Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review - Hunger by Knut Hamsun (translated by Robert Bly)

Hunger is must-read masterpiece. Written back in 1890 by the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun, the story remains strikingly fresh and powerful. It is so powerful in fact that it felt that my psyche was somehow being slowly infected with the main character as the story progressed.

Hunger tells the story of a writer who is experiencing extreme poverty, his existence being one with no long term plans beyond trying to find somewhere to sleep and some means of getting a meal. He writes articles for a newspaper but these only pay off on occasion, and when they do the money lasts but a short while and he is soon scrambling to stay alive once more. The protagonist is also cursed with severe mental imbalances that are made worse by his desperate circumstances. However, despite all these hardships our man maintains a certain kind of dignity and honour with minimal self-pity. Also to be admired is his somewhat wreckless generosity, his deep desire not to do wrong and his sense of inner conflict when he does transgress his personal ethical code.

Hamsun's genius is that he writes from the character's interior in such a raw, believable way that you don't just relate but are brought as close as possible to feeling what the character is going through, even though you will have never actually shared these experiences (to the same degree or in the same manner).

It's a shame that Knut Hamsun sullied his name by being a supporter of the Nazi movement (he publicly lamented the passing of Hitler), but that doesn't detract from the quality of his writing and I look forward to reading some more of his works in future ("Pan" and "Mysteries" look particularly interesting). .

Select quotes will follow in a future post.

**** 1/2

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