Hunger by Knut Hamsun

hungerI don’t have the words to say how much I love this book.

I’m bereft of that genius Knut Hamsun possessed when he created this outstanding piece of fiction. The nobel laureate from Norway deserves his award and a permanent place in my bookshelf, together with Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Vladimir Nabokov. Thinkers. Great writers all. And if by some fantastic event, Mr. Hamsun stood before me, demanding half a sovereign for his work, I’ll give him all the money in my pocket, like his hungry hero would, except that I promise not to overthink about it while I wander the streets of gritty Manila.

Hunger is a psychological novel that uses stream of consciousness or interior dialogue to tell the story of an unnamed writer who lives a precarious existence because of his lack of food and other basic comforts.

I have always preferred this narrative style, this use of inner dialogue in novels. I thought it’s the best way to tell the story, especially when you have a character who has a compelling reason to narrate. A hero who can engage in perpetual utterance without boring the reader must be given the voice, must BE the only voice with which a novel must be written.

And what Hamsun created here is not a boring hungry artist.

He is a man who will die standing if need be, his honor intact even as his stomach is empty.

Divided in four parts, the story on the whole is a progression of hunger and madness that can take you to some deep and dark parts in yourself that you haven’t been before. Also, the words that Hamsun used here are simple and 19th century modern, but when strung together, they are beautiful and arresting.

My favorite parts include the hero’s conversation with the old man sitting on the bench—I thought he’s very funny and brilliant when he invented a person (the agent of everything) out of thin air just so he could ask the old man for his newspaper.

His pursuit of a lady in the street was also unforgettable and dare I say, darkly romantic. It’s one of those images that makes you smile because you have a hero who is mad enough to think of love and attraction even at his pitiable state.

How does one forget a seemingly playful character like that?

But this is not a romantic novel. There is nothing romantic in passing time and hunger by roaming the city from sun up to sun down. Or in searching for a dark street at every corner to empty your being of the very thing that you need.

What this novel is is a brilliant man’s transformation from hunger to madness whose meaning is far less important than the telling of it.

If you’re the kind of reader who can appreciate that, you will not want to miss this.

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