It's winter, time to read books by dead writers.
I usually sidle over to my rather well-read Joseph Roth shelf and look there for inspiration, but for a bit of variety (because I'm also still in revolutionary France) I'm going to head to Norway sometime soon and see if Knut Hamsun fits the mood.
Before I start can those amongst you who know about this please sort out my pronunciation?
Is it Kanute? Nute? Nut? Kernut?
My thanks in anticipation for the answer from someone out there.
To hand a complete set of the novels of Knut Hamsun to accompany my read of Ingar Sletten Kolloen's biography Knut Hamsun 'Dreamer and Dissenter' and Hunger has arrived from Canongate, so I'm good to go when the moment feels right. Already I feel that sense of anticipation at the discovery of a writer of whom I know so little and quite appropriately I'll hope to at least start that trail in the year of Hamsun's 150th anniversary but doubtless not finish it until well in his 151st even his 152nd...
A word about the books themselves because the cover artwork is sensational and collectively quite a thing of beauty, sometimes a set of books just earn their keep for that alone. It's going to take me an age to read them all and I'm advised by those that know over at Souvenir Press not to rush but to savour them gradually, so there will be plenty of time to enjoy the paintings of Edvard Munch which grace these covers in the meantime.
I knew even less about Norwegian painter Munch beyond that one stolen painting, The Scream but I was interested to discover this quote from him on the subject of his art
"We want more than a mere photograph of nature. We do not want to paint pretty pictures to be hung on drawing-room walls. We want to create, or at least lay the foundations of, an art that gives something to humanity. An art that arrests and engages. An art created of one's innermost heart."
I still know little about Knut Hamsun either and that adds a degree of excitement to any new reading trail, but I suspect his writing may perhaps also fit these criteria if he lives up to his reputation as
'irrational, eccentric. strange and compelling - a man uncomfortable in his own time.'
The poor country boy with a mere 252 days of schooling yielding a brilliant writing career, heralded by the likes of Henry Miller, Herman Hesse and Thomas Mann as one of the greats, yet a man who 'stepped outside literature and into politics' with his fascist sympathies. Accused as a traitor and sentenced for that treachery, Knut Hamsun's books were apparently burned in his homeland but, with his reputation largely rehabilitated beyond Norway at least, my hope is that Ingar Sletten Kolloen's biography will cut through some of the confusing details I've gathered from online sources and offer a reliable assessment of a writer I'm quite looking forward to reading.
Now no problem to do the sensible thing and read Knut Hamsun's books in chronological order whilst the biography ticks slowly along in the background, which I think should mean starting with Hansum's first novel Hunger, then Mysteries followed by Victoria and Dreamers from this selection.
Or does anyone suggest starting elsewhere?
Who knows, I might just be nearing completion for next year's publication from Souvenir Press of the new translation of Knut Hamsun's final novel, out of print since the 1930s, The Ring is Closed.
In the immortal words of others who were also up against the might of the Norwegians, and may have preferred it to be literary rather than polar exploration, I may be gone sometime.