On this 150th anniversary year of the birth of Knut Hamsun, it gives me great pleasure to present to you my latest and greatest (to date) reading project, called Totally Knut.
It was a little over a year ago that I began reading one of the most incredible works of fiction I’ve ever read, Hamsun’s truly magnificent Hunger (Canongate Books). It was a novel that touched me deeply (you can read my afterthoughts HERE), so deeply in fact, that I vowed at the time that I would one day set myself on a quest to read the entire translated bibliography of Knut Hamsun. However, as is always the case when there are so many other things to do, I put that vow on the ‘back burner’ where inevitably it got forgotten about, or at least it had been forgotten about, until now.
I’ve recently been spurred on to get back into Hamsun because of three things. The first is of course Knut Hamsun’s 150th anniversary which I feel should be marked as prominently as possible. I’m well aware of Hamsun’s fall from grace during the later years of his life, when he showed vehement support for the Nazi Party, but putting this aside, if one ever can, Hamsun still remains one of the greatest writers who has ever lived, or is ever likely too. For that reason alone I think he needs to be remembered, for the good, as well as the bad. He is after all a Nobel laureate.
My second motivation for launching this Hamsun reading project comes from the new publication of a landmark biography on Knut Hamsun. Published for the first time in English by Yale University Press, Ingar Sletten Kolloen’s Knut Hamsun: Dreamer and Dissenter (translated by Erik Skuggevik and Deborah Dawkin), is one of the most acclaimed biographies on Knut Hamsun, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to finally get my hands on a copy I can actually understand.
My third and final motivation comes from the discovery of the rather excellent collection of Hamsun works that are published by Souvenir Press. A small publishing house Souvenir Press may be, but they’re really big on Hamsun. They currently have eight Hamsun titles in their catalogue (all of which are identified in the bulleted list below), with a ninth coming next year (more on that below too). The bottom line is that I would not have had as extensive a reading list on which to draw on, if it were not for the efforts of Souvenir Press in keeping these titles in publication. So Souvenir Press you have my eternal gratitude.
So how is this reading project going to play out then? Well firstly a word on the time period. I wanted to choose a time-scale which would not only give me the space I needed to read everything on Hamsun that I wanted to, but also allow me to read at a speed where I would be able to fully absorb and contemplate everything I read. I’m also conscious of my other reading commitments i.e. review reading, other reading challenges and my insatiable passion for the short story form, so a generous time scale was indeed called for.
That’s when I started thinking about my time at university and the fact that we would generally learn a single subject over the course of a single semester, which at the University of St. Andrews last for 12 weeks. In retrospect three months is about right. One becomes fairly competent in a subject by the end of that period of time, without the studying of it infringing too greatly on any other personal commitments. So I’ve decided that that’s perfect time-scale for a reading project of this size, so I’m going to treat my Totally Knut project as though it were a semester subject, and set a time limit of around 12 weeks for completion, which happens to be roughly the amount of time left in 2009.
As far as how the project is going to progress, in order to get a good grounding on who Hamsun was as a man and a writer, I’m going to begin with the Kolloen biography, before I move on to read Hamsun’s fictional works in chronological order. I’m beginning with the biography because an important part of reading a classic writer for me, is getting to know that writer first; to learn the writer’s background, their motivations, and how in general their writing career progressed. I’m so fortunate to have Kolloen’s biography at my disposal at this time, and so I intend to take every advantage of good fortune, and read through this first.
Once I’ve read Kolloen’s biography I’ll start working my way through Hamsun’s fiction. As you know I’ve already read Hunger so I will be skipping that, or at least I will be in a reading sense. I’ve managed to get a hold of Sult, the 1966 Norwegian movie adaptation of Hunger (and yes it’s a subtitled version, thankfully), so to refresh me on Hamsun’s debut novel (as if I need to ) I’ll be making a date to sit down with the movie adaptation. As for the rest of the fiction, here’s how the reading of it pans out (for information’s sake I’ve also included what publication/format I’ll be reading):
The Hamsun aficionados among you will have probably noticed a number of omissions; these being – Benoni (1908), Rosa (1908), The Last Joy (1912), Children of the Age (1913), Segelfos Town (1915), The Last Chapter (1923), August (1930) and The Ring is Closed (1936). Despite my best efforts I’ve not managed to get a hold of any of these works because they are either not available in English (to the best of my knowledge), or too difficult or pricey to get a hold of. [Note: Souvenir Press are publishing a new English translation of The Ring is Closed, but not until March 2010]. The search will continue to get a hold of any of these in English (any help is appreciated), but in the meantime they have been omitted from the reading list. There is also another, older Hamsun biography I’ve failed to get a hold of too, namely, Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun by Robert Ferguson, so again any help I can get to track this one down (at a reasonable price) would be appreciated.
In addition to the works of fiction, and Kolloen’s biography, I’ve also got a hold of the 2-volume set of selected letters of Knut Hamsun published by Norvik Press (Volume I – ISBN: 9781870041331. Volume II – ISBN: 9781870041133). I intend to dip into these as and when relevant, during the course of the reading project, just to get myself into Hamsun’s mind at key moments of his life, during the authoring of his works.
So, I think that’s all I have to say for now. I’ll be launching into the Totally Knut project after the weekend, so you can expect to see me begin talking about Hamsun quite a lot between now and the end of the year. As always I’ll be treating every book as a subject for review, so you can also expect a forethoughts post introducing each work, and an afterthoughts post in review of it. In between I’ll also be using the ‘vehicle’ of my Reading Journal to pass comment, and there may also be the odd incidental post.
So apologies ahead of time if you’re not a big Hamsun fan (I’m hoping my enthusiasm will make you rethink), but if one can’t celebrate the great writer during the year of his 150th anniversary, when can one? Don’t worry though, RobAroundBooks isn’t completely turning over to Knut Hamsun for the next three months, he’ll just be playing a part in the proceedings, and all the usual ‘stuff’ you’ve come to ‘love’ will still be floating around.
Comments, criticisms, suggestions etc. are as ever, always welcome!