Monday, 7 January 2013

Hunger by Knut Hamsun (5/5) [re-read]

First published: 1890
Original title: Sult
Original language: Norwegian
Translation to English by: George Egerton, 1921
Page count: 224

GoodReads says: This powerful, autobiographical novel by a Nobel Prize-winning author made literary history when it was first published in 1890. A modern classic about a penniless, unemployed young writer, the book paints an unforgettable portrait of a man driven to the edge of self-destruction by forces beyond his control.

I say: This is one of the most absurdly comical novels I’ve ever read, and will continue to read. Obviously it sounds strange to call a novel about a poor and hungry writer comical, but the things he gets up to on the streets of Oslo are so peculiar and without reason that they become hilarious. Like following two young ladies around while continuously telling one of them that she’s dropped her books; or jumping into a carriage and rushing the driver towards the home of a person he’s just made up on the spot.

I would have loved to hang out with this man one night.
But then there is also the issue of him being poor and hungry, selling everything he has to sell, and as soon as he gets a little money, he squanders it. He writes articles and takes them to papers for publication, but, unfortunately, he is unable to get anything published for a while – hence the poverty and hunger. More than external circumstances it’s his own fault that he is in this predicament, something he refuses to acknowledge and constantly blames fate, God or whomever is conveniently present for his problems.

It’s sad and infuriating at the same time.
Although biographical, Hamsun has been very influenced by Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Both in the style of writing as well as some of the traits of the narrator and the philosophical ponderings he has. One thing that sort of throws the reader is the mixture of present and past tense in the writing, something which some translations have removed, and although I had to do a double take at first, it quickly became clear that this was Hamsun’s way of showing his narrator’s confused state.

Strangely enough I’ve never read this in Norwegian (the original language) or even in Swedish, and will have to amend that straight away since I always prefer to read novels in their original language when I can.
Having said all that, I re-read this perfection for my existentialism course (as per usual) and have spent a good deal of time analysing it. However, even if you’re not into dissecting the philosophy of Hamsun, this stands great on its own as just a story about a poor, and slightly mad, writer.

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