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Hunger (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) Paperback – February 1, 1998
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Original Language: Norwegian
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"Hunger" shows a man reduced by his condition to a point where physiological and mental impulses blow him around like a paper in the wind. He entertains grandiose ideas but can't sustain them for more than a few moments. He engages in pointless antics and gives way to spur-of-the-moment impulses. Though he wails and cries, it's clear he enjoys his degradation. He may be the genius he thinks he is, but could equally well be a charlatan. His contacts with other people are minimal and glancing, and only add to his degraded state. You see life as lived from the bottom, in an atmosphere where desperation acts as a kind of drug.
The book is essentially plotless, and is structured almost symphonically, in four parts (or "movements"). I can imagine a bunch of modern creative-writing types, with their Perfectly Plausible Plots and insistence on the Show-Don't-Tell rule, tearing "Hunger" to pieces. No matter: the rambling, the violent mood swings, and the violation of fictional protocols actually give it strength. Next to most of the novels of its time, "Hunger" must have felt like a blow to the face. A sometimes painful but often exhilarating blow.
It probably sounds awful. It isn't. It's a masterpiece, if only because there's a curious gap between the experience and the telling of it. The narrator is entirely without self-pity. He never whinges - he curses, he daydreams, he fantasises, but he is always aware of his folly even when he's in the midst of it. This is what gives the book its incredible readability. Everything is portrayed in a crisp, early-morning light, everything is vividly _there_, there's no Holden Caulfield-type nostalgia or sentimental reverie. (During the 1960s, it was made into an incredible film - remarkable for a book which is mostly interior monologue.)
"Hunger" remains a classic not because it was influential or important in the history of the novel, but because it still seems so readable and so true. Hamsun wrote some other books that I'm told are equally good, then declined into mistiness and didacticism, and ended up as a Nazi sympathiser. No matter. This was written in the late 1800s, and is still painfully fresh today, like a shaving cut.
I assume this is Sverre Lyngstad's translation, since he wrote the introduction. I first read the Robert Bly version, but Lyngstad is careful to point out that Bly made hundreds of errors, both great and small. Lyngstad's will be the definitive English version for some time to come.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I never imagined laughing out loud about a story of starvation. Loved the book, very funny.Published 8 months ago by Paloma M
Although repetitive, Hamsun's style is compelling, in an odd way. Until it became repetitive, I enjoyed following this tramp around his native Oslo. Then I skipped to the end. Read morePublished 10 months ago by judygarlandheartbreaker.com
Hunger is a major European novel. I find it hard to believe that I waited so long to read it, even though I knew from my reading of Henry Miller more than fifty years ago that... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Peter Anastas
Miserable, melodramatic translation of one of my favorite books. The translator outright insults the past English translators but provides a laughably inhuman, outdated prose... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Amazon Customer
the cover is very fitting since all the while i was reading i thought of munch paintings. i also thought i was chewing on canvas out of hunger. Read morePublished 17 months ago by NGT
This is one of the finest bits of storytelling without telling a story - true art of the highest echelon. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Joe Pilgrim