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"...the festival of what is not eternal..."

In contrast to the extended stretches of madness and hysteria for which Knut Hamsun's Hunger is best known, the book also contains numerous passages of quiet, sorrowful and understated beauty. Here, the narrator reflects on autumn and the looming winter.

The mood of the approaching dusk made me despondent and sentimental. Fall was here and had already begun to put everything into a deep sleep--the flies and small creatures had received their first shock; high in trees and down near the earth you could hear the sounds of a laboring life, breathing, restless, and rustling, struggling not to die. The whole community of insects would rouse themselves one more time, poke their yellow heads up out of the moss, lift their legs, put out expeditions, feeling with their long antennae, and then suddenly collapse, roll over, and turn their stomachs to the sky. Every plant had received their mark--the delicate breath of the first frost had passed over it. Grass stems held themselves stiffly up toward the sun, and the fallen leaves slipped across the ground with a sound like that of traveling silkworms. It was the hour of fall, well into the festival of what is not eternal. The roses have taken on a fever, their blood-red leaves have a strange and unnatural flush.

Not surprisingly, given that throughout the book the narrator eventually relates everthing he experiences in the streets of Oslo back to his own pathetic situation, the above passage becomes a metaphor for his own life, summed up neatly in the very next line:

I myself felt like an insect about to go under, attacked by annihilation in this world ready to go to sleep.

Though I'm not sure that line was entirely necessary, it does drive home the helplessness which the narrator feels in facing a cold and merciless world.

Once again, Hunger was an absorbing, invigorating and enjoyable read for me. If you're interested in reading the novel, I strongly encourage you to pick up the version referenced in the link above, which is the 1967 edition with Robert Bly's very lively translation. I have not read the earlier translation by George Egerton (the pen name of Mary Chavelita Dunne Bright, who coincidentally was once romantically involved with Hamsun) but I can't imagine it being superior to Bly's.

July 26, 2007 in Books | Permalink