When the days lengthen again, the leaves are still rotting on the ground, and the weather is unstable for months to come, it’s the right time of the year to consume literature that celebrates decay and the downward spiral. So grab yourself a sandwich, and start reading.
It is precisely during these inward late-winter evenings that it is important to adapt the literary diet to that state of mind also referred to as ‘general winter introspection’. With the help of a little bit Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) this task is a breeze.
Not that we at Notoir HQ are prone to shoegaze. Au contraire! But sometimes it is good to know that life can always be worse. Especially if that goes for fictional other people. In recent weeks, for example, I cheered myself up by rereading Knut Hamsun‘s hilariously tragic Hunger. Off course hunger in itself is not hilarious, and neither is tragedy. But it can be, if described in an over-the-top manner. And if you are sensitive to this type of humor.
The blues already start at the beginning of this account. The main character – a young journalist who struggles for a place in society on the verge of a starving existence, and who is probably modeled after Hamsun himself – lies in bed. He is awake from a gnawing hunger and wonders whether something will happen in the coming day. Something positive that he can look forward to. (Spoiler: this is not the case).
Already on the first page it is painfully clear that his life is shitty. It only goes downhill from there on. And this is only the beginning. Later, he is kicked out of his boardinghouse room because he can no longer afford the rent of this meager, crappy flea-infested dwelling. Wandering through the rainy streets of Oslo, he becomes moody, and more and more alienated from the people around him.
The countless excursions to the editors of the local newspaper, where he desperately tries to sell his texts, are distressing to read. He moves through the city like a ghost, unseen by the people around him. At one point he even sells the clothes he wears. We witness how he slowly but surely disintegrates, and loses his mind. This results in increasingly frequent bouts of madness, paranoia and despair. The precise description of this process makes Hunger so special.
From the several biographies that have been written about Knut Hamsun we know that this lonely creature is really the writer himself in a certain early period of his life. He was a vagabond and iconoclast, but at the same time sprang from the most conservative stock of Norway.
Knut Hamsun by Hanna Astrup Larsen was one of these earliest biographies. We are proud to have this biograpy in our collection. It centers around this early harsh beginning of Hamsun’s career. Strongly autobiographical, it describes the period around 1890 when Hamsun himself had no nail to scratch his behind.
In 1920 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, but his subsequent Nazi sympathies cast a long shadow over his fame. Because of this, he died relatively unknown.