7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This is an older novel, written in the 1930's or thereabouts. It was originally in Norwegian, and the author later won a Nobel Prize for Growth of the Soil, which I haven't started yet.
All the reviews said this was a disturbing novel of isolation. It was, and is, fascinating.
The protagonist, writing in the first person, describes his life as a writer who has suffered hunger and starvation long enough that his mental faculties are injured beyond repair (it would seem). He writes occasionally for a newspaper, makes enough to get by a few days if his story is purchased, or goes without food for days if it doesn't get picked up. The malnourishment causes a variety of problems, from extreme mood swings to paranoia to hallucinations. He takes to chewing on wood shavings, then stones, then a piece of his jacket pocket to try and defy the hunger. When he does eat, he is usually ill from the food. He gets to a point where he visualizes taking a bite out of his hand to eat, and does so. He comes out of his trance when he does, but it shows how far out of reality he became. A few times he either finds money or is given some by a benevolent person; he simply can't accept this, and gives it away.
The insanity is beyond anything I imagined. Perhaps because it's told in first person style, where every thought and inkling is described and explored. The people he harasses, the fights he starts, his visions of his own talent (highly inflated) and his paranoia are frightening. He has tremendous pride, not wanting to take help from others, even when he hasn't eaten for days. One shopkeeper, realizing his situation, actually pretends to make a mistake and gives him too much change...rather than take this for food, he gives it to a more 'impoverished' soul than him. It's not that he's selfless, far from it. His pride consumes him. He can't bear to imagine anyone thinking badly of him, even when he is selling off his clothing and the buttons on his coat. He even has the opportunity to make use of a homeless shelter to get food and a bed, and he refuses rather than to look bad.
Physically, the starvation manifests itself in losing his hair in clumps, a peeling skin rash and raw skin from his dirty clothes rubbing his skin, blackened nails, lost teeth, and a chronic dizziness and fever.
I was amazed in that while he did write to earn money, he never seemed to try and seriously find a job. And he never seemed to consider stealing, which would have occurred to me before I would be chewing on stones. Again, it wasn't out of honor, it was about his perception of what others would think of him, and he wanted to be thought of as honorable, even though he wasn't.
He was truly isolated. No family is mentioned, his only friends are actually acquaintances that avoid him because of his strange behavior and pathetic appearance, exactly what he was hoping to avoid. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of child he was (okay, I know it's fictional but I still think this way) and what made him so prideful and vain.
It's said that everyone has a story they tell themselves about themselves. How they account for their choices and actions in their own head, and how they justify or condemn themself. In this I wondered, since I could clearly see the story he was telling himself, and how inaccurate it was from his reality, how far off is my perception of myself? Is the way I think as completely out of touch? Is my inner voice as flawed and stubborn as his?
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
Thus Auden ("In memory of WB Yeats").
Hamsun's hero in Hunger is restless,provocative,insolent,egotistical,given to swoops of joyful lyricism and the utmost humiliation and despair as he begs,borrows,starves,lies and cheats his way through his days in Kristiana in the late 19th century. His moods are always changing like the weather,laughing, shouting,talking to himself, crying, angry.His bouts of starvation empty and hollow him out,make him hallucinate,give him delusions of writing the next masterpiece,a refutation of Kant in 3 parts,which he doesn't do,but it gives his feverish mind a goal.The main poles of his existence are the Editor,his Landlord,the Baker and the Pawnshop.Not forgetting the policeman.
His lies become as truthful to him as the truth and he acts them out. God both exists for him to rail at, or doesn't exist. Andreas Tangen(we only learn his name half way through) most definitely does exist! He starves for the next crust of bread, while searching for work,he also starves for inspiration to write. He swings between pride and humility. His pride will not allow him to take money when he needs it, and makes him charitable when he can't afford it.He pawns the clothes off his back to give the money to another wretch.He perverts and distorts the Christian ethic, and, as in Doestoyevsky's Notes from the Underground,has hopes of gaining salvation through degradation and suffering.
His attention is seized by everything,riding on a chain of moods through the back streets of Kristiana,'flies and gnats stuck to the paper...I blew on them to make them go away,then blew harder and harder,but it was no use. The little pests lean back and make themselves heavy,putting up such a struggle that their thin legs bend.' He is given over to bouts of elation while writing. He sucks on stones when he is hungry. He wanders aimlessly in Hamsun's plotless novel,his poverty becomes a lodestone of wealthy perceptions.Every now and then the Editor takes pity and gives him money for an article,which lasts a few days,then the starvation all begins again.
Without the stub of a pencil he is lost.His clothes are thread-bare and shabby. He plays pranks on women to embarrass them.He has fun at other people's expense.He invents new words and new names. He is at one with animate and inanimate nature in her changing cycles.We do not get the sociology of hunger as in Orwell(`Down and Out in Paris and London') but we get the physiology and the effects on the unconscious. Tangen is an aristocrat of the spirit,grandiose and self-elevating. He moves and annoys us.This novel explores the dark nether regions of the human mind in its overture tothe 20th century.This masterpiece,the birth-pangs of a genius.Robert Bly's translation
is energetic and poetic,if not always technically accurate.