Literary fiction, classics, dystopian, history, memoir, prize winners, and of course the 1001 books. You really might catch me reading anything!
I picked this book up for a goodreads group read—and, honestly, only because it was on the 1001 books list.
And I am so glad I did. Originally published in 1890 in Norway, it doesn't feel dated or culturally "different" (to boring American me). It feels like it could be happening now, to the man that lives under the AT&T building's bushes around the corner from me. OK, the talk of candles and lamps is different. But given that the main character is nearly homeless (he is, on and off), I kept thinking camping lantern when he said "lamp".
The unnamed main character is starving—truly starving—in Christiania, Norway (now Oslo). He is an aspiring writer or journalist. And he writes. He writes a lot, when he is not too hungry and dizzy to do so. But each piece he manages to finish and sell brings him little cash. And this novel follows him over the course of a few months, as he moves a couple of times (homeless in between), pawns items, tries to borrow from friends, lucks in to some money, and so forth.
Per Paul Bly's afterword, Hamsun himself lived a very poor existence for about 10 years in Christiana (with 2 stints working in the US). On his second trip home he began this book. And after it was published, he was not hungry again. He published many books, won a Nobel prize, bought land, and lived a good life. But this novel is based on those early years.
Not much has changed—for the desperately poor, every day is still a struggle. Will he get food? Where? Does he know anyone who might help? Is there anything to pawn? Can he avoid the landlord another day? Can he get a job in patched clothes, unshaven and dirty?
I hesitate to say I enjoyed this, exactly. But it is well worth a read.