some level, involve angels:
1. Cain and Abel
3. Lot and his family
It is relevant to note here that this book is a bit of a head fake. The real thrust of this book isn't just angels. Certainly, it is hard to escape angels in this book, but it is just a reason for Knausgård to get into the weeds and retell these famous Biblical stories/myths using his gift for natural writing and human drama (there is a reason he is often described as the Norwegian Proust, besides his long, long, long books). For Knausgård, Angels represent a standard to measure our distance from God, or said better, to measure our changing distance from God.
For me, the strongest parts of this novel were the stories of Cain and Abel and Noah and his family. Just those two parts were completely worth my entire time spent on this. They were beautifully rendered anti-myths. He took the simple stories as related in the Bible, and backed them out of the packaging of the last couple thousand years, and turns and twists each story (kinda how Mantel does with Oliver Cromwell in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. He presents them in a way that was earthy, humanistic, emotionally relevant, and where the miraculous was just as normal as the mundane, earthy, and everyday. Imagine a post Garden of Eden world that feels more like an agrarian, pre-industrial version of Norway/Sweden than the dusty, locust-filled deserts of Judea. With Knausgård, there is magic in the physical and modest. There is myth woven into in the material world of the everyday.
I'm pretty sure this novel is one of those that will either floor you or bore you. It really depends on your background and patience. Having come from a religious tradition (Latter-day Saint) where material angels (Moroni, etc) play a real active part, this book was fascinating. But again, the novel isn't perfect, and I know I've probably still got some proximity buzz and bias going on, but my love for this novel is -- right now -- almost perfect.
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