Knut Hamsun's Hunger, first published in 1890 and hailed as the literary beginning of the 20th century, is a masterpiece of psychologically driven fiction. The story of a struggling artist living on the edge of starvation, the novel portrays the unnamed first-person narrator's descent into paranoia, despair, and madness as hunger overtakes him. As the protagonist loses his grip on reality, Hamsun brilliantly portrays the disturbing and irrational recesses of the human mind through increasingly disjointed and urgent prose. Loosely based on the author's own experiences prior to becoming a successful writer, Hunger announced the arrival of a new kind of novel and heavily influenced such later writers as Kafka and Camus. This edition is the translation by George Egerton.
Public Domain (P)2011 Tantor
"After reading Hunger, one can easily understand why Hamsun was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Hunger should appeal to any reader who is interested in a masterpiece by one of this century's great novelists." (James Goldwasser, Detroit News)
The description of the book gives the plot quite well, so I won't repeat it here. The book is very well written, and reminiscent of Dostoevsky or Kafka in its description of a man struggling to keep his self-dignity while losing his grip on reality, in this case due to lack of food. However, I think the book could have been better had there been more of a story or structure to it.
As for the narrator: he's clearly very good, but not the best choice for this book, I'm afraid. I found the following review of his work on another audiobook in AudioFile magazine, and I think it fits my impression perfectly: "Narrator Kevin Foley plods along with a listener-friendly cadence, something like that of a radio newscaster, avoiding high emotion or monosyllabic detachment--professional to the nth degree but adding little to a true and sad tale." I couldn't agree more. Especially in a first person narrative, I think the narrator should show a little more emotion; most of the time, Foley's tone sounds like the voiceover on a nature show, which made it harder to focus on the story. I generally don't like it when audiobook narrators use too much emotion or act the characters, but the narration here is just too detached.
The basic problem for me was that the central character, an author in Christiania (Oslo), Norway, just didn't convince me he was really hungry. I guess he was, because his hair was falling out in clumps. At the same time he had such pride and this stopped him from accepting any help offered him. If you are really starving do you refuse food? One thing is clear. He was ether hallucinating, due to a lack of food, or he was quite simply crazy. I couldn't figure out which.
The author, the Norwegian Knut Hamsun, was one of the first to use stream of consciousness writing, but since the central character's thoughts are so delusional I wasn't interested in getting inside his head. His thoughts are confusing. I hardly even felt pity for this guy, who seemed more worried about what others would think of him than figuring out how to solve his problems. I am being harsh.... Virginia Woolf claims one needs a room of one's own to write. Well, first you need some food and a bed and a lamp to write by. A brain does not function without glucose! This book will appeal most to those who are interested in reading about the delusional. I simply wasn't convinced he was really starving.
You don't get a feel for Christiania either.
The narrator of the audiobook was Kevin Foley. I have no complaints with that. He does women’s voices remarkably well.
The ending annoyed me -he finally does something constructive. At least he was on the verge of doing something. My response was: “Why didn't you do that earlier!” Hamsun did not make me feel for this poor, starving author! THAT is the biggest problem of the book!
sorry, too much structure. my mother spent her teenage years in sweden, and knut hamsun became one of her favourite writers. when she had my older brother, as an illegitimate basket baby sired by a turkish officer but born in vienna in 1939 she named him knut. pronounced somewhat akin to "kanute", not as "nut" with a silent "k". i'd never read a book by hamsun so i thought it was about time i started on one. someone asked me had i read a book called ....something like "hangar" .... and i misheard it as "hunger" and said, no, but i was planning to, soon.
once i'd downloaded the book a couple of illnesses attached themselves to my heels like the hounds of hell, a viral infection akin to a flu and some other thing to do with my bladder and kidneys, like a sinus and cosine wave swinging together, and i was really badly ill for a couple of weeks and i could not even begin to listen to "hunger" without drifting straight off into algebra land.
what i liked about the cover illustration on this one was that you could count the knobs on the backbone of the guy in the picture. i used to look pretty much like that, myself, and i also knew what hunger was.
i listened to about five minutes of the reading before i ordered it, so i knew i was going to like the book. i'm still looking forward to actually hearing the whole thing, seeing as how i never managed to get into any hamsun ever before --- as a point of connection, too, with my mother who has long since passed to the other side.
am i imagining it to be a riotous laugh? something like "laughing gas" by wodehouse? not really. i can always go back to wodehouse, or kipling's "kim" or some other book. for the time being, this is the one i want to try and get my head around of, for whatever reason. or for whatever it is the reason that's there is trying to tell me.
"Knut’s noble Nobel novel"
The latest in the series of my current reading on proto-fascists with handle-bar moustaches, this is hard going but enlightening as a direct link between Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Samuel Beckett who seem to be the closest in my mind. At root it is a very simple sketch of a young man who has hit hard times and is hungry and becomes fixated firstly with the external world and its impact upon him and then with the internal sensations and his body starts to deteriorate and cause him pain.
It is essentially a sketch - and to the extent that Hamsun turns his back entirely on the Victorian Realist tradition it does presage the more self-absorbed introspective excesses that became better crafted by the time that the Modernist school reached its zenith in Virginia Woolf and James Joyce .
However, it is hard-core reading in that you really have to know what you are looking for here - and will find it only in fits and starts, providing you are prepared to put the work in. Should reading fiction be hard work? Well, yes sometimes.
"Excellent little known classic"
I loved the description of how hunger is, how it becomes the single most priority. Semi autobiographical, this short novel punches home.
It's honest, harsh, disturbing. An essential classic in my opinion, I loved it.
He sounded hungry, made the novel come alive.
Always crying but sometimes laughing too. It evokes both emotions.
Read it. Cannot recommend more highly. It's included on the 1001 books to read before you die lists and worthy of that.
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