Today I want to review one of the books I studied in the Literature part of my degree (serious uni withdrawal symptoms!). It is one of my favourite books out of all the ones I read as part of my course, and definitely one I would recommend, although maybe not when you are eating dinner…
|Knut Hamsun, Hunger|
The plot focuses on a young unemployed writer who is struggling to survive in the city of Christiania – through the use of a stream of conscious style narrative, Hamsun illustrates the experiences of this guy from a haunting first person perspective.
Hamsun’s focus on the psychological workings of his unnamed protagonist works to create an intricate and compelling insight into the desperation of the human need to survive. Hamsun focuses this desperation around the feeling of ‘hunger’ – what I love most is the way he uses such a simple physical state that we can all relate to, to portray the limits of human endurance and the effect pushing those limits has on mental stability.
Throughout the text we see a number of highs and pitfalls in this young guy’s fight to survive, and although there are many moments of developing action where you think his situation is finally going to change, the reality of the text is that he can never quite pull himself out of the desperate routine in which he finds himself. I think what is most genius about the text, is the fact that Hamsun shows the protagonist to have so many opportunities to get himself out of the situation! So many times where he gains a bit of money and wastes it trying to live a life pretending he isn’t in poverty, it shows the absurdity of his experiences, and his inability to see the rational route out of his situation.
One slight disclosure however is that there were moments in the text where the graphic descriptions of his hunger physically made me gag! (when he was eating dried blood off the bone, I thought I was going to pass out.) The imagery in the text is at points uncomfortably vivid, but I think that feeling of discomfort is arguably exactly what Hamsun intended – those lines that make you squirm are designed to push the physical and mental struggle this young writer was enduring right into your living room and make it even more poignant.
I really loved this book and I have re-read it a number of times since studying it – certainly not one for the faint hearted though, and not one to read while you eat a bag of Maltesers!