Growth of the Soil

hamsunBy Knut Hamson.

I really don’t know what to think about this novel. It was written in a masterful way but something didn’t connect with me. Part of the frustration was with the characters – the narrator is like a God and the foibles of the characters are plain to see as he categorises them – except with Isak for the most part. He is stable, and is stable because work and the land keep him this way. It is a moral tale and one with a pretty simplistic view of humanity. People can be many things and even someone who is vain and is puffed up by their learning can still be positive and good and act well towards others. Not so in this novel. The only people that have any worth are Isak and his son Silvert. Everyone else harbours evil thoughts, motives and is unfulfilled. All of pettiness and sensational negatives of the characters are shown. True, Geissler is a little different. He is like the narrator but in the novel.

In Growth of the Soil you can see not only a contempt for society but also, unfortunately, humanity. People and characters and whole families are drawn in such broad brush strokes with the negatives highlighted. A person is a certain way and can’t change. Hence they can be written off and devalued

I loved Hunger and several other novels by Hamsun and have always been confused as to how the writer of these books could have supported the Nazis, but after reading this I can see how fascism would have been attractive to him. Strength is valued greatly, attributes are simplified into such generalisations, and I really got the feeling that the narrator had a real contempt for humanity – seeing only negatives rather than the possibilities.

The attachment to nature and treatment of animals is however a different thing. The book creates a wonderful atmosphere and desire for nature in the reader. I enjoyed that aspect. Hamsun is still or was a fantastic writer. One must be careful not to draw him in broad brushstrokes either. I guess the fact I have thought about it so much over the last couple of days makes it worth reading.

Soundtrack: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – People Ain’t no Good.

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