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Thursday, 16 October 2014

Retro Review "Hunger" by Knut Hamsun

I often enjoy mixing up my reading and having read a slew of recent releases, it was a welcome break to approach something less contemporary. This book was lent to me after a discussion about Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. My friend suggested it as a piece which might give a more authentic view of the impoverished writer, given Orwell was never far from a rich relative to ease the burden.

The first person narrator of this novel wanders around Norway's capital on a near-constant search for his next source of food. He is an intellectual of sorts, struggling to write articles and stories which he can sell for his next meal. However, he is a strange character, often giving away money and clothing in bizarre fits of misplaced chivalry.

Being unfamiliar with Hamsun's writing, I was shocked to discover that this was written in the 1880s because it is so modern in theme and tone. We have a very internalised narrator who considers the workings of the mind in a manner which is immediate and visceral. He questions his own sanity and the physical decline that occurs as a result of severe malnourishment. His hunger becomes an obsession, the driving force behind his each and every action.

A little research reveals the events of the book were likely inspired by Hamsun's life before his writing career took off. There is an immediacy to his writing which feels less considered, and as a result the novel does seem more authentic than Orwell's musings, though I think if  you enjoyed Down and Out, you'd like Hunger.

Buy the book: Hunger

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