Archive for June, 2008

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.

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June 19, 2008

just when i was lamenting my lack of progression in the 50 books goal, i came across peter craven’s summer reading list, comprising some 60-ish books. unbelievable! i am slow, slow, slow.

well, i will try to do less whingeing and more writing about books, for a start. perhaps more reading of books.

1. i re-read harry potter and the deathly hallows last week, and i realised i hadn’t put a post about it up last year. fie! all is for the best though, as i think it would have gone something like this: :O!!!!!

2. i have been watching all the bbc jane austen masterpiece extravaganzas, or whatever they’re called, and it has put me into a right rage for reading her books. i’ve only ever read two or three, and i mightily fancy the righteous-nature soap opera genre as a general rule, so here we go — soon i think.

3. i bought in the vicinity of 5 books at the camberwell market the other week. all lovely little penguins, unusual-ish ones.

4. i’m eating a muffin.

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Well, what a way to prove that not much changed between 1813, when George Wickham first terrorised the Bennets, and 1885, when Georges Duroy plagued the ladies of Paris. The political intrigues and serial seductions of Guy de Maupassant’s Bel-Ami take a form similar to what I imagine might happen if John de Mol trained a raft of cameras on Paris’ veriest rascal. Duroy, who has very little talent but is blessed with a bounty of good looks and charm, sleeps his way to the top of his profession. His most potent weapon is his moustache, which seems to literally transfix women. Never mind that one of them, Madame Forestier, is clever in her own right and serves as the most important stepping stone in Duroy’s career. Never mind that one of them is married to one of the richest men in town. The ladies fall to pieces for the facial hair. There are plenty of meditations on the fine entity that is Duroy’s moustache. Bel-Ami also reproduces very nicely the effects of a moustache – it looks amazing, you can get stuck in it, it’s tickly, but at the end of the day you’re glad it’s happening to someone else and not you. Quite excellent.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t think of a modern equivalent for the directness of the philosophical message of Voltaire’s Candide, though its comedic romp-sensibility, I’m sure, has many parallels through to the present. My short memory syndrome is surely brought on by a nostalgia for the art of fictional polemic, of which this little book is a pithy example. Hey, when a story has ‘a tall Bulgarian’ and an old woman with one buttock as characters, I’m there. The fact that the adventure story pizzazz is the topping on an Enlightenment theory of happiness-cake, well, that’s just the Bart Simpson toy in my packet of Froot Loops.

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June 6, 2008

i think i have posted about 13 books so far this year, with 4 waiting in the wings to be written about. this puts me at 17 books halfway through the year. one might wonder how i’m going to get to 50.


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