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.