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Hunger (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

Hunger (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)


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The story of a starving writer in Norway, Hunger is a pivotal masterpiece of European modernism. The protagonist is anonymous and the plot is meager. What holds the text together is the focus on the protagonist's emotions. These emotions are reveled to the reader by the minute descriptions of the inner landscape of the mind, interspersed with the unnamed writer's random encounters with strangers and acquaintances in the streets, or short meetings with various editors.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780760780879
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 07/15/2006
Series: Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)


Hunger (1890) by the Norwegian novelist and Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun is one of the early yet pivotal masterpieces of European modernism. This predecessor to the twentieth century's stream-of-consciousness writing epitomized by the work of writers such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Beckett is as captivating to the twenty-first-century reader as it was notorious to Scandinavian audiences of the 1890s. Hunger is a book in four parts-Hamsun insisted that he had not written a novel-that describes the struggles of an aspiring, and starving, writer in Christiania (now Oslo). Although the protagonist is anonymous and the plot is meager, what really holds the text together is the focus on the protagonist's mind, moods, impulses, and emotions. The minimal plot is offset by the minute descriptions of the inner landscape of the mind, interspersed with the unnamed writer's random encounters with strangers and acquaintances in the streets, or short meetings with various editors.

Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) is both revered as one of the pioneers of modernist writing-of which Hunger is a perfect example-and vilified as an enthusiastic and unwavering supporter of the Nazi occupation of Norway during 1940-45. While the debate about his political convictions has raged unabated since his 1946 trial, intensifying after the release of Jan Troell's 1996 movie Hamsun, the consensus about his literary genius has never been shaken.

This self-taught writer, who spent his teens and twenties in a variety of places in Norway and tried his hand at a range of trades and professions, never doubted his talent and showed early literary ambitions. He was born as Knut Pedersen in 1859 in Lom in the Gubrandsdal valley of central Norway. In 1862, his family moved to the north of Norway, to a farm called Hamsund near Hamarøy in Nordland. At the age of nine Hamsun was sent to work on a nearby uncle's farm. His uncle was a strict disciplinarian and a devoutly religious man who influenced Hamsun profoundly. The dramatic northern landscape and its quality of light likewise made a life-long impression on him, and many of his later novels are set in that distinct landscape. He subsequently worked as a cobbler's apprentice, a peddler, and a road worker. His breakthrough work, Hunger, came late, when he was almost thirty, after much poverty, many disappointments, with several minor texts published, and after two visits to the United States.

Hamsun's two stays in the United States (1882-84 and 1886-88) left him disappointed over the promised land of Amerika, the destination of millions of European emigrants, not least of whom were Scandinavians. While some of his experiences were conducive to his personal and artistic growth-certainly his position with the Unitarian priest and writer Kristofer Janson in Minneapolis where he could avail himself of Janson's library; or the opportunity to lecture in Minneapolis on contemporary literature-he formed opinions of the United States that would be reflected in his work for years. Although tinted with ambivalence and uncertainty, his basic experience and perception of America were of pervasive immorality and hypocrisy, greed, bluff, and deceit. While he appreciated Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and, in a slightly different category, the dynamic if hyperbolic writing of American journalism, Hamsun was highly critical of the American arts. He returned to Copenhagen, the artistic capital of Scandinavia, in 1888, as poor as he had left it. He began writing feverishly and produced a number of articles and a book on the United States (The Cultural Life of Modern America), gave lectures, and finished Hunger, although not until June 1890. It was his 1886 article on Mark Twain that provided the pen name 'Hamsun.' Although he signed the article 'Hamsund,' it was misspelled by a printer, and he decided to keep it as Hamsun for the rest of his life.

In the November 1888 issue of the radical and trendy Copenhagen literary journal Ny Jord (New Soil), Hamsun published anonymously what is essentially part two of Hunger. An instant sensation because of its style, drive, and content-or lack of traditional content-it had that hard-to-define yet unmistakable quality of something extraordinary and completely new. This sensational literary debut happened just as Hamsun had imagined it. He had worked hard for many years, determined to publish a work of art that was uniquely his. He had desired artistic fame but on his own terms rather than imitating his contemporary legends Henrik Ibsen and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. It was not until June 1890 that the entire book as we know it was published, to a notorious reception among readers, a positive reception among fellow writers, and largely, if not completely, positive critical reviews.

Hunger's first-person narrator both acts on his impulses and tracks them in detail for the reader, revealing a keen sense of observation as well as a critical and at times ironic reflection on the contradiction between his shabby existence and his megalomaniac artistic goals, which include writing an article on Correggio and a play set in the Middle Ages. However, the narrator's grotesque and humiliating poverty is not the subject of sociological criticism but rather a willed state of frenzy; a game that pushes the limits of his body and mind; a vehicle leading into a creative state undisturbed by the mundane, everyday chores of a job. Except for some details of nineteenth-century urban life-like rather typical newspaper advertisements, horse carriages, pawnshops, and so forth-the events of the novel are independent of the times. It is this absence of any lengthy description of the external world that enables the twenty-first century reader to identify with the reality of the inner experience. The protagonist, the would-be writer, is constantly reminded of his own hunger, in fact of his lack of everything but talent and will. His hunger for food, for love, and for recognition, are offset by his drive to write, and the text hops over the short periods when he has enough money to feed himself.

Early in his career Hamsun criticized literature as a discussion of social or political topics; this critique is already articulated in his 1887 lectures in Minneapolis' Dana Hall where he discussed modern writers such as the Frenchmen Honore de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and Emile Zola, and the Swede August Strindberg, in addition to the Norwegian writers of the day. This criticism is repeated during his notorious 1891 lecture tour of Norway's southwestern coast where he mercilessly dispatched the four grand Norwegian writers: Bjørnson, Kielland, Lie, and Ibsen. Hamsun, in these lectures, suggested that literature needs to address the complexity, and ultimately the mystery, of the human mind and human behavior. With Hunger, and with his essay "From the Unconscious Life of the Mind" (1890), which was a kind of literary manifesto, he staked out the ground for a new kind of literature: a literature of the inner mind with modern protagonists who are complex, contradictory, and ultimately impenetrable.

The main protagonist of Hunger is precisely such a modern man. We do not really know much about him, his family, or his education. On the first page of the book he wakes up in a nondescript lodging and registers the ads from the newspaper that is used to insulate the thin walls. On the last page of the book, while newly employed on a ship leaving Christiania, he promises he will be back. Within these external boundaries we witness a segment of his life. He describes the nuances of his starvation while busily writing an article or a treatise; he idles away time in the streets, cemeteries, and parks of the city, meeting long-forgotten acquaintances and odd passers-by. Woven in is a love story: he feels attracted to a mysterious woman whom he calls Ylajali. He manages to meet her, and for a short while she returns his feelings. When he discovers that what for him is a dangerous reality is for her a quasi-bohemian amusement, the brief relationship abruptly ends. However, he continues to challenge his existence and to believe in his artistic mission. Even when in prison, creativity magically and unexplainably affirms itself: in the deepest darkness, a word without meaning appears to him-Kuboa-but it is a word nevertheless, which he interprets as a sign of his creativity.

Several of Hamsun's later heroes resemble the anonymous protagonist from Hunger. Hamsun's exploration of the odd outsider continues in his next novel, Mysteries (1892), by inventing Nagel, the main protagonist, who unexpectedly appears in a small Norwegian coastal town dressed in a bright yellow suit. Nagel is just as lonely as the protagonist of Hunger, and controversial within the local community. Hamsun's twentieth-century novels, which are written in a more broadly epic style, also contain rootless and restless modern protagonists; even his most idyllic novel, The Growth of the Soil (1917), has room for Geissler, a modern, unreliable, slightly alcoholic, and creative individual. Abel, from Hamsun's 1936 novel The Ring is Closed, is an even closer parallel to the protagonist of Hunger: Abel ends up shedding all of his material possessions to live alone in a hut, like an animal. The crucial difference between the two protagonists from the beginning and the end of Hamsun's career, between the anti-hero of Hunger and Abel, is that Abel nurses no creative agenda, which can be read as a sign of Hamsun's increasing disillusionment, old age, or the combination of the two. If there are traits in Hunger that could be tied into Hamsun's later reactionary politics, they would be the extreme individualism of the protagonist; the aesthete's repulsion at seeing lame, old, or fat individuals; and the aristocratic will to artistic success, a will to prevail.

As unique a writer as Hamsun was, he was also the product of his time. Hunger is a perfect expression of a shift toward the exploration of the internal mind, both as an exciting new arena investigated vigorously by the hard sciences and as a reaction to the sense of loss of the stable, coherent, and comforting world of the mid-nineteenth century. Hamsun compared his literary debut, and rightly so, to the insights and writings of a Russian writer whom he admired all his life, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. While Hamsun was no reader of philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche's reflections on the aristocratic individual and his will conflated with Hamsun's own understanding of his immense and surprising talent, with his world view, and his disinterestedness in the masses. Closer to home, Hamsun greatly admired August Strindberg and felt an affinity for his modern approach to art as explained most clearly in Strindberg's preface to his 1888 play Miss Julie.

But the reverse is also true: while Hamsun describes the universal experience of urban rootlessness and modern angst, he produced a unique work of art based on his own experiences, drawing on his own suffering and starvation, his own endurance and creative drive during the winters of 1880-81 and 1885-86 in Christiania. If we need to use a genre label for Hunger it would be a mixture of autobiography and novel.

In spite of all the commotion around Hunger in 1890, it was not selling that well and a German translation (1891) gave Hamsun financial hope as well as wider European exposure. Even before the publication of Hunger in book form, it was reviewed and then serialized in German in the influential new journal Freie Bühne. After Hamsun met Alfred Langen in Paris in 1893, his publishing house Langen Verlag became and remained Hamsun's German representative. During the 1890s, Hamsun wrote at a tremendous pace and published novels, short stories, and plays, of which especially Pan (1894) and Victoria (1898) became popular and critical successes. But the turn of the century is marked by his restlessness. His first marriage to Bergljot Geopfert failed (1898-1905), and while his second, to the actress Marie Andersen in 1909, lasted the rest of his life, it was marked, increasingly and mutually so, by jealousy, bitterness, and separations.

After 1900, Hamsun continued writing and publishing although he changed his poetics from intense lyricism to a more paced, epic realism. His 1917 novel Growth of the Soil, about settling northern Norway and describing the pleasures and patience of hard work on the land, brought him the Nobel Prize in 1920. This novel was followed by the much harsher yet captivating The Women at the Pump (1920), which focused on the castrated Oliver Anderson's illusions and hard reality. After being one of the first Norwegians to undergo psychoanalysis in the 1920s, Hamsun published his so-called "August trilogy" on the adventurous, restless, scheming, yet entrepreneurial and likeable August and his idealistic and trusting friend Edevart (Wayfarers, 1927; August, 1930; The Road Leads On, 1933). He concluded his interwar novels with the pessimistic and baffling The Ring is Closed about the sailor Abel, a modern Everyman, who cannot and does not really want to find a home anywhere in the world. These works all reinforced his reputation as one of the leading European writers of the time.

Complex and varied, Hamsun's novels are most often set during the period of early industrialization in Norway, beginning around the 1850s, a time of intense and rapid social change from family-based farms and the simple life of fishermen to the first factories, timber mills, urban towns, and banks. Although Hamsun availed himself of contemporary inventions-he was one of the first people in Norway to have a six-seat Buick-he did not cheer modern developments and achievements, be they in science or education, material gains, or travel. On the contrary, he saw them as distractions, robbing individuals of a simple and contented life. There was nothing sadder for Hamsun than an educated woman-and in his fiction he usually portrayed her as childless-or a former peasant turned factory wage-earner, rootless yet arrogant toward his superiors. Except during his radical youth, Hamsun always displayed conservative if not reactionary tendencies: in Norway it was the early rural local lord rather than the emerging middle-class that had his trust; in the United States it was the Southern white elite rather than East Coast intellectuals; in the Old World it was the fatalistic Orient rather than the enlightened France that captured his imagination. Hamsun shared with many of his contemporaries views on the inferiority of non-Europeans, and he was terrified of the radical ideas put forth by the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia and feared their influence on Norwegian society. His fellow Norwegians Fritjof Nansen and Vidkun Quisling undertook humanitarian missions in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and testified to the suffering and starvation of the people following their civil war. To a certain degree, Hamsun's endorsement of the Nazis' seizure of power was predicated on his fear of communism. That being said, Hamsun supported Norway's inclusion in the Third Reich to the bitter end not out of political naiveté, but out of conviction. From writing articles in support of the good work by German submarines to seeing his sons serving the German occupiers; from presenting his Nobel Prize medal as a gift to Goebbels, the Third Reich's propaganda minister, to writing a deeply felt eulogy for Hitler in May 1945, Hamsun never wavered in his support for the Nazis. After the war he was deeply resented by the majority of Norwegians, especially those who had been imprisoned or who had lost loved ones. He was arrested soon after the war ended, interrogated, mentally evaluated, and tried; although he was not sentenced to any additional jail time, he was fined a large percentage of his personal wealth. His wife and his son Arild, however, were imprisoned for their activities in support of the Nazis. In 1949, Hamsun published his autobiographical novel On Overgrown Paths, which was in part reminiscences of events long past and in part a defense treatise.

Hamsun lived his final years at Nørholm, his estate on the southern coast of Norway. His wife Marie, whom he exiled from his life for her alleged betrayal during his postwar mental evaluation, was eventually allowed to join him, and she cared for him until his death in 1952.

Despite his political collaboration with the Nazis, Hamsun belongs to the European canon and deserves to be better known for his literary contributions than he is today. Major European writers of various persuasions, including Thomas Mann, Herman Hesse, and Robert Musil, as well as Maxim Gorky, Boris Pasternak, and even Andre Gide, have praised Hamsun's creative magic. In his home country of Norway, every aspiring writer has had to struggle with Hamsun's legacy, and many have acknowledged his influence, among them the well-known contemporary writers Dag Solstad and Lars Saaby Christensen. In the United States writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Robert Bly, and Paul Auster have acknowledged his attraction and power with words. Even today, Hamsun's novel Hunger remains fresh and provocative, and it is an ideal book to begin to acquaint oneself with the work of this formidable writer.

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Hunger (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
elitaES More than 1 year ago
I would never think that a book about hunger could be this interesting. There are times that we are hungry but this time is almost never extended to days. The author describes hunger in a way that reading the book and not being able to share his feelings is almost impossible. The book does not only describes hunger but also talks about social interactions and self image, how human beings strive for achievement at all times. One of the most important thing about this book is, hunger can also stimulate our sense of creativity somehow. Things that we are able think and do when we are hungry changes. It affects human behavior in a way that nothing else can. Experiencing love, success, respect, disrespect and all possible emotions that we go trough on a given day, is explained when hunger exists. It take us to a point where there is no possible return point. We don't even think about eating but creating (writing in author's case) when we are determined to do it. I would recommend the book to anyone who would like to experience hunger from a different perspective
Guest More than 1 year ago
Knut Hamson takes the reader down a path of desolation, suffering, delirium, and a jumble of confused thoughts. The hero in the book (whom Hamson never names) is a struggling writer who is constantly working on his first major breakthrough to get into the door of the literary world. While struggling to find his masterpiece he writes for the local newspaper for five or ten Krone (Norwegian currency) per article. Sometimes it¿s published, other times it¿s rejected by the editor. He goes one day to the next hoping to hear from the newspaper that his article was accepted. Meanwhile he slowly but surely looses his apartment, and goes hungry, aimlessly walking the streets of Christiania (Oslo) doing everything his demented mind tells him to do. Most of it doesn't make sense to the reader. He stalks strange woman on the street, he pawns his only coat to give a beggar money for food (while he himself is starving), and he takes a cab throughout the city lying to the driver telling him he needs to find a certain person very urgently (he makes up a name). But the interesting part is, during all his delusionary acts, he clearly knows what he's doing, but is powerless to defy the voices in his head. Through all the depravity he experiences, the reader never at any point feels bad for the character, for it is evident that at any moment he could escape his miseries, and find a job. It also becomes abundantly clear to the reader that he is exceedingly smart, and can hold an intelligent conversation with the best of them. Why then we might ask is his starving on the streets of Oslo? There is a very surprising ending, one that I must admit left me unsatisfied, but maybe I'm missing something that Hamson was trying to relate. Read it, and decide for yourself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'd never heard of Hamsun until I saw a recent Norwegian movie about his life (of the same name) with Max von Sydow, which was a superb, albeit little known, film released in 1996. As a consequnce, I was intrigued about the real Hamsun and decided to read 'Hunger.' I could go on for pages about what a wonderfully powerful novel this is, but suffice it to say that you will know yourself better by the time you reach the conclusion. 'Hunger' is not just about food, it's emblematic of all the hungers we feel: hunger for knowledge, connection, love, sex, money, comfort, etc. If you're open to the possibilities, this story may just change your life too!
CBJames on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I came to Knut Hamsun by way of George Egerton. Two writers few modern readers have heard of outside of academia and Norway. George Egerton (Mary Chavelita Dunne Bright) wrote two volumes of wonderful short stories, Keynotes and Discords, in the late 1890's and became one of the prominent figures in the feminist literary movement known as the "New Women." She had a romantic attachment with Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, whom she listed as a strong influence on her own writing. In fact, she translated his first novel, Hunger, into English. Mr. Hamsun went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920, while Ms. Egerton faded into obscurity until modern critics such as Elaine Showalter rediscovered her work. I found her through Ms. Showalter's book A Literature of Their Own. Hunger is based on the ten years Mr. Hamsun spent in Christiania, now modern Oslo, trying to become a writer, earning very little money for the few articles and stories he could sell, and going without food much of the time. The novel's subject is hunger and its effects on the psychological and physical state of those who endure it. As such, it's an excellent work. Because Mr. Hamsun believed that the subject of literature should be the intricacies of the human mind, Hunger focuses on the experience and thoughts of its un-named narrator almost to the exclusion of other characters. There are other people in the book--the editor at the magazine, a landlady, an old friend who tries to offer help, a woman he meets on the streets a few times--but these characters are of little interest to Hamsun and to the reader. What interests Hamsun is the narrator's state of mind, the delusions his hunger causes, and his own desire to keep up appearances as he insists on surviving only by writing instead of taking on a profession which he feels his beneath a man of his sensibilities.Photo of author from WikipediaHunger is interesting reading, and this insistence on writing as the sole source of income eventually worked for Hamsun himself, eventually. But midway through the book, one starts wishing the narrator would simply get a job. I suppose it may be of those moments when a modern perspective intrudes on the experience of reading classic literature, but I suspect many of Mr. Hamsun's contemporaries had the same reaction. Even Franz Kafka took a job with an insurance agency, for heaven's sake. No one ever accused him of selling out.
akeela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Translated from Norwegian by Sverre Lyngstad. This classic was written in 1890 and is a simple story about a struggling but talented writer who often finds himself homeless, and starving for days on end. The writing is astonishing, and it is a joy to read.Much of the book was poignant, but the brashness and creativity of the affable protagonist also produced many laugh-out-loud moments. And then quite honestly, the young man's pride and obsession with being honourable and honest infuriated me at times ¿ it caused him such grief. In spite of the dark subject matter, this was a light, quick read, and it is a book I recommend highly.A note on the author: The 150th celebration of Knut Hamsun¿s birth was widely celebrated in Norway in 2009. Many negative things have been said about his political leanings, but I was interested to learn that he had virtually no education and at 12, lived with an uncle who beat him regularly. He escaped from this man¿s clutches as soon as he could and took to the road, doing menial jobs to survive, often experiencing virtual starvation during that time. So the book may be somewhat autobiographical. A wonderful read.
soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the things I've discovered in recent years is that without other characters for your protagonist to interact with, your story can get old very quickly. I certainly found that to be the case with 'Hunger'. Although it's relatively short I struggled through most of it because it was not fun to be in the narrator's head. His troubled relationship with the woman he calls Ylayali is captivating, though it only lasts a few pages.
BlackSheepDances on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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?
deebee1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I approached this influential work with high expectations, and i was not disappointed. The novel is raw, stark, spare -- the effect is visceral. It is psychological realism at its best. We follow a short phase in the life of an impoverished but talented young writer in the streets of Christiana (Oslo) in the late 19th century, who is reduced by his condition to borderline madness. Indeed it seemed that his flashes of brilliance are occasioned by extreme starvation when delirium brings on inspiration and creativity. We witness his misadventures at finding work or something to eat, his humorous encounters with some characters, his sometimes infuriatingly schizophrenic behavior, his spinning of a small world around him rushing from heights of ecstatic revelry and hope to pityingly low depths of self-pity and mockery, and back, always in a mad dash. His is a complex character -- irritatingly self-possessed and proud but also generous to a fault, literally giving away the last shirt on his back. In an unforgettable passage, he challenges God for the injustice of withholding opportunities from a toiling, hardworking, and well-intentioned person as he. We feel his isolation, his torment, self-deception, his caprices, his small joys, his passions, his dignity. He is a man destined to write, and he lives because he writes. With such themes, the novel could easily have been dark and depressing, but it is not. There is plenty of comic relief and the mood is exhilarating, fast-paced, rebellious. The character reminded me of Dostoevky's Raskolnikov but without the drama. Definitely a must-read.
ubaidd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm sorry but I disagree with what seems to be the general consensus on this book. I read the 1920 edition with a translation by George Egerton and that may very well be the problem. A translated piece of fiction is subject to the skill and finesse of the translator, and perhaps the person to blame here is not the author but the translator.In any case, I found Hunger to be a bit meandering and frustrating. I don't really know what the Norwegian society of the time described in the novel was like but it certainly did not have much to recommend for it. The scenes where the author describes chewing on wood shavings to dampen his pangs of hunger and where he throws up a perfectly healthy (and necessary) meal because his body can't process the food are almost depressing.I found some of the protagonists actions difficult to understand, for example why doesn't he just beg? Or steal? Or engage in some sort of manual labor? Why is there not any friend our relative who will throw some scraps his way? Surely the concept of dying from hunger must have been a rare event in nineteenth century Norway? Or was it?Another hindrance in relating to the book was the fact that I have no idea what "half a soverign" or half a crown could buy in that time. The romance half way through the novel also did not quite make much sense to me, did I miss something there?The one thought the book forced was about the role of food and money and the bigger question of why we work. Do we work only to put food in our bellies? Certainly not. But the first requirement that must be met with the fruit of our labor is the filling of our bellies. The book however doesn't really make that (or any other) case with much conviction. The dénouement is also almost anticlimactic.I was left unimpressed. Not recommended.
araridan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Extremely likable unnamed protagonist falls on some hard luck and finds himself homeless in the streets of Christiania, Norway. A lot of the book does focus on being really hungry and stressed out about trying to find a place to sleep. However, this guy also has a hilarious habit of harmlessly lying to or harrassing someone and then finding himself unable to stop it. He's also the type of guy who really doesn't want to beg for money (in fact he often gives away money to other people in need) he tries to make ends meet by writing articles for a local paper...all though the subject matters indicate that he may be losing his mind throughout the novel. This book also includes a "scandalous"/funny sorta sex scene. Recommended.
michaelmurphy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This compelling novel will strike a chord with anyone who, for whatever reason or turn of circumstance, has found themselves completely isolated in life, knowing no-one at all, suffering extremes of loneliness, virtually bereft of human interaction and discourse - stranded helplessly among people like a ghost doomed to wander in a phantom zone. Written in 1890, Knut Hamsun's novel "Hunger", is a disturbing journey into the mind and soul of a young writer. With no plot or characters (other than the young writer narrator) to speak of, the novel, written in the form of an interior monologue, recounts each moment-by-moment thought or impulse running through the young writer's mind. The reader observes in the interior monologue, the steady deterioration of the young writer's mental state as his thoughts swing erratically between extremes of elation and despair.For the nameless young writer, clothes falling apart, existing precariously on the brink of starving to death, evicted from his room when rental payments lapsed, not knowing where his next mouthful of food will come from, pawning the vest off his back (but making rash, extravagant handouts as soon as he comes into any money), each day represents a vast desert of dead and empty time in which he wanders, lost, blown about the streets of the city like a paper in the wind, dogged by unremitting hunger - with brief periods of respite when his starvation is temporarily quelled with what little money he makes flogging the odd article to a local newspaper. In his drastically weakened state, on the verge of physical collapse, unable to eat without throwing up, only able to write in patches, the young writer begins to lose his reason, his irrational state of mind marked by wild impulses and violent mood swings as he slips into paranoia and despair. A relationship with a girl quickly fizzles out and in the end he leaves the city.While the novel gives an account of the young writer's sufferings and privations, his desperate struggle with hunger and hardship, occupying a plane of existence on the edge of starvation, themes of loneliness and alienation lie at the heart of it - the young writer completely isolated, virtually existing inside his own head, his introspection developing thought-patterns grotesquely magnifying trivial events out of all proportion, manifested in bizarre and preposterous behaviour. Highly recommended!
391 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was almost painful to read the narrator's descent into madness - I cringed at certain points, hoping he would just use the money he had been given, or beg for bread, or do something to alleviate his condition even though he considered it below him. Hamsun's prose is utterly fantastic, though - the page or two where he curses God is just incredible.
lalaland on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Definitely a stream-of-consciousness narrative. Hard to follow only because the protagonist is hard to follow. You want him to succeed, and you believe he can succeed, but he doesn't. Frustrating and disheartening.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hunger by Knut Hamsun is a startling narrative told by a young journalist who is literally starving throughout the novel. Hamsun's technique, achieved in this first novel of his published in 1888, is to present a first person narrative that demonstrates a man subject to delusions and psychological stress that almost reaches the breaking point. This is not unusual for a contemporary author, but in the late nineteenth century it was very unusual.Written after Hamsun's return from an ill-fated tour of America, Hunger is loosely based on the author's own impoverished life before his breakthrough in 1890. Set in fin-de-siecle Christiana, the novel recounts the adventures of a starving young man whose sense of reality is giving way to a delusional existence on the darker side of a modern metropolis. While he vainly tries to maintain an outer shell of respectability, his mental and physical decay are recounted in detail. His ordeal, enhanced by his inability or unwillingness to pursue a professional career, which he deems unfit for someone of his abilities, is pictured in a series of encounters which Hamsun himself described as 'a series of analyses.' In many ways, the protagonist of the novel displays traits reminiscent of the underground man and Raskolnikov, whose creator, Fyodor Dostoevsky, was one of Hamsun's main influences. In Hamsun's story you have the unnamed narrator imagining actions of others, impersonating other people and living on the brink of an existence that seems surreal. In effective clear prose this rises to the level of a nightmare in print. The beauty and power of this book makes it a great read and one that I will not forget.
JimmyChanga on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
pride, honor, shame, self deception, self delusion, mania, idiosyncratic logic, a very enjoyable, and at times hilarious, read. Even though at first the narrator seems like quite an oddball, i can see a little bit of myself in him, even at his most irrational.
wilsonknut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Charles Bukowski said that this was one of his favorite books, and old Charles didn't give praise lightly. The book was certainly ahead of its time, reading like something from the height of modernism, rather than the 1890s. I understand why Bukowski like it. He always held to the ideal of the poor, mad artist and this book is a psychological study of a poor, insane writer. The protagonist is so irrational and insane at times it's just irritating. Was he insane because he was poor and hungry, or was he poor and hungry because he was insane (and in my opinion an idiot)? I don't know. I respect the book, but it's not a favorite of mine.
raggedprince on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
written in a straightforward way, in the first person, it ends up being liberating - whether you're going to eat or not brings reality into focus - cuts to the chase
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
cscow90 More than 1 year ago
This is a very good inner dialog book with interesting insights about suffering and social stigma. I would recommend this book for anyone seeking a plot-driven story. This is a psychological ride, and a very good one. As the title suggests, it is about hunger and the many facets connected with it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
District 7.
AmandaCollier More than 1 year ago
A very powerful book about the struggles of a very poor writer who finds it beneath him to ask for help / pity from people when his resources end. A strong insight into human nature, pride and a sort of vanity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
CR-Buell More than 1 year ago
Hunger is an extremely compelling novel, and powerful psychological portrait. Our unnamed protagonist is a freelance writer living in Oslo (Christiana). When we first meet him he is in dire straits; penniless, late on the rent, and nearly out of possessions to pawn. Things will only get worse for him. We follow him as his situation degrades even further; forced to leave his apartment and pawn articles of clothing, he literally begins to starve. All the while his behavior becomes more and more erratic. He picks fights with strangers, revels in outrageous lies, battles himself over his sense of honor, and rages against god and society. What makes Hunger such a profound novel is the realization that our protagonist is doing all this to himself. For unknown, and unknowable reasons he is putting himself through the crucible. He dreams of the great (and valuable) articles he will write, and yet he will not allow himself to write them. He moans about his poor luck, but when on the few occasions luck drops some money is his hands he finds some reason to give it away. We don't know why he does this to himself, and neither does he. What we do know is that if he doesn't figure it out soon he'll die.