DAY 29. – HUNGER by Knut Hamsun
Hunger is a 1890 novel by Norwegian author Knut Hamsun. Parts of it were published anonymously in the Danish magazine ‘Ny Jord‘ in 1888.
It is an astonishing book for its time, belonging I think more to the avant-garde modernist writing than to the sometimes considered “proper” late 19th century. A writer encounters difficulties financially and mentally when he loses his job, and then is left without income for food and essentials in 19th century Christiania, (the former Oslo), where he slowly and agonizingly descends into mental confusion.
George Egerton claims this book is:
“One of the most important and controversial writers of the 20th century, Knut Hamsun made literary history with the publication in 1890 of this powerful, autobiographical novel recounting the abject poverty, hunger and despair of a young writer struggling to achieve self-discovery and its ultimate artistic expression. The book brilliantly probes the psycho-dynamics of alienation and obsession, painting an unforgettable portrait of a man driven by forces beyond his control to the edge of self-destruction. Hamsun influenced many of the major 20th-century writers who followed him, including Kafka, Joyce and Henry Miller. Required reading in world literature courses, the highly influential, landmark novel will also find a wide audience among lovers of books that probe the “unexplored crannies in the human soul”
Notwithstanding the huge body of opinions that this is/was literary genius, I disliked the book, neigh, I hated the book, yet I hung on reading it to the final page. If I was to read it now, I can honestly say I would never finish it. I found the novel too brutal, raw and dark. If I wanted to feel utter despair at the world and at the human spirit, I would read it with a passion. But I don’t. Can this really be the role of the writer? To depress readers under the guise of giving them reality, no matter how brutal?
I want my books to be entertaining, to lighten my spirit, to take me to a place where I can momentarily forget the gloom and doom a worldly future might bring. This is not to say that I would read Romantic novels, or smarmy soap operatic stories, rather, I have no patience to be suppressed in the realms of the negative. This is why I hated Knut Hamsun’s book.
But perhaps I missed the point, for there were sections that I admired for their literary power.
“The intelligent poor individual was a much finer observer than the intelligent rich one. The poor individual looks around him at every step, listens suspiciously to every word he hears from the people he meets; thus, every step he takes presents a problem, a task, for his thoughts and feelings. He is alert and sensitive, he is experienced, his soul has been burned…”
But then again, this:
“The heavy red roses smoldering in the foggy morning, blood-colored and uninhibited, made me greedy, and tempted me powerfully to steal one–I asked the prices merely so I could come as near them as possible.”
The sad tale of this writer’s mental demons and his fight to survive without income, in a non-existent welfare state was depressingly repetitive throughout the book, and then one day: (N.B. Spoiler alert!) – he ups and leaves on a ship….. and that’s it? Ummmm, did I miss something? I read pages and pages of long detailed descriptions of hunger, and despair and mental anguish, the complete all encompassing absence of hope, to reach a point with no closure????? I felt completely marooned – let down by Hamsun.
Yes, perhaps I missed the point! – Something to Ponder About
30 Day Book Challenge Update
It has been over 30 days, but I admit that I had reservations as to whether this challenge could be done. Read here
Final day of the 30 day Challenge:
DAY 30. – Book you couldn’t put down.