Yes, it’s about hunger. It is about the nameless protagonist’s addiction to a state so all-encompassing that it allows and eventually requires the sufferer to forego usual/rational thought and deed, but is so unsustainable that desperate measures are necessary to maintain his existence. It is also about denial, physical and psychological. Knut Hamsun’s direct, modernist style stuffs the reader into the narrow crevice between the narrator’s brain and his skull, evoking painful awareness. His compulsion towards the state of hunger is a way to escape from the ideas which are too large for his head: short, frequent, violent bursts of inspiration are frittered away by the mind now too skittish from lack of nourishment to contrive an activity for the next half an hour, let alone put together a piece denouncing the despised Immanuel Kant, or a one-act drama set in the Middle Ages. These attempts at greatness (and money-making) are made, but endangered by his weakness, his faintness, and an absence of funds sustained by continuous freudian acts.
Hunger, or escape, is the only resolution, the only goal. Hamsun challenges the mind with the hunger artist’s (a Paul Auster term) peripatetic days, featuring street names so unfamiliar to this reader that they might as well have been imaginary. His vagrant meanderings take as signposts multiple mesmerising short-term plans, more often than not the recollection of an acquaintance, or an office, where he might go and beg money or earn a living. Forays to his editor’s officer, or Kierulf the baker, or a shop assistant who owes him change, have various outcomes which are invariably negative. He is downtrodden, but the downward steps are his own. The novel ends with what seems a peripeteia, but is really a continuation; it is a radical way of sustaining the pain, the escape to facilitate further escapes, a solution which is not a resolution.
This edition includes a pedantic translator’s appendix and note, which is reassuring and (by reason of its distaste of the two earlier translations) amusing. It also includes an introduction by way of an essay by Paul Auster, which is passionate and involving.