cover image Dreamers


Knut Hamsun. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $14.95 (132pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1321-9

Previously unpublished in this country, this short novel by Hamsun, who won the Nobel Prize in 1920, shows a lighter side of a writer best known for his more nihilistic work. Set in an isolated Norwegian fishing village, the novel is a romantic comedy of sorts, centering on Ove Rolandsen, an antiheroic and often inebriated aspiring inventor. Rolandsen is a schemer, a liar and a not particularly effective womanizer. He bears a distinct resemblance to the protagonists of better-known Hamsun novels such as Hunger and Mysteries. Rolandsen is engaged to the local parson's housekeeper, yet he has eyes for both the local sexton's daughter and for the daughter of Trader Mack, the town's most prosperous businessman. Rolandsen has invented a new process for manufacturing fish-glue, the commodity which is the main source of Trader Mack's wealth; yet Rolandsen, who works as a telegraph operator, lacks sufficient funds to get his invention out into the world. Hamsun handles his plot with a light and assured touch, and the novel is considerably more charming than its location and subject matter might imply. But the book's ambition is disappointingly minor compared to what Hamsun was capable of in his best works, and Geddes's rather stiff translation fails to bring across the liveliness with which Hamsun's prose has been rendered by more assured hands. (May)