Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Wolves of Eternity

Karl Ove Knausgaard

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Wolves of Eternity

Title: The Wolves of Eternity
Author: Karl Ove Knausgaard
Genre: Novel
Written: 2021 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 789 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Wolves of Eternity - US
The Wolves of Eternity - UK
The Wolves of Eternity - Canada
Die Wölfe aus dem Wald der Ewigkeit - Deutschland
I lupi nel bosco dell'eterno - Italia
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Norwegian title: Ulvene fra evighetens skog
  • The second volume in The Morning Star-series
  • Translated by Martin Aitken

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : engaging -- but also feels like only a piece of a much bigger picture

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 21/9/2023 Catherine Taylor
The Guardian . 5/10/2023 Tanjil Rashid
The NY Times Book Rev. . 24/9/2023 Sven Birkerts
The Spectator A+ 30/9/2023 Leyla Sanai
The Sunday Times . 10/9/2023 Chris Power
The Telegraph . 12/9/2023 Simon Ings
TLS . 22-29/12/2023 Anna Aslanyan
The Washington Post . 13/9/2023 Charles Arrowsmith

  From the Reviews:
  • "(R)eaders should not be too disappointed with its sequel. Knausgaard is a master of the segue, although the cast list of The Wolves of Eternity is somewhat depleted, with only two central narrators compared with nine in the previous novel. More importantly, however, the big themes of The Morning Star -- the cosmos, death and resurrection -- are amplified through ghostly visitations, doppelgänger lives and the question of what, if anything, lies beyond human existence. (...) The switch in narrative voice -- from callow, confused Syvert to the smarter, pragmatic Alevtina -- is welcome, yet both sustain the novel’s restless momentum. (...) With its intense layers of family history and its Christian-theosophical framework, this is in some ways a Russian novel, rather than a Norwegian one." - Catherine Taylor, Financial Times

  • "The Wolves of Eternity is a cerebral book with a peculiarly Russian heaviness. (...) Much of the writing is vintage Knausgård -- the style remains flat and free of artifice -- but the vision is somewhat different. (...) Such metaphysical speculation can be tedious; we are so unused to it nowadays. Many will decline to endure. At 789 pages, The Wolves of Eternity is big, like the questions it entertains. This is a novel fascinated with undoing death, but perhaps its most interesting resurrection is that of a dormant form: the novel of ideas." - Tanjil Rashid, The Guardian

  • "The task of any novel is to absorb its materials, to finish what it started. On the emotional level, Knausgaard mainly succeeds. (...) (I)n this novel he makes a turn; he brings to life -- even celebrates -- the complex and ambivalent give-and-take between men, between women and between men and women. These relationships, full of misunderstandings, concessions and reconciliations, feel real, without agenda. On the intellectual level, however, the great tension of warring concepts is unresolved. That might be the point. (...) The Wolves of Eternity, like some 19th-century Russian novel, wrestles with the great contraries: the materialist view and the religious, the world as cosmic accident versus embodiment of some radiant intention. Is this world shot through with meaning or not ? Has there ever been a better time to ask ?" - Sven Birkerts, The New York Times Book Review

  • "It is so engrossing and entertaining that I crammed in its 800 pages like a glutton devouring a box of chocolates. (...) Knausgaard’s own life contributes much to his insights into people: his experience of an abusive father; the hungry obsession with love that parental withholding of love inspires; the uncompromising openness that is the legacy of those forced to suppress the truth in childhood; the heavy drinking. I was mesmerised throughout this book. The translation is also excellent, managing to maintain rhyme in translated poems, puns and songs, and incorporate faultless everyday argot. More, please." - Leyla Sanai, The Spectator

  • "Knausgaard should resist the siren call of his library card, and go on writing big books about nothing. The less The Wolves of Eternity novel is about, the more it has to say." - Simon Ings, The Telegraph

  • "Death is a constant undercurrent in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s new novel. (...) At the novel’s ideological core is Nikolai Fyodorov, one of the most eccentric Russian philosophers. (...) Knausgaard is naturally better at depicting Norway, but the Russian material is also well researched." - Anna Aslanyan, Times Literary Supplement

  • "As Knausgaard fans may expect, our narrator’s existential musings are the soundtrack to his everyday activities: shopping, cooking, drinking, sulking, playing football, thinking about girls. If Knausgaard is your thing, it reads as compulsively as anything he’s written. Halfway through, though, the novel shifts gears (.....) But despite his preoccupation with death and loftier philosophical purpose, Knausgaard remains one of the great chroniclers of the moment-by-moment experience of life. (...) The second book, like the first, ends on a cliffhanger. Although the final shape of Knausgaard’s latest enterprise is not yet visible, there’s famously no smoke without wildfires. It’s likely something wicked this way comes." - Charles Arrowsmith, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Wolves of Eternity is the second in a series that began with The Morning Star but is not a sequel, much less straightforward continuation of the story from that first novel. After a very brief section narrated by Helge -- all of four pages -- the book turns to nineteen-year-old Syvert Løyning, who has just finished his stint in the Norwegian national service (as a cook, in the navy) and returned home to his mother and twelve-year-old brother Joar; his father had died when Syvert was eleven. It is 1986, and Syvert isn't sure what he'll do in the future; he has vague plans of going to university in the fall, but isn't even sure what he'd study.
       Syvert meets up with friends and at first disappoints his mother and Joar by not keeping his small promises to basically help around the house. He comes across some of his father's old things and finds, among other things, books and then letters in Russian -- and then is thrown for a loop when his mother tells him that, shortly before he died, his father had wanted a divorce. When an uncle reveals that his father had also suffered from anxiety, even taking a year off from work, Syvert is forced to reässess his image of him:

     Was the picture I had of him false ? Had he in fact been a different person altogether ?
       Eventually, Syvert gets someone to translate the letters, and he does learn a bit more about his father, and the woman he was involved with in Russia. It also turns out Syvert has a half-sister, Alevtina -- and the next big section of the novel (after four hundred pages of Syvert, and very brief sections by two other characters) will be narrated by her. Decades after he started his story -- and 660 pages into the book -- Syvert is on his way to Moscow, to meet his half-sister .....
       In the section when he is nineteen, Syvert slowly takes on more responsibility -- and then has more quickly thrust on him when his mother is diagnosed with cancer and has to go to a hospital in Oslo, leaving Syvert to take care of Joar. Finding a job also becomes more pressing, and Syvert takes the only one that seems available, with an undertaker. (Yes, death hangs all about in the air here.) A flirtation with Lisa, whose boyfriend he has a run-in with early on, bubbles in the background for a while as well; Syvert declares his love for her early on, but she is neither put off nor very enthusiastic about that at first, showing some -- but cautious -- interest in him.
       In typical Knausgaardian fashion, this long early Syvert-section putters along with lots of seemingly small, insignificant descriptions of a pretty boring day-to-day life. There are significant upheavals here -- his mother's illness is naturally concerning; he takes what he learns about his father pretty hard; his strong feelings for Lisa obviously churn significantly, regardless of what he is doing -- and he does join the local football (soccer) team, but much here is really just day-to-day, even moment-to-moment -- making then also for an interesting and effective contrast when we next encounter him, late in the book, married and with children, a successful business-owner. (Here, too, then, Knausgaard is especially good in filling in the little details -- among other things: of what happened to mom and to Joar, as well as how Syvert made most of his money --, slipping them in along the way.)
       Syvert is politically conservative -- and hence also suspicious of his father's Russian interests and ties, as well as those of the man who translates his father's letters for him, someone who pushes him to read Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. ("Is he a socialist writer ?" Syvert asks, to which the man responds: "Good lord, no. Don't they teach you anything at school these days ? Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky is a Christian writer. Perhaps the most Christian of all writers. More Christian than Christ himself even, you could say".) So also Syvert relates revealingly:
     I hadn't expressed a single pro-American view, I thought to myself as I got in the car. That was just his prejudice showing through. Just because I was critical of socialism as an ideology, and opposed to a country like the Soviet Union for oppressing its people, it didn't mean I was an ardent defender of America.
     I was, but how the hell was he to know ?!
     Another prejudgement.
     Bloody Socialist Left deadbeat.
       Half-sister Alevtina is only nine during the time of Syvert's account; when hers begins she is already adult, with a young son. She studied biology but eventually becomes a doctor; she also has a second child, much later in life. It is Alevtina's friend Vasilisa who is working on an essay which, early on, she thinks of titling: "Either The Wolves or Eternity" (and, yes, eventually she settles on The Wolves of Eternity), explaining:
     The idea is that eternity has begun. That's what's changed. The future is no more, and eternity has begun. So what you called politics has become what you call religion, in the sense that it oversees the immutable. And awaits the immortal.
       Quite a bit of Alevtina's account focuses on her trying to figure out what she might want to write her doctoral thesis on; she had already: "delved into the interplay between fungi and tress and wrote a thesis on the subject" and continues to think about exploring the subject further. Among the things that stymies her however is that:
     The problem with language was that it anthropomorphised everything. All we had to do was say the word communication and what we thought about was human communication.
       Alevtina's mother also died long ago, and it is her stepfather who receives and passes on a letter that comes from Syvert, addressed to the woman his father was involved with -- the first Alevtina learns that she has a brother. It takes her years before she's up to responding, but the two do finally get in touch, and Syvert does travel to Moscow to meet her. Things speed up in this last, present-day part of the book, including with a quicker back and forth between the various section-narrators. It is also the time of the appearance of the mysterious 'morning star' familiar from the first volume in the series -- a strange phenomenon that everyone takes note of (but is surprisingly little concerned about). Knausgaard also tosses in a few more unusual occurrences, as the novel builds towards several small but very eerie cliffhangers -- not least the final one, which Syvert learns of before everyone realizes what's (not) going on, due to his profession: "weird was what it was, there was no other word for it", he notes.
       There's a lot of death in the novel -- including Vasilisa's shocking mention of her younger brother's death, years earlier, which obviously has had a great effect on her thinking (and the essay she's writing). Knausgaard has his various characters reflect on it a great deal, too -- though, as with so much here (or also: because there is so much here), much of the discussion feels almost incidental -- even as it also guides so much of the story (or rather: the stories). So also, for example, Vasilisa observes:
When the darkness opens, it opens and can never be forgotten. One may tell one self that death is part of life, and indeed I tell myself that it is so, for there is certainly a truth in it, but it is not the case that death is an inversion of life, it's shadow as it were. Rather, the opposite is true. Life is an inversion of death. It is death that rules. We are all of us death's children.
       The Wolves of Eternity feels very much like a book of stage-setting, pieces and characters introduced, but with the real action still in the offing. It is engaging -- Knausgaard does the seemingly everyday, the small bits, very well, and the philosophical-speculative is sprinkled in well, slowly adding up to something without weighing things down too much -- but also feels like preamble (heavy on the ambling ....). Originally apparently planned as a trilogy, Knausgaard seems now to be shaping it into something even bigger, and this volume does feel very much just a piece of something much greater.
       Readers actually can start with this volume just as well as with The Morning Star, and they'll find a story that should hold their interest and offers some food for thought, but just how good it is remains to be seen, when we can judge its place in the much bigger picture Knausgaard is putting together. Something of a place-holder for now, it's solid on its own, too -- but one really wants to see where all of this is going.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 October 2023

- Return to top of the page -


The Wolves of Eternity: Reviews: Other books by Karl Ove Knausgaard under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard (Karl Ove Knausgård) was born in 1968.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2023 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links