Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: Pan by Knut Hamsun

Title: Pan
Author: Knut Hamsun
Genre: Literature / Classics
Publisher: Penguin Classics
First published: 1894
Pages: 160

Rating: 7 out of 10

Norwegian author Knut Hamsun has created in Pan a whimsical, nostalgically dream-like story of strange, quaint characters set against a gorgeous forest background.

In 1853 Norway, outside the town of Sirilund, a young man named Glahn lives in a small hut with his faithful dog Aesop. He lives in harmony with nature, and his lonely life suits him perfectly until he meets a bewitching young girl named Edvarda.

I just loved, loved the descriptions of Glahn's forest. Much of the first third or so of the book is full of them - gorgeous prose and beautiful lines. I kept picturing the wood as something like a fairy-tale Rivendell from the Lord of the Rings movies.
I loved these descriptions so much, it elevated the book an entire star. Without them, the book could never have been the same.

Lately, entirely by chance, I have been reading a lot of those unique, "weird" types of books. J.G. Ballard, A Clockwork Orange, etc. And I think that I am coming to see that unique and inventive does not always equal an amazing book - at least not in my opinion, it seems.
Well, this wasn't quite amazing, but I really, really liked it. Fresh, original, and creative.

There were some strange parts, too, that gave this book a quirky side - some good, some bad.
I'm all for living off the land and respecting nature, but Glahn's connection with the forest got so deep sometimes that it was strange. He thinks of a rock as his friend, and at one point he concentrates very hard on a random twig fallen on the forest floor. He pities it so much for having broken off of its tree, he starts to get teary eyed. Wow.

If Glahn is strange, his lover Edvarda is more on the creepy, obsessive side. When first introduced, she seems to be quite shy, so it's a shock (to both the reader and to Glahn himself) when she brazenly kisses him in front of all her friends, and announces that she doesn't want to chase anyone else. Sneaking about outside people's houses at night seems to be a specialty of hers, and she does it more than once. The first time, she admits to Glahn that she was watching his house all night, saying "Yes, it was me. I was near you once more. I am so fond of you." How very creepy.
After a brief obsessive sort of relationship, Edvarda appears to cast Glahn aside, but we are never really sure. She is selfish and extremely jealous, as well as very unpredictable. She appears to have fallen for another man, but by the end I wasn't really sure. I don't think even she was.

Glahn's other lover, Eva, is a good contrast to Edvarda. The similarity in their names convinced me that the author wrote the two women to be separate versions of each other. Like their names, Eva is simpler and more "normal" than Edvarda.

*Spoilers in this paragraph* I absolutely hated that Glahn would shoot Aesop! It was so pointless and cruel, and all just to prove a point to Edvarda! I hated him after that.

All in all, I would probably try Hamsun again even though I disliked this book. I really was very impressed with his enchanting descriptions of the woodlands. Before Hamsun became a successful writer, he led a humble life as a farmer, and you can tell that he knows about the beauty of nature. Lucky for him - it really made the book for me.