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Hunger (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) Paperback – February 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews


'Disturbing and difficult as this nightmarish novel is, it is a work of imaginative brilliance that resonates in our own day.' - Herald --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Norwegian

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Open market ed edition (February 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141180641
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141180649
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

126 of 131 people found the following review helpful By Scott Spires on March 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is my second reading of this groundbreaking psychonovel, in the new (and highly commendable) Lyngstad translation. Penguin has published "Hunger" in its Twentieth Century Classics line even though it dates from 1890. I hope this was deliberate, since Hamsun was definitely ahead of his time.
"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.
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Hunger" is one of those books that most young men probably dream of writing, and which they occasionally manage to pull off. The unnamed narrator stumbles about Christiania (now Oslo), a penniless man of letters, pawning his waistcoat (vest) for a kroner and a half, munching the odd bit of bread, but basically hovering in half-starvation and scheming about brilliant articles that he'll write which will not only enable him to buy food and pay the rent but which will also make his name as one of the best young writers of, etc. etc.
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.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Steven Reynolds on September 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
If you're sitting there thinking of buying this wonderful novel, please do - but make sure you're buying Sverre Lyngstad's translation rather than Robert Bly's (or at least take the time to compare them). Bly's version is probably responsible for most of the interest Hamsun's work has generated among English-speaking readers, but, Lyngstad argues, it's also flawed to the extent of about five errors per page. For those interested in the arcane art of translation, these include: misreadings of idiomatic expressions; literal renderings of metaphors; misreadings of tone; misreadings of homophones; grammatical misconceptions; mistaken or arbitrary word meanings; not to mention a completely botched rendering of the urban geography of Oslo. Now I'm no speaker of Norwegian, but I know this: the more subtle and sophisticated a text is - and Hamsun's is both, to a considerable extent - the more tonal, metaphoric and idiomatic errors in translation will matter. Lyngstad argues that his new version corrects these errors and renders the text in an English much closer to Hamsun's nuanced Norwegian original. It's accompanied (in some editions) by a vehement introductory essay exploring the issue of translation in more detail - worth reading in its own right - and a convincing appendix of examples of where his and Bly's versions differ. Lyngstad's version is available through Penguin or Canongate. You can get the Penguin one here at Amazon - ISBN 0141180641 (if you're not already on that book's page). Paul Auster's engaging essay, "The Art of Hunger", sometimes reprinted in the Bly version, is available in Auster's book of the same name and, presumably, in his "Collected Prose" (available now in the UK and Australia, but not in the USA until March 2005). Auster also offers a nice meditation on translation in his novel "The Book of Illusions."
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
Partly autobiographical, this novel describes the life of a borderline genius whose process of writing is only fertile when his stomach's empty. He seems able to touch perfection in his art, but the very element that lends him creativity also inhibits it, as he's too hungry to properly get to work. On better days, he doesn't work either, as his stomach's too full...Hamsun explores the psychological effects of extreme hunger on this young intellectual, and, not unlike his protagonist, he touches perfection in this splendidly written, very short and concise novel that even makes the reader feel hungry. Hamsun's sense of humour is underrated - the book also has rather a lot of comedy to it.
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