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What the critics liked

The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgaard

In 2006 Karl Ove Knausgaard gave up on fiction. “It was a crisis,” said the 52-year-old Norwegian novelist. “Just the thought of a fabricated character in a fabricated plot made me nauseous.” Instead he turned to memoir – publishing a six-volume, 3,600-page life story between 2009 and 2011. Readers loved it. By 2012 he’d sold nearly 500,000 copies in Norway – not bad for a country of only five million people – and been translated into 35 languages. It was well received in Britain, too, with Zadie Smith declaring she needed it “like crack”.

After this brilliant success, I was worried that Knausgaard’s return to fiction would disappoint, says Brandon Taylor in The New Yorker. His new novel, The Morning Star (Harvill Secker £20), spans a couple of August nights in Norway, and the strange happenings that take place under a large, eerie star. I thought it sounded pulpy, but I was wrong. “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.”

It may be fiction, says Charles Arrowsmith in the LA Times, but the “domestic hallmarks” of Knausgaard’s memoir are still there: “Doing the dishes, kids squabbling over iPads.” In The Morning Star, however, he mixes in spookiness and horror. Better still, this is the start of a series. Given Knausgaard’s Stakhanovite work rate, by next year “we’ll already be poring over Volume 2, reassessing everything we thought about the first one”.

Available as an audiobook on Audible.

✍️ 🌍 🥱 Readers buying signed copies of The Morning Star might be disappointed by Knausgaard’s dispirited-looking signature. It constitutes nothing more than a half-hearted squiggle. But can you blame him, says journalist John Phipps on Twitter. “Imagine how many f***ing books he’s signed! In every country in Europe! For ten years!”

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

George Orwell isn’t associated with anything as frivolous as gardening, says Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian. And that’s what Rebecca Solnit’s new book, Orwell’s Roses (Granta £16.99), sets out to change. Orwell, the author says, was cheerier than we think – even “his grimmest writings have moments of beauty”. In his own life he took “great joy in small things”: he loved daffodils and hedgehogs, slugs and hens; he published an essay about the perfect cup of tea; he cherished Donald McGill’s saucy seaside postcards. Above all, he liked spending time in his garden. “Outside my work,” Orwell wrote in 1940, “the thing I care most about is gardening.”

In 1936 he planted two “big, unruly, rose bushes” outside his cottage in Wallington, Hertfordshire. In the same year he fought in the Spanish Civil War and went down a coalmine in Yorkshire. But when in Hertfordshire, it was his garden that absorbed him. He even published a column about his roses in Tribune, prompting “an indignant lady” to write in telling him “flowers are bourgeois”. When Solnit visited the cottage 80 years later, his roses were still in bloom, as big and unruly as ever.

Solnit’s case for a joyful Orwell is strong, says Suzannah Lessard in The New York Times. Pleasure informed his politics. The fight for “bread for all” was not enough. “He believed that people have a right to roses too – to an existence in which beauty, delight, love and a rich interior life are possible.”

Mr Wickham’s latest plot

Adrian Lukis, who played Mr Wickham in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, reckons his character is a more compelling hero than Mr Darcy. Imagine them on a night out, Lukis told The Sunday Times. “Darcy would be checking his watch at 9pm and saying ‘I think we should be getting a cab soon’, while Wickham would be saying ‘Come on, there’s a great club around the corner!’.” To combat anti-Wickham sentiment, Lukis is writing a “memoir” from the character’s perspective. Of course he is, tweeted journalist Harriet Minter. “Such a Wickham thing to do…”