I'm considering writing a much longer review at some stage, so consider this a placeholder, but this is one of my all-time favorite books, from once upon a time my all-time favorite author.
I went through a period in the latter years of college reading a lot of Scandinavian bigs (Ibsen, Strindberg, etc.), and my heart was all chomped up by Hamsun. I went through every single one of his works in English (most have been translated), and even to this day look for books that hadn't been translated fifteen years ago to reach the shelves. Look in vain.
At any rate, Hunger is the story of a writer who is essentially starving as he tries to make a living, and how he drives himself mad in the process. It's a harrowing book and it was just what I needed even many years later.
A couple weeks back I started getting into one of those reading funks. I looked at all my shelves and nothing appealed. I looked at new titles at the library and book stores and nothing compelled. I tried reading old crime stories on my iPhone or in a few collections (hardboiled crime of the first half of the 20thC usually satisfies me, but not this time). Everything read flatly and nothing was reaching down inside me and I so desperately needed that jolt you get from a book, that crackling electricity.
I think as we get older, as we grow away from our college aged selves, often we forget that palpable sense of almost having your head sliced open, your brains scooped out and given a charge of something new before being placed back into you. At that age, you're opening like a flower and every day almost brings new discoveries. "Holy shit, Kafka is amazing" or "Damn, this Bukowski guy is tearing up the poetry page" or what have you.
Well, Hamsun did that for me, and after I'd read everything, I put him back on the shelf and every so often I'd notice him and smile and remember, but never actually get around to picking him back up. After all, the man wrote something like forty novels and I read them straight through with nothing else in between over the course of several months. I'd sort of exhausted myself on Hamsun.
So, there I am, growing grim around the mouth, hitting that November in my reading soul, and nothing appeals.
I pick up "Hunger" after a good fifteen years since the last time I read it, and --bam!-- the book socks me right in the stomach. I can't put it down. I read the whole thing in almost one day before I forced myself to slow down, to take my time, not get so swept away. I'm almost finished, I'm nearing the end of the book, and I have another Hamsun "Mysteries" queued up to read next. If there's a book I love more than "Hunger" it's "Mysteries."
So I've blathered on and not really said much here, but if you really want to read an under-appreciated genius, you really need to get your hands on some Knut Hamsun. You won't be sorry.