16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute 'must read'!!
Intense! Moving! Unforgettable! - a few resonant 'power words' which could help me to describe Mr. Knut Hamsun's Hunger to some extent, but they do little to fully encapsulate my innermost feelings about this novel. Quite simply Hunger, is one of the most powerful books I've ever read, in any genre; whether fictional or factual, and given that I've read countless...
Published on 8 July 2008 by Robert Burdock
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Excellent novel; mediocre translation
I would like to start off by saying that Sult, or "Hunger" as it is translated into, is one of my favorite books. As a native Norwegian, I have read it numerous times in the original language, and consider it to be one the greatest literary accomplishments, period. Understand that this comes from someone who primarily reads English books; Norwegian works cannot expect...
Published 17 months ago by RSS
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute 'must read'!!,
Stunning in its delivery, Hunger is one of the few books that has the ability to truly touch your soul. What makes the novel so intense is not the storyline; for the most part the story is devoid of plot. Rather the sense of sympathy and desperation one feels for the main character (a struggling writer on a psychological roller-coaster ride, stricken by poverty, who always seems as though he is about to draw his final breath), is, for me, the novel's crowning glory. This mechanism of `survival doubt' is superlatively engineered into the story by Mr. Hansum. There are times, usually at the start of a new `chapter' when the writer's survival seems assured (he himself proclaims many times that his latest work will be the one that end his dificulties). Inevitably however, the character's situation diminishes, and the reader's confidence can do nothing but diminish along with it, until, through some fortune turn of events, the main player draws himself back, if usually only temporarily, from the `abyss'.
As intense as Hunger is (and it really is intense at times, with the writer's moods elevating and lowering as often as the paragraphs change), I also found the novel to be quite humourous in parts. The writer's `unnecessary' and continual bickerings with people he meets, is only surpassed in humour by the intense arguments the writer often has with himself, which more often than not, involves some form of self harm. In essence this personal self loathing is of course a sign of utter madness and desperation, the mark of a madman, but one cannot help but raise a smile when the main character is found in the middle of the street bawling at himself, with onlookers staring aghast.
The writer's obstinate stupidity also makes for a number of humourous scenes, such as when he declares his homelessness at a police station, falsifies his name and circumstances, and consequently misses out on a desperately needed meal. Humour can also be found in the unrealistic value that the main character quite often places on his own personal artifacts. Of course in desperate times especially, one would be inclined to place an inflated value on their personal effects, and Hamsun is primarily illustrating this fact. However it still brings a note of humour to the proceedings, especially when the character attempts to pawn various belongings.
I'm well aware there is controversy surrounding the author of this work, (Mr. Hamsun evolved with quite repungent notions of Nazi idealism), but that is irrelevant to this novel and should not, in my opinion, be brought into consideration. Hunger stands on its own as one of the finest psychological works ever written. It is a book that I will invariably think about often. It is a book that has well and truly touched my soul
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to be dazzled,
The writing is so vivid that it is impossible not to be completely drawn in. On a number of occasions the narrator takes what he perceives to be 'moral decisions' which left me furious with him - he would rather starve than betray his conscience - and I actually found myself trying to reason with him. At times I had to put the book down so infuriated was I with his actions - I think I was going through the anguish of hunger with him and when he had a chance to get food and passed it up, it was more than I could bear!
At other times I was captivated by the humour and eccentricity of the book ... the narrator's mood swings, delusions and interactions with others make for very entertaining passages.
I highly recommend this book - it is both disturbing and memorable and I know it will stay with me for a long time.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth is selfless subjectivity,
It is a plot less novel, the setting is Christiana (now Oslo), and the main character is a starving, homeless young journalist, with a mercurial personality. His reactions have no middle term, he moves from extreme joy to acute depression, from arrogance to humility, on the verge of irrationality. It clearly reflects the author's early poverty, his pathological passion with aesthetical beauty, and an enormous driving force to perfect his concept that "language must resound with all the harmonies of music." "Hunger" anticipates Freud and Jung in their understanding of human nature, and creates a new literally hero, the alienated mind.
Of Norwegian nationality, Knut Hmsun won the Nobel Price for Literature in 1920. In real life he was ostracized by his countrymen and the literary community as a result of his radical individualism, and political/social views. Yes, Hamsun was a convicted Nazi, friend of Hitler and Goebbels, an advocate of the "pure" race (Jews should be expelled from Europe, Blacks should be returned to Africa), and he applauded German invasion of Norway. Needless to say, when WWII was over, he dearly paid the price: Imprisonment, confiscation, and poverty. When he died at the age of 92 (1952) he showed no remorse and held firmly to his beliefs.
The question arises: to what extent can we separate art from the artist, creation from the creator? Maybe another Nobel Laureate, Isaac Bashevis Singer, himself a Jew, can answer this question for us when he states: "the whole school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun."
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hunger as a great teacher? As inspiration?,
Thus he would rather starve that steal; he would rather go without food than ask for money from people he knows since in doing so he would lose face. When he gets change from a five kroner note that isn't his he feels so guilty that he tosses the money at a street cake seller to show that he doesn't need to stoop to stealing to survive. He is above that. Yet later he demands that the cake seller give him cakes for his money, saying that he had paid in advance! Near the end after getting an anonymous ten kroner note from a messenger, he cries out that "This humiliation was the worst of all! Accepting ten kroner in beggar's alms without being able to throw them back to the giver...." (p. 223) He is the man who cannot beg regardless of how hungry he gets.
In this way we see the radical swings in his moods and mentality. These swings of apprehension, understand and feeling are at the very heart of the novel. What Hamsun has done is examine very minutely his own heart and soul during such times (he himself experienced years of hunger when in his twenties just before "Hunger" was published in 1890). And what he discovered was the most amazing heights of emotion followed quickly by the most extreme lows and then back again. He saw these swings as natural to the human condition, these fantasies of mind as real or even more real that the cobblestones of the city or the sun overhead. States of mind come from within but are triggered by some outside event; yet one might find joy in the absurdity of life, a quick sense of power and exhilaration from some small, even imagined, triumph over someone met in the street. One might feel oneself a great hero by refusing a meal ticket since no matter how hungry one is above charity.
Even though Hamsun's hero rants and raves like a lunatic and even though he goes around in dirty rags and sleeps in the street, the people of Christiania (now Oslo) treat him rather kindly. No one whiplashes him. The cops don't throw him in jail. No teenage boys beat him up for kicks as happens to some of today's homeless. Instead they laugh at him--not to his face, but off to the side, after he has wandered off. They pity him as does the whore with the veil, who in her pity finds some excitement in wanting to love this pathetic creature who tears his hair out, who will not take a job but insists on proving to himself and the world that he can make a living from his writing.
What makes this work as literature is that, although Hamsun's hero is maintaining his pride through petty acts and rationalizations and lies to himself, the reader can see (thanks to Hamsun's artistry) that the people around him are amused at his foolish and insane pride, the kind of pride that can...well, as Hamsun's hero himself says on page 227, "...a man can die, you know, from too much pride."
Why pride? From an evolutionary standpoint if a man loses honor or has no pride in himself then he is treated accordingly by his tribe. In dominance rank he is among the lowest and gets just the scraps of society; he gets few or no reproductive chances. Certainly no woman would want to marry him and have his children. We see this poignantly when he is asked by an acquaintance about the woman he was walking with who is a prostitute. To puff himself up he declares that he is her fiancé.
Although Hamsun's hero won't steal, he will lie. He allows himself to lie because he feels deep down that he is not lying. Once he gets his act together as a writer, the recognition and honor due him will come and, yes, such a woman and many others will want him to be their intended. It is all a matter of "gleaning his teeming brain" (to recall Keats).
But the hunger of this novel has a symbolic value as well. The artist must suffer; he must feel and experience extremes in order to have the emotional and experiential authority to be a great artist. Kafka, no doubt thinking of this novel, wrote a short story entitled, "A Hunger Artist," the title implying what Hamsun consciously or unconsciously believed: that the artist must hunger greatly before he can succeed.
And indeed that is exactly what Hamsun himself did. With the publication of this novel began a great career that propelled him to recognition as one of the great literary figures of the modern era, whose work became widely imitated. In 1920 not long after the publication of his novel, "Growth of the Soil," he was awarded the Noble Prize in literature.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lesser-known masterpiece.,
By A Customer
This review is from: Hunger ("Rebel Inc") (Paperback)This novel is quite unlike most things you have read before, and for anyone familiar with Henry Miller, the existentialists, the Beats, etc., it will make a lot of sense as to who exactly influenced those writers. Hamsun was Norwegian, and this is a gritty, horrific, painstaking exploration of a twentysomething writer's personal hell as he endures 'hunger' - both literal and in spirit. The fact that it is also a very funny novel may sound surprising, but such is Hamsun's originality and skill. His detractors must have had a field day denouncing this as a 'one-gimmick' book or a pile of self-indulgent tosh, but I thought it brilliant and a must for anyone interested in existential literature. It's incredibly vivid, incisive and self-aware writing, and one of those books which is still frighteningly relevant today.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful stuff,
The key to this novel is the empathy you feel for the narrator. When his pride stops him accepting food you want to scream at him, when things don't go his way you hope for him, when he gets into a scrape you want to be there for him. In literature, if ever you encounter a character you want to scoop from the page and save from the world (or in this case themselves) you have something really special in your hands.
If by now it sounds like a depressing read: homelessness, poverty, loneliness, starvation, and hopelessness are all rather bleak reading - but the intensity of it is thrown into light relief by some comical episodes, stemming from his prideful delusions, mood swings and interactions (bickering with others in the street, and especially with himself).
I have given Hunger 5 stars because it has everything I look for in a great book. I have remembered it long after reading it, I genuinely cared about the fate of the main protagonist, and I have absolutely no qualms about recommending this book.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars KNUT HAMSUN Hunger Picador 1976,
The nameless narrator around whose thoughts the novel revolves stumbles aimlessly through the streets of Christiania, half starved, vomiting every time he eats something, shouting spuriously at policemen and prostitutes, trying to find the inspiration for his next literary effort that might earn him the elusive ten krone that he craves.
Chewing buttons and eating wood shavings, this could have become a comic parody, if it hadn't been the first of its kind. But it is also bleak;
'If I had been behaving like a reasonable man, I would have gone home and lain down quietly a long time ago, just given up.'
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars hunger,
The story follows the ordeals of an empoverished writer living in Kristiania - now Oslo - in the late nineteenth century, and much of it pertains to his daily struggle to find food and a bed. The hunger of the title refers not only to the constant gnawing pain in the emaciated narrator's belly but also to his hunger for recognition as a writer, a vocation constantly frustrated by the effects of his starvation and lack of a home on his ability to write.
The narrator is extremely vividly characterised, and comes across as a complex man with many faults as well as some attributes. He is arrogant, often putting on the airs and graces of a wealthy man by walking `with the bearing of someone having the power to make a high appointment'. Indeed, he is engulfed by his own act of haughtiness, as evidenced by his matter-of-fact acceptance of other people's subjugation in his presence - ` she timidly pressed closer to the wall to make room for me since I was giving myself such airs, and I instinctively put my hand in my pocket for something to give her'.
This scrabbling around for coins to give the `commoners' is one of the more frustrating aspects of his character - whenever he comes into some money through writing or by other means, he tosses it at others to make an impression of his superiority.
Hamsun also artfully outlines the narrator's ability to lie seamlessly - sometimes to earn respect, as in the night he spends in jail when, not wishing to be seen as a homeless person, he pretends to be a rich journalist out too late, or the time he pretends to have already written a three volume tome which is only a thought in his head - but often also to complete strangers for no apparent motivation other than to puff up his own ego. Indeed, his frequent fits of euphoria, omnipotence and delusions of grandeur and throwing around of what little money he has, together with his rapid and inevitable descent into deep depression, had me diagnosing him as suffering from bipolar (manic depressive) disorder at one stage - he definitely shows many of the symptoms and signs. Certainly, his lies and arrogance do him no favours, as in when he spurns - by not asking - a free meal at the jail, or refuses an advance from the kindly editor of the paper to which he contributes.
Yet for all his disagreeable characteristics, the reader still feels immense pity for the narrator. The desperation of the poor in those days is palpable - there seem to have been no alms houses, homeless dormitories or soup kitchens, and the few opportunities there were for the homeless, such as spending the night in a cell in jail, sound so deeply unpleasant that it is hardly surprising that the narrator did not resort to them more often. And he does have decent characteristics too, as evidenced by his sticking up for the paralysed father of his landlady when the old man is goaded by her children, or his ability to reach out and be totally honest with the girl who loves him.
Hunger is an extremely potent novel showing the pits of desperation that the human body and mind may reach in adverse circumstances. Remarkably, many of the anxieties, fears and causes of black depression are still the same today, more than 100 years after Hamsun wrote this dark, heart-rending and soul-wrenching book
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars hamsun hunger,
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature on the edge,
By A Customer
This review is from: Hunger ("Rebel Inc." Classics) (Paperback)This really is an extraordinary and extreme novel - quickly read but hard to get out of your head. The publishers, Canongate's 'Rebel Inc', have issued it alongside books by Fante, Brautigan and Trocchi, but 'Hunger' deserves to be seen as more than a 'cult' novel, it really is a key work of modernism. The translator Sverre Lyngstad is obviously an authority on the text and provides a detailed preface and appendix explaining why his version is so much better than Robert Bly's. No doubt he is right, although the zealous tone of his attack on Bly made me wonder whether Lyngstad had spent too long immersed in the world of Hamsun's egotistical and cruel hero. British readers may find Lyngstad's use of American slang off-putting - sometimes the protagonist sounds more like Huckleberry Finn than a starving fin-de-siecle European intellectual (at one moment of tension he even utters the word 'Gee'). However, as with 'Crime and Punishment', it is the particular intense incidents and a compelling underlying story that make this book so memorable.
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Hunger by Knut Hamsun