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The Ring Is Closed Paperback – July 9, 2010
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For those with a little knowledge of Hamusun, the familiarities we find include an enigmatic, loner of a protagonist, unrealized and unrequited love, a vague hint of a violent act, and the quirkiness of small town, rural, early 20th century Norwegian societal norms. Hamsun puts a fine point on many of these recurring themes in this book. Like much Scandinavian fiction, there is often a juxtaposition of real, implied meanings of words and actions and the insignificance of what is public. And the societal rules and "manners" that exist are propped up by lies, deception, and pride.
I've read all the Hamsun in English translation and this is a welcome addition. Not one of the three or four best, but close. Worth the time if you're willing to invest it.
The Ring is Closed was his last major work (published in the 1930's), and it is an innovative exploration of purpose in life, identity, and connecting with one's society as told through the story of an apparent Norwegian slacker. It is a fitting conclusion to a literary career that began with the famous Hunger, continued with Growth of the Soil (which was cited as the reason for him receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature), and included a couple dozen great works, over half of which have been translated into English. I recommend reading this after Hunger, Growth, and some of his other works, particularly the collections of short stories that are available in English. His style is unique and this book is probably the most peculiar and complex in terms of that style. Highly recommended.
Knut Hamsun is by no means obscure, but he does seem to occupy an odd place in the history of literature. Right or wrong, it is almost impossible for me NOT to look at an author's life when I'm reading his or her book (probably an unforgivably bourgeois way of looking at things), especially when I think that author is compelling, or challenging, or both, and Hamsun's life certainly gives one food for thought. After all, a man who in no uncertain terms praised Adolf Hitler and the tenets of National Socialism would, at first, seem easy to close the book on. But Hamsun's life and work are like the proverbial onion; every layer reveals another layer below. Knowing his history, one might expect Hamsun's writing to be full of ranting and raving, of racially-charged propaganda, and of fervent nationalism. If so, it was so subtle I couldn't detect it. Instead, at least with THE RING IS CLOSED, we get a work that in some ways seems to presage The Stranger by Camus with its rejection of traditional
values, though perhaps not the picture of ultimate absurdity, as Meursault's story seems to indicate.
I've now read two of Hamsun's books, this one and a much earlier work, Pan (published in 1894), neither of which would I have connected with ideological movements from the early years of the 20th Century. Instead, I found them both to be intriguing and often puzzling depictions of human behavior and human relations--puzzling in an exciting, and, to me, a worthwhile way. In fact, this is literature that I find most enjoyable--problematic, and which resists easy interpretation, yet, at the same time, sets up an interior vibration; plucks a chord, so to speak, that, even if it is difficult to identify, resonates.
Written in 1936, THE RING IS CLOSED seems no more occupied with then-contemporary ideas than PAN did, written forty years earlier. If anything, there seems to be a continuation of Hamsun's celebration of earthy paganism--a pantheism--more than any kind of political movement. And the selection of Edvard Munch's EVENING ON KARL JOHAN STREET, which is the cover art for this new (2010) edition is particularly well suited, in my mind, to the story--the wide-eyed stream of fashionable walkers remind me of nothing less than lemmings, while a shadowy, solitary figure stands apart, with his back turned.
THE RING IS CLOSED exceeded my expectations--I thought that it was probably one of Hamsun's minor works (which it may be), but if so, then his more well-known must really be powerhouses. It's hard for me to find a false note in THE RING; each part--even if puzzling and at first glance apparently disconnected from the whole--still somehow seems integral. Although I think the story is interesting in and of itself as well, my warning would be that I think some readers would feel frustrated by its lack of superficial focus. Otherwise, highly recommended.
Another wonderful book by Knut Hamsun, it has all his common themes, such as alienation, jealousy, economic security and solitude. It details the life of Abel Brodersen, who is a bit of free-loafing wanderluster, who has bouts of well-being and then, extreme poverty. He lives in a small town where certain women affect him, Lili, Olga and Lola.
Nice style by Hamsun, a superb read.