By Knut Hamsun
Canongate – £8.99

I felt capable of a greater effort and, being in the mood to surmount difficulties, decided upon a three-part monograph about philosophical cognition. Needless to say, I would have an opportunity to deal a deathblow to Kant’s sophisms…

According to The Times Literary Supplement, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger is ”the most outstanding Norwegian novelist since Ibsen,” which, all things considered, it might well be.

There again, how many Norwegian novelists are we realistically aware of?

When, in the Introduction, Jo Nesbo openly declares: ”Armed with doubt, I went to my bookshelf in search of my copy of Hunger. I couldn’t find it, but I knew it had to be somewhere. It wasn’t lost, and I definitely hadn’t lent it to someone; some books you simply don’t part with […],” I know exactly what s/he means.

Some books, in fact most books, you just don’t part with; especially when only nineteen (of 261) pages in, the author writes: ”[…]after I had found a bench and sat down, this question continued to occupy me, hindering me from thinking about anything else. From that day in May when my adversities had begun I could clearly perceive a gradually increasing weakness, I seemed to have become too feeble to steer or guide myself where I wanted to go; a swarm of tiny vermin had forced its way inside me and hollowed me out. What if God simply intended to annihilate me? I stood up and paced back and forth in front of my bench.”

The ”question” in question is neither here nor there. Reason being, the validity of the above lies in the fact that there’s something rather obsessive taking place, which, depending on one’s point of view, could either be considered inventive or far too pronounced for its own good. Especially so far as actual self-absorption in concerned.

That Hamsun speaks so openly about God and a park bench a mere sentence apart, kind of confirms what one already instinctively knew: that the remainder of the book is going to be something of a convoluted, yet immensely colourful read. Which it is.

One never really knows where the imagination is going to be taken next.

Funny thing is, the kernel of what ninety-percent of what this book is all about, remains inside the penniless young writer’s head: ”I was completely taken up with my own tales, wonderful visions hovered above my eyes, the blood rushed to my head and I lied like a trooper.”

Perhaps it is just such clarity and brittle honesty, that accounts for Knut Hamsun being equated with the likes of such other highly influential, twentieth century writers, as Camus and Kafka. Either way, this is a book truly resonates amid the ambiguity of pending chaos.

David Marx


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