maarmie's musings

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Book: Hunger by Knut Hamsun

I'm buried in newspapers and books and magazines, and I don't have time to read them all. I'll just give them away to strangers. That would be very nice of me. Very good of me, to say the least. But what if a stranger, angry about something that has nothing to do with me, decided to swat me with a book I have just so generously given? What a bump I might get on my head. Then I'll have the biggest headache I've ever imagined, and I won't be able to update my blog. No. Since I have no aspirin in my cupboards, I think I'll play it safe for today and offer no books to anyone. I'll just sit here, in the dark, and watch TV. I'll push all this writing off the bed, and sit here in the dark. But then I know what will happen. I'll later find more things to read which will add to what I have here to read, and I won't be able to bear throwing even a scrap of it out. I'll give this junk away, then, come what may! I'll be the noble one and give so generously, even though others would only strive to harm me!


Crazy people like to read about crazy people, and, as such, I bought a copy of Knut Hamsun's Hunger at the recommendation of my crazy artist friend as recommended to her by an even crazier artist friend of hers who's also a writer. And you know how fucked up writers are! The. Worst.

Like A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, Hunger, originally published in 1890, is a novel that serves as a sort of fictionalized memoir - only the original publisher, Norway's Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, isn't offering full refunds.

Set in Christiania (now Oslo), the novel's main character is a starving writer, and the paranoid, delusional and obsessive thoughts and actions of said writer make up the minute-by-minute content of the book. Interestingly enough, Hamsun himself suffered through more than a decade of poverty before writing the book, one made all the more realistic by Hamsun's experiences and continuous journey inward.

"Truth telling does not involve seeing both sides or objectivity; truth telling is unselfish inwardness," Hamsun once said.

Though his goal of being a writer and his singleminded pursuit of that goal can be seen as noble by some, Hunger's star is hardly deserving of sympathy, others might say. Instead of finding a stable, if temporary, white- or blue-collar job so he can escape the squalor of his drafty room, the cold of the outdoors, the disrepair of his clothing and the screaming hole in his gut, he, instead, fills his time daydreaming, harassing strangers, feeling sorry for himself for his professional and social failings and listening to, examining and attempting to silence the ever-present critic and madman - demons dwelling within his psyche. He also sometimes writes articles for the local newspaper, some of which actually sell. But the quality of his work is hit or miss, and a few kroner here and a few kroner there can't ever add up to anything when you squander it as soon as you've got it on lavish meals and drink.

Unlike other similar novels, this one casts no aspersions on the king of folly. He is who he is, and he impacts those around him the way he does. The book offers no remedy, no social recriminations, no judments, no path to higher moral ground. What the book offers - like the murky waters of a swelling sea - is a seemingly neverending abyss of misery and suffering, and reading it feels like watching - in slow motion - the crushing daily collapse of the world's most unlucky individual.

A fun read.

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