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Regret is a shabby thing

Bernard Porter: Knut Hamsun, 27 May 2010

Knut HamsunDreamer and Dissenter 
by Ingar Sletten Kolloen, translated by Deborah Dawkin and Erik Skuggevik.
Yale, 378 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 300 12356 2
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Knut HamsunThe Dark Side of Literary Brilliance 
by Monika Zagar.
Washington, 343 pp., £19.99, May 2009, 978 0 295 98946 4
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... If Knut Hamsun is remembered at all in Britain – he never really caught on here – it is as the Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian writer who became a Nazi, and a betrayer of his country during the Second World War. For the majority of his compatriots, suffering under the German occupation and yet still, many of them, courageously resisting it, this fall from national hero to traitor was hard to fathom, and even harder to stomach ...

Addicted to Unpredictability

James Wood: Knut Hamsun, 26 November 1998

Knut Hamsun. Selected Letters. Vol. II: 1898-1952 
edited by Harald Næss and James McFarlane.
Norvik, 351 pp., £14.95, April 1998, 1 870041 13 5
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by Knut Hamsun, translated by Sverre Lyngstad.
Rebel Inc, 193 pp., £6.99, October 1996, 0 86241 625 6
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... and moves away as fast as his legs will take him, running with his small, geriatric steps. Knut Hamsun’s greatest novels – from which this is a typical scene – throttle reason. In Hunger (1890), Mysteries (1892) and Pan (1894), the Norwegian writer founded the kind of Modernist novel which largely ended with Beckett – of crepuscular ...

Bandini to Hackmuth

Christopher Tayler: John Fante, 21 September 2000

Ask the Dust 
by John Fante.
Rebel Inc, 198 pp., £6.99, September 1999, 0 86241 987 5
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Full of Life: A Biography of John Fante 
by Stephen Cooper.
Rebel Inc, 406 pp., £16.99, May 2000, 9781841950228
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... surprising that large claims have been made for his work. Fante has been compared to Dostoevsky, Knut Hamsun, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Thomas Wolfe, Steinbeck, James Farrell, William Saroyan and Nathanael West. In 1977, a Washington Post reviewer compared The Brotherhood of the Grape to The Brothers Karamazov and King Lear. Hyperbole aside, both Fante’s ...

Tomorrow they’ll boo

John Simon: Strindberg, 25 October 2012

Strindberg: A Life 
by Sue Prideaux.
Yale, 371 pp., £25, February 2012, 978 0 300 13693 7
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... with most of his friends), the poet Richard Dehmel, the magazine editor Julius Meier-Graefe and Knut Hamsun, but not Sibelius – he couldn’t stand the noise. Wherever he lived, Strindberg needed such ‘clubs’, as well as a garden where he could grow things. He was also beginning to have success as a painter; Prideaux includes colour plates of 15 ...

The Hero Brush

Edmund Gordon: Colum McCann, 12 September 2013

by Colum McCann.
Bloomsbury, 298 pp., £18.99, May 2013, 978 1 4088 2937 0
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... in contemporary literature’. Gerard Donovan reminds him of ‘other great writers, not least Knut Hamsun, Franz Kafka and … Bernhard Schlink’. McCann is the high priest of high praise, always handy with a blessing. But his easy way with superlatives means that when he wants to pay a special tribute – to suggest that a writer is even better ...

Perish the thought

John Redmond: Derek Mahon, 8 February 2001

Selected Poems 
by Derek Mahon.
Penguin, 213 pp., £9.99, November 2000, 0 14 118233 4
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... the speaker with their author (‘Bruce Ismay’s Soliloquy’ becomes ‘After the Titanic’, ‘Knut Hamsun in Old Age’ becomes ‘Hunger’.) Dreaming about the literary future, the poems cannot come to terms with time. The end of each poem is a death, a return to time, which many of the concluding lines nervously over-advertise (‘Will scarcely ...

Dad’s Going to Sue

Christopher Tayler: ‘My Struggle’, 5 April 2012

A Death in the Family: My Struggle: Vol. I 
by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Don Bartlett.
Harvill Secker, 393 pp., £17.99, March 2012, 978 1 84655 467 4
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... Cain lending Abel a jumper and a pair of socks seems unsurprising. The low-key domestic dramas and Knut Hamsun-like evocations of landscape make the book’s sudden outbreaks of violence – extra-biblical torture and infanticide on top of fratricide and mass death – all the more unsettlingly incongruous. Knausgaard doesn’t go in for seamless ...

His spectacles reflected only my window, its curtains and my rubber plant

Michael Hofmann: Hjalmar Söderberg, 28 November 2002

Doctor Glas 
by Hjalmar Söderberg, translated by Paul Britten Austin.
Harvill, 143 pp., £10, November 2002, 1 84343 009 6
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The Serious Game 
by Hjalmar Söderberg, translated by Eva Claeson.
Marion Boyars, 239 pp., £8.99, September 2001, 0 7145 3061 1
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... but wrote no more fiction. He wrote about religion, his old bête noire, and history. Unlike Knut Hamsun, he opposed Fascism and Hitler. I like the description – I don’t know whose – of The Serious Game as ‘a total novel’. It has a feeling, not of autobiography, but of reality. It processes time to trial and outcome, incorporating ...


Joanna Kavenna: In Tromsø, 31 October 2002

... century distorted the myth, and Norway emerged from the Second World War jaded and humiliated. Knut Hamsun, one of the country’s finest writers, who came from an area just south of Tromsø, openly sympathised with the Norwegian National Socialists and Hitler during the war. There was an excruciating moment in his trial for treason, when he defended ...

Drowned in Eau de Vie

Modris Eksteins: New, Fast and Modern, 21 February 2008

Modernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond 
by Peter Gay.
Heinemann, 610 pp., £20, November 2007, 978 0 434 01044 8
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... It is full of sneering manic depressives and churlish mystics. In order to cram some of them, like Knut Hamsun, into his box and then to be able to close the lid, Gay has to create the category of anti-modern Modernist. He arranges his protagonists in traditional groupings, visual artists first, followed by the literary crowd, the music consort, then ...

Mixed Feelings

James Wood: Italo Svevo’s Last Cigarette, 3 January 2002

Zeno's Conscience 
by Italo Svevo, edited by William Weaver.
Everyman, 437 pp., £12.99, November 2001, 1 85715 249 2
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Memoir of Italo Svevo 
by Livia Veneziani Svevo, translated by Isabel Quigly.
Northwestern, 178 pp., $15.95, June 2001, 0 8101 6084 6
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Emilio's Carnival 
by Italo Svevo, translated by Beth Archer Brombert.
Yale, 233 pp., £22.50, October 2001, 0 300 09049 8
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... stasis and neurotic introspection. Yet Svevo’s anti-religiousness, like that of Schopenhauer and Hamsun, is marked by what it has rejected. One might go further and dare the thought that Svevo’s vision is fundamentally religious. He represents, in a way, the logical fusion of Augustine’s religiously pessimistic view of life – ‘we must conclude that ...

The New Narrative

John Kerrigan, 16 February 1984

The Oxford Book of Narrative Verse 
edited by Iona Opie and Peter Opie.
Oxford, 407 pp., £8.95, September 1983, 0 19 214131 7
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Time’s Oriel 
by Kevin Crossley-Holland.
Hutchinson, 61 pp., £4.95, August 1983, 0 09 153291 4
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On Gender and Writing 
edited by Michelene Wandor.
Pandora, 166 pp., £3.95, September 1983, 0 86358 021 1
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Stone, Paper, Knife 
by Marge Piercy.
Pandora, 144 pp., £3.95, September 1983, 9780863580222
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The Achievement of Ted Hughes 
edited by Keith Sagar.
Manchester, 377 pp., £27.50, March 1983, 0 7190 0939 1
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Ted Hughes and Paul Muldoon 
Faber, £6.95, June 1983, 0 571 13090 9Show More
by Ted Hughes and Peter Keen.
Faber, 128 pp., £10, September 1983, 0 571 13088 7
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by Paul Muldoon.
Faber, 64 pp., £4, September 1983, 0 571 13117 4
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... time, he is capable of a cautious, stodgy formality which leaves the reader numb. When he makes Knut Hamsun say, Besides, did I not once, as a young man, Cure myself of incipient tuberculosis Inhaling four sub-zero nights and days Perched on the screaming roof of a freight train? one longs for the racy immediacy of ‘The more a man has’, with its ...

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