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“Then you can keep your mackerel."

The narrator of Knut Hamsun's Under the Autumn Star muses about his elderly landlady, Gunhild.

...And here and there among the hills stand stubborn flowers that refuse to die, although in truth their time is up.

But then old Gunhild's time is up; and does she die? She behaves for all the world as if death was no concern of hers. When the fishermen are messing about on the beach, tarring their traps or painting their boats, old Gunhild goes up to them with lackluster eyes and the shrewdest of business minds.

"How much is the mackerel today?" she asks.

"Same as yesterday."

"Then you can keep your mackerel."

And Gunhild makes for home.

But the fishermen know full well that Gunhild is not one to play-act at going: she has been known to walk all the way up to her cottage without one backward glance. As so "Hi there!" they call after her: let's make it seven mackerels to the half dozen today, for an old customer, that is.

And Gunhild buys her fish...

Ah, that inimitable, early-career Hamsun voice. I also like the translators' (Oliver and Gunnvorr Stallybrass) choice of "lackluster eyes", where most people would simply call such lifeless eyes "dull." Lacking luster is the same as being dull, of course, but lackluster is a much more vivid word.

By the way, I've given up on (or indefinitely postponed) the last two books of Wilhelm Moberg's Emigrants saga. The second book really did nothing for me, and I have no enthusiasm to read any further right now. So for the rest of my Summer of Classics, I'll stick to Scandinavian (albeit moving from Swedish to Norwegian) with Hamsun's two related novellas, Under the Autumn Star and A Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings, which are collected in a single volume. I've already gotten far more enjoyment out of the first few chapters of Hamsun than I did from Moberg's entire two tomes.

August 7, 2019 in Books | Permalink

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