Sult (Hunger) - Knut Hamsun

Ok, I admit that I had never heard of the author when I was given the book as a birthday present from an old colleague of mine whom I lost contact with. I didn't know what to expect when I opened it up. I read it for a while and then stopped, it didn't catch in.
A couple of years later - which means a couple of months ago - I started reading it again and enjoyed it till the end. Sometimes some books are not meant to be read at certain times and it's just perfect when the right time just comes.

Opposite to all I could ever have thought, Norwegian Knut Hamsun is one of the most intruiguing writers of the 19th century. A realist and a naturalist, he's considered one of the fathers of the psychological novel, where interior monologue and stream of consciousness(less), mixed to a photographic description of the setting are perfectly deployed in his writing.

Writers like Kafka, Hemingway, Svevo, Mann were particularly influenced by his works and I strongly agree, if I think of "The Process" or "Zeno's Consciousness".

Written in 1890, "Hunger" tells the story of Per Oscarsson, the very gentle, unemployed and particularly miserable writer who lives in the everyday struggle of surviving starvation, while wandering in the streets of Kristiania (Oslo), begging for a job or a meal but refusing any couple of coins, trying to keep what's left of his dignity intact.

I have to tell you, I realised I had never been really really hungry in my life. I know it's not the message there but it actually blew up my mind. This is because I know that I have never lost my head, my temper or anything else because of the need to eat. And probably I barely met in my life somebody who was about to die at any time because of it.
But times are different now and also, this is not the point of the book. It is instead, what the effects of starvation can cause to the human mind and soul, slowly pushing it into madness, cruelty, stupidity and anger and always making everything worse. The main character is constantly discussing with himself, thinking carefully to his next move and suddenly changing his mind and doing something else, while the "himself" is actually all the different voices that speak to him, each in its atrocious stream of thoughts.
And all this thinking will be all he has to fuel up his energy and keep on wandering, while thinking some more.

If I were a good painter, I bet I could be able to perfectly reproduce Oslo at that time: the streets, the port, the people, the beautiful houses and the hideous rooms and this is only thanks to Hamsun's description of the environment, as detailed as the intense representation of the inner self, progressively consuming in such an extreme situation.

Read it. You'll be surprisingly entertained by unexpected hilarious situations while being dragged into a downward spiral of pain, intermittant delusion and hopelessness, depression and fear.

You'll agree it was a unique reading experience.


Irvine Welsh - Skagboys

Ok, I know I'm not even a little objective when it comes to Mr. Welsh... I've read all his novels and loved them all, although I'm still a bit skeptical about his short-stories - this is because I think his writing skills better develop in long stories than in short ones - and Skagboys, with its 618 pages, is quite a long novel.

Skagboys is the prequel of the world famous, much beloved and never prized Trainspotting. If you've ever wondered who Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie were before heroin, now you've got the chance to know it. As all is told in first person, besides their stories, you'll be acquainted with their thoughts and inner selves too.

Once It has been long since I read Trainspotting and, surprisingly, almost ten years have already passed since I read Porno (Trainspotting's sequel published in 2002), something that I haven't been able to track so far is the contextual coherence among the three novels but considering how lucid Welsh's writing is, I don't think lack of coherence is anything to be faced ever. So I admit it's definitely me who's lacking coherence now and I will solve this soon by reading the other two books again.

Further to the "Fab Four", you'll get to know better poor Tommy and his once fortunate relationship with Lizzie; Johnny Swan, a former schoolmate and late drug dealer of all of them; and Alison, who you'll surely remember to be the mum of the poor baby who dies unattended. Tommy and Alison are given personal chapters and their stories are as intruiguing and complicated as the main characters'.

As usual, Welsh's writing is witty, entanglements and plots are described with mastery and all smaller details is meant to deploy a much bigger situation that will surprise you at each page. From time to time, the narration is paused and page of notes on the political situation of that time will appear here and there, relieving you a bit from its tense stream and giving you impressions and facts on Scotland

at that time, smashed as a consequence of the most fierced Thatcherism. 
Likewise, caustic and extremely bold notes from our skag heroes will also appear here and there, with the same purpose in writing as to hold on the story for a bit.

Get prepared to a handful of youth anger, offensive language, filthy behaviors and bad, cruel thoughts on sex, money, drug use and abuse; to the exaggeration of what can be bad in drug addicts to an extent that seems impossible; and to situations that are completely out of anybody's mind.
But Irvine Welsh's of course.

A particular and positive mention is for the translator, Massimo Bocchiola, for having the guts to translate such a big work of literature in the best way possible: knowing Welsh in the original language from other books, I can easily state this translation is pure state-of-the-art.

After all, it couldn't have been any different.


A 1ª vez - trinta e nove testemunhos - Magda Bandera

Once again, I was wandering in a shopping centre during Christmas time and I could not help stepping into a bookshop to check the discounted books section.
Among many works on politics, economics, cooking and all genre of manuals, my attention was captured by "A 1ª vez" (in English, The first time), a book written by the unknown Magda Bandera.
The author is a spanish female journalist from Barcelona, actively collaborating with "La Vanguardia" - maybe the most important newspaper of Catalunya - who also seems to have written a bunch of other works mainly focused on matters of social and political interest. According to the research I performed on her production, she prefers, as a journalist, the anthological collection of people's opinions, by this means achieving an interesting level of closeness to the common public.

"A 1ª vez" deals with the first sexual experience of 39 random interviewed. They come from all over Spain, belonging to any social ladder and are never older than 30 years. I quickly found the idea on which the book is based as simply great in its originality; however, the translation is poor and more "Iberic" than Portuguese (this means that the vocabulary and syntax used reflect the lack of interest of linguistic coherence: the translator preferred in any case the use of common words in both Spanish and Portuguese, instead of the "most portuguese expression" for the target Spanish term).
The stories are reviewed from the author as they do not actually seem to be the result of a free speech: there are 2 or 3 stories that are completely non sense for the very way they are told: too short and confused, aiming to be closer to prose poetry than to short storytelling (I personally think these are the most manipulated stories).

The books reveals itself as funny and enjoyable: the events told are sometimes ridiculous, sometimes tragic... unforgettable or regrettable... indeed, like everyone's "first time" is. Willing or not, the reader compares itself to every situation depicted among the pages, realising what is real and what is fictional about the first sexual experience. And, most important, the reader remembers, evoking good and bad feelings, fears, shivers, worries and sillyness related with that special thing he/she did not know, until he/she got there. If the human is afraid of the unknown, sex is the most pleasurable thing we less imagine and are most curious about. Because sex is a myth when you are very young and the discover itself (the first time) is always disappointing. Short, painful, uncomfortable... a failure! Experience only comes with experience but when you do not know, you simply do not know.

No story is particularly remarkable but the one told from him and from her, each one giving the personal version of the event. It is especially interesting because you can get aware of the way girls and boys deals with the fact itself and the way they recall it after some time has passed: details which were important for her were not like that for him and viceversa.
For every storyteller the happening was different, but the truth was just one for everybody: must be better next time. For some of them, it just happened years later, for others that was the sign they could not help living without sex. Most of them saw it as the result of huge love feelings; all the rest pretended to be conscious about the swindle that romance could be, in matters of sex, especially when so young.

I do not personally believe the first time is always remarkable for everybody, apart from what really happened. In my opinion, is an important and mandatory step for every living being: may it not be the best experience to remember but... it is a memory and for that it must be preserved and brought to mind for the whole life, because it is worthy, for being the first time: the beginning of a path we will always keep on going onto.


Runaway. Diary of a Street Kid - Evelyn Lau

Evelyn Lau's Runaway (1989) is the most recent work I added to my universe of read books.
The author of this book is a chinese girl, born and raised in Vancouver, Canada; she appears to be nowadays a writer, but I had not had ever heard about her since I stepped into the book (purchased in a traditional huge market in Rome, Italy). According to what I then found out about her, she published a bunch of works, including poetry and novels, gaining some success and especially some status between the youngest generation of talented Canadian writers.
But let's get back to the book.

As I simply adore reading diaries, because of the way they approach us to someone's inner life and most sincere thoughts, I could not resist to pick it up. Moreover, the comment by the "Publishers Weekly" on the front cover seemed to me extremely seductive, as it compared Lau's work to the shivering Christiane F.'s "Wir Kinder von Bahnhof Zoo" (1981).
The book is actually a collection of 8 diaries written between March '86 and Jan. '88. The first diaries deal with the author's teenager life at home and school: both settings are hostile to the doubtful girl, as we can read. Family life is a complete nightmare and social everyday existence equal to zero: coming from a traditional chinese environment (not a successful one, by the way) she is forced to face the occidental way of life at school and crashes into realities she does not feel like she could ever belong to. As for any teenager of this world, her mind is obscured by fears and doubts but only one clear idea is steady from the very beginning: her passion and love for literature and her talent for writing. This will be the fil rouge of her existence, as we see...
Evelyn cannot stand her life the way it is... and she decides to escape. From now on, she will be hosted into several institutions, families and friend's houses willing to help her altough she will always find her way out. A sense of non suitability for everything and everywhere pervades the young girl and pushes her to find on the streets that hype and vibe she could not found in ordinary life. As she cannot still find what she looks for, because she does not know what she wants, she attempts suicide. And fails. And failure pulls her down even more than before.
At this time of narration I was kind of bored of the spiraling sequence of events: institutions welcoming, escape; family or friends hosting and then escape... the girl was always seeking help and when she got it she could not help losing it voluntarily. These happenings were making me lose interest in the book, for I frankly just found them too senseless and stupid for such a brilliant girl (this was the opinion I got from the intimate description she made of herself). Drugs experiencing (cannabis and LSD) and drunkenness seemed to me the only happy moments of narration (maybe because they were the only happy moments in her life???).
Evelyn starts to have psychological help from doctors and case-workers, but at that time she is already back on the street with a new discover: the sale of her body for a bunch of coins, drugs and a little ephemeral self-esteem in return.
The moment she meets Henry and approaches herself to methadone and all kind of pills and medications, starts a renewed interest from my side. One year has passed in her life and she is getting in touch for the first time with something we could possibly define love. But when a chemical love is established between two persons, things will never tend to be pure and romantic like in an ordinary love story. Drugs will be the main link between them and will cause and lead all happiness and troubles as they appear.
Apart from the events narration, the author's thoughts and emotions are more attractive than before, and can cause now some pondering and feeling also in the reader's reaction.
Yet, we have not come to any point. Doubt and lack of self-confidence make the girl take always the wrong decision, despite the position she ended up gaining, as she does not seem to understand or learn anything from what she does or just happens to her as a consequence. Of course this vexed me in a deep way but at least kept my attention alive and lusty (and that is the main ingredient to what I call a successful and tasty "writing-reading recipe").
The reader can now get a better idea of what harlotry is, seen from the eyes of the prostitute: never an easy decision. Though it can turn into pleasure for the mind and the self-esteem paradoxically, because it becomes a matter of command and influence over the client's behaviour and enjoyment itself. At the very end, despite all psychological tragedy, Evelyn ends up with a winning attitude towards her stormy adventure: grown up and consequently more self-confident, yet unsure of the future: leaving the life on the street and getting back to normality may be as much difficult as resisting to the harder job of surviving among whores, addiction, maniacs and so on, especially when it seems to be the only reality we are destined to.

I am curious about Evelyn Lau's other works, especially because I would like to taste her more mature manner and style of writing. But not just so. The diary form has one special system in itself which normally makes the author not caring about style and stylistics: it is a kind of free and intimate writing, like a religious confession, and when produced it is not supposed to be published and shared. It is the voice of the uncontrolled self speaking and leading the game.
I suppose that Lau's later works (maybe not poetry) are fictional and show the author's real talent. One thing left to prove it: just reading another book of her.