Wednesday 18 June 2008

The homeless man's Dostoevsky

I found Knut Hamsun's novel Mysteries on the same international fiction table on which I found Andrew O'Hagan's Our Fathers. These two novels don't have much in common save one key characteristic - they disappointed me.

Mysteries was penned in the late 19th century; many have noted the way Hamsun's work anticipates aspects of modernism, but I thought it owed just as much to Dostoevsky, with its protagonist's mental imbalances and attempts to both negotiate and challenge a social order he can't entirely comprehend.

That said, while Hamsun may owe some debt of inspiration to Dostoevsky, I think he nonetheless reveals himself (in this novel anyway) to be a poor flatterer indeed of the master's genius. Nagel, the protagonist, is supposed to be insane and disruptive of the comfortable social patterns into which the people of the nameless small town into which he inserts himself; he rather comes off as an incredibly insecure and immature philanderer who while somehow making himself fascinating to the townspeople, wasn't in any real way fascinating to me.

In the end, Hamsun, via Mysteries, has come to represent in my mind a sort of homeless man's Dostoevsky flavoured with a dash of the homeless man's Samuel Beckett. In any case, you can see the influences sans the genius and this book is just kind of frustrating in the end.

It's especially frustrating that I lost a read-off with my husband over this book. The deal was that hubby had to finish Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Money before I finished Once Upon a Time in the North, Mysteries, and wrote blog posts about both of them. He finished his novel this morning as did I, but we went driving around the island today (we're in PEI) and so my post is coming quite late. Anyway, I've already paid my fine for losing the bet - I had to buy him a book of his choice (Nicola Barker's Darkmans, which I'm about to start reading) at one of the lovely stores on Queen St. in Charlottetown (more about said stores on the way!).

But never mind this minor frustration. I don't normally get into the details of author's lives here but I just read on that series of tubes known as the interwebs that Hamsun gave Goebbels his Nobel Prize in 1943. Maybe Hamsun couldn't write good psychopathic characters because he was too insane himself. Thumbs down, you racialist freak, thumbs down!

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