Hunger: review

Title: Hunger
Author: Knut Hamsun
Year: 1890
Language: Norwegian
Pages: 195 

Hunger is Knut Hamsun’s first book, and was originally a short article in a Norwegian magazine, but then embellished to a book later. It’s semi-autobiographical and is the story of a young, unnamed writer who has no money and walks around Christiania (Oslo) in the late 1800s and tries to find a way to get food. It’s basically about a man’s descent into madness because he’s pretty much starving to death.

There isn’t really much action in the book, it’s mainly a book with focus on psychology. He has very little money, and spends most of the book without any money. He fancies himself a struggling artist and the only way he can think of making money, or debase himself to make money, is to write, he doesn’t try to find any other job, because he’s above such things. It’s much more important to him to be seen as well-off, honourable and honest. He would like to be able to show off how great he is, and he wants to repay his debts. He also tries to help people that he sees to be worse off than himself, either to show that he is better, or maybe he sees his future in these people and it freaks him out. He doesn’t seem to understand the seriousness of the situation, or the fact that he will actually starve if he doesn’t swallow his pride and gets a job.

The reader also gets to see how hunger physically and psychologically affects someone. He is obviously rail thin, he’s always cold, he starts losing his hair, and when he finally gets some food he generally just throws up again. He starts to become paranoid, he can’t do simple math or come up with any good articles anymore because his hunger is affecting his brain.

It’s extremely interesting to see a man sort of descending into insanity as his body and physicality lets him down. He is trying so hard to get his literary talents recognized and seems to see it as a defeat to take another, more menial job just to eat.

I liked the writing, it really sort of reinforces the fact that he sees himself as this literary genius, who just hasn’t made it yet, since it is in part self-biographical. Hamsun could easily have used his own name for the main character, but it might have been too easy, and it takes away from the biography aspect. He also refused to let publishers put the word ‘novel’ on the book, which reinforces the biography issue, it’s weird. Hamsun had been trying for years to break through as a writer. He just couldn’t do it, and Hunger became his breakthrough. He also said it was the beginning of his books. It’s really cool, and I really liked it. I read one of his other books when I was like 15, and I think I should reread that, and see what I get out of it with rereading.

Yes. I really liked this, it was really cool. Whoo.