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In a Norwegian coastal town, society's carefully woven threads begin to unravel when an unsettling stranger named Johan Nagel arrives. With an often brutal insight into human nature, Nagel draws out the townsfolk, exposing their darkest instincts and suppressed desires. At once arrogant and unassuming, righteous and depraved, Nagel's bizarre behavior and feverish rants sed In a Norwegian coastal town, society's carefully woven threads begin to unravel when an unsettling stranger named Johan Nagel arrives. With an often brutal insight into human nature, Nagel draws out the townsfolk, exposing their darkest instincts and suppressed desires. At once arrogant and unassuming, righteous and depraved, Nagel's bizarre behavior and feverish rants seduces the entire community even as he turns it on its head—before disappearing as suddenly as he had arrived.


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In a Norwegian coastal town, society's carefully woven threads begin to unravel when an unsettling stranger named Johan Nagel arrives. With an often brutal insight into human nature, Nagel draws out the townsfolk, exposing their darkest instincts and suppressed desires. At once arrogant and unassuming, righteous and depraved, Nagel's bizarre behavior and feverish rants sed In a Norwegian coastal town, society's carefully woven threads begin to unravel when an unsettling stranger named Johan Nagel arrives. With an often brutal insight into human nature, Nagel draws out the townsfolk, exposing their darkest instincts and suppressed desires. At once arrogant and unassuming, righteous and depraved, Nagel's bizarre behavior and feverish rants seduces the entire community even as he turns it on its head—before disappearing as suddenly as he had arrived.

30 review for Mysteries

  1. 4 out of 5

    s.penkevich

    Hamsun’s aptly named second novel, Mysteries, is a dazzling, dark look into human nature and man’s psyche. It is no surprise that Henry Miller claimed that Mysteries was ’closer to me than any book I have read,’ this novel is so probing and insightful that you feel it begin to pick your own mind as the pages churn by. Written in 1892, just 2 years following Hunger, this novel once again demonstrates Hamsun’s signature frantic yet serene prose while showcasing Hamsun as a Modernist far ahead of his time and a master of the ‘psycholog Hamsun’s aptly named second novel, Mysteries, is a dazzling, dark look into human nature and man’s psyche. It is no surprise that Henry Miller claimed that Mysteries was ’closer to me than any book I have read,’ this novel is so probing and insightful that you feel it begin to pick your own mind as the pages churn by. Written in 1892, just 2 years following Hunger, this novel once again demonstrates Hamsun’s signature frantic yet serene prose while showcasing Hamsun as a Modernist far ahead of his time and a master of the ‘psychological novel’. Plunging into the existential mysteries of the human heart and soul, Hamsun pens some of his most memorable characters while keeping the reader forever pondering the truth behind the abundant mysteries. Hamsun is a difficult one to grapple with. When I read him about a decade ago I really enjoyed his work but now, writing this in 2019, I am less willing to overlook the misogyny in his work and his troubled history late in life. He died having been denounced by his homeland and is lesser known nowadays due to his sympathetic association to the Nazi party during WWII. I went into more detail of this in my review for Growth of the Soil, but this association cost him his fame and caused to widespread burning of his books in Norway and the relative popular neglect for his works in the United States following the war. He was an incredible author whose name holds up to his comparisons to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but the politics of his later life are rather quite offputting. Mysteries places the human psyche under Hamsun’s microscope. Much like his first novel, the great Hunger, this novel follows the concise rise and fall of emotions in the protagonist, creating a well rounded depiction of a man in the grips of mania and excitement. We follow the loquacious ravings, often liquor-fueled, of our hero, Johan Nilsen Nagel, from a calm steady conversation to the height of frenzy, and are shown glimpses through a cloudy window of the mind to his introspective obsessions. This is fully believable and creates for an intense, unpredictable character. There is a wonderfully ironic moment when Martha Gude takes leave of Nagel to go see a preforming magician since the real magician of this novel is Nagel himself who preforms an elaborate smoke and mirrors trick of personality throughout the novel. The true nature of Nagel, is never fully revealed, instead, the reader must discern what they can as small pieces of the whole are glimpsed, then hidden again behind contradictory evidence. This eccentric stranger, dressed in a loud yellow suit who keeps the town on edge and full of gossip with his erratic behavior, is a ’walking contradiction’ , as Dagny is quick to point out and Nagel is eager to uphold. The reader learns of his lifesavers medal, for example, which he speaks aloud that he earned rescuing a drowning man while on passage to Hamburg, however later on, he adamantly claims to Dagny that is was purchased from a pawn store. He tells the town he is an agronomist, yet it is hinted that this is merely a ruse. Even his name may be false. The biggest insights can only be hinted through a cryptic conversation between him and a former lover whom speak in ’elliptical allusions to the past and used words and phrases that had meaning only for them’. The nature of this novel is akin to the mysterious nature of the protagonist. Choosing to write from a third person perspective, Hamsun is able to remove the reader from any situation that could give too much away. Unlike Hunger where the reader was a fly on the wall of the narrators internal monologues, the secrets of Nagel are kept from us. Hamsun does occasionally have Nagel speak aloud in long tirades of his inner thoughts, but this is used sparingly and creates a bit of unevenness in the writing, although it is ultimately not distracting. This third person perspective is highly efficient to the delivery of this story, as the reader often learns of Nagel’s whereabouts from his mouth as he professes them to the townsfolk. However, the reader quickly learns to take everything with a grain of salt and we are often left wondering if he speaks the truth, or perhaps even a half-truth. Hamsun makes remarkable use of Nagel’s long, mercurial rants, often crafting them as small allegories of the surrounding events and people. Nagel speaks in a breathtaking prose laden with symbols and metaphors that always tell much more just beneath the surface of his sparkling words. His tales are often elaborate and outlandish, earning him quite a reputation around town. He also uses Nagel as his mouthpiece for literary and political criticisms, bashing many of the Norwegian politicians of the day, criticizing the capital city and the artists who inhabit it (although, speaking of contradictions, he spoke lovingly of this city, Kristiana, in the opening lines of Hunger), and spitting a brutal assault on both Leo Tolstoy and the highly regarded Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibesn. To digress a mere moment, Hamsun was an outspoken critic of Ibsen, who was quite popular at the time. In the year succeeding the popular release of Hunger, Hamsun invited Ibsen to attend a lecture of his and offered him the front and center seat in a room full of other writers of great notoriety. He then went on to lambaste Ibsen’s work to his face saying his plays were ’indefensibly coarse and artificial psychology’. There is an article featuring this story and a good overview of Hamsun’s biography here. The real brilliance of this novel is how Nagel serves as a barometer of human nature and in juxtaposition with him, the true nature of the various members of the town can be seen with crystal clear accuracy. While Nagel may be erratic and potentially manic, his boldness reveals an unapologetic image of himself, which brings out the truth in others. The closed mindedness, the destructiveness, the arrogance, and all the other hidden demons float to the surface around Nagel. This can also show a character in a positive light, or just as a harmless windbag who cannot help but vomit their opinions into any available ear. Nagel asserts that there are no selfless acts and that every man has a secret vice, including those who may seem like the most saintly, good-natured folk among us. Each one of us carries a bit of demon somewhere inside. While one may give a small chunk of change to a beggar on the street may seem as ‘selfless’ as it gets, Nagel would argue that does this not cause the giver to feel an inner peace at helping another, which is itself a selfish reward. This existential probe begs the reader to examine his or her own life, and examine their own opinion on Nagel as it may reveal a great deal about them. This story has no true linear plot, but sets Hamsun’s colorful cast in one town and allows them to simply interact. Due to this storytelling device, many critics have labeled Hamsun as one of the first early Modernists, and many authors followed in his footsteps. Ernest Hemingway claimed that ’Hamsun taught me to write’ (thanks wiki), and after reading the often drunk and frenzied lead characters of his early works one can understand why Charles Bukowski was such a fervent fan and claimed he used Hamsun as a ’writing crutch’. His unique style, voice, and his monumental simplistic prose have caused him to quickly become one of my favorites. This novel is not as direct and concise as Hunger, yet it can be felt that Hamsun was reaching his talents out to greater heights and experimenting with perspective and layering of time (there are many amazing instances where Hamsun will seamlessly follow from various past incidents and present goings-on all within one flowing paragraph without the reader becoming lost), so the rough patches that are slightly noticeable within this book are understandable. He makes up for it ten-fold. Vladimir Nabokov once wrote that one should not ’read books for the infantile purpose of identifying oneself with the characters… but for the sake of their form, their visions, their art’ ( Lectures on Literature). I have always tried to keep this in mind while devouring a novel, and I have very much appreciated this novel for its aesthetic purposes (I hope), but I fell for that infantile impulse to identify with Nagel. He has become one of my favorite characters found in literature, right up there with the Underground Man and Steinbeck's Samuel Hamilton. While this novel isn’t quite as close to perfection as Hunger, which few novels are, Mysteries is my favorite of Hamsun’s novels, although I would recommend the former if you are looking for an introduction to his work. This novel has an ending out of left field and will keep your mind spinning for days to come as you try to piece together the mysteries Nagel left behind. Who is this eccentric stranger? Does he really know more than he lets on, and how does he know these secrets that lurk inside? Is he crazy, or simply genius? Hamsun leaves that for you to decide. 4.75/5

  2. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    I refused to read Hamsun for a long time, on the grounds that he was a Nazi sympathizer. But I started getting interested in modern Norwegian literature a couple of years ago, and in the end I had to give in. You just can't avoid him; he's referred to everywhere. And if I find him hard to deal with, I'm comforted by the fact that it's much worse for the Norwegians. Let me expand on that a bit. I'm English by birth, and I've also lived a fair amount of my life in Sweden and the US. Non I refused to read Hamsun for a long time, on the grounds that he was a Nazi sympathizer. But I started getting interested in modern Norwegian literature a couple of years ago, and in the end I had to give in. You just can't avoid him; he's referred to everywhere. And if I find him hard to deal with, I'm comforted by the fact that it's much worse for the Norwegians. Let me expand on that a bit. I'm English by birth, and I've also lived a fair amount of my life in Sweden and the US. None of those countries have ever been occupied by a foreign power (people from the American South may disagree). We don't know what it's like, and it's difficult to understand from the outside. When you read books from countries like France and Norway, which have recently suffered the experience of being occupied, you start to get some idea. The best comparison I can find is that it's like being raped. It's a shameful and degrading thing that you don't want to talk about unless you have to. Now, suppose that you're a woman who's been abducted by a psychopath who keeps you for years in his cellar, and comes down every now and then to rape and torture you. And then suppose that your big brother, whom you've always loved and admired, gets friendly with the rapist. He visits every now and then. You're lying there bruised and bleeding in the cellar, and you can hear your brother and the rapist laughing together and playing cards in the kitchen above you. It was rather like that with Hamsun and the Norwegians. He was their greatest living author. Everyone had read him; Norwegians are an exceptionally literate people. During World War II, while Norway was occupied, Hamsun expressed his deep admiration for the Nazis. He gave his Nobel medal to Goebbels, and he met Hitler. When Hitler killed himself, Hamsun wrote him a flattering obituary. You can understand the scene in Christensen's Halvbroren, where the grandmother, a sympathetic character, burns all Hamsun's works in her stove. But the same book constantly mentions Hamsun's novels, and the author makes it clear how deep his artistic debt is. Jan Kjærstad, in Forføreren, has similar problems. The section on Hamsun is very interesting. After the war, the Norwegian government simply didn't know what to do. Their solution was to determine that Hamsun was legally insane. He was also fined a large amount of money. Well, they may have been right. To the extent that the word "insane" means anything, I agree. But it was an unusual form of insanity. Hamsun had an unparalleled ability to project his feelings so that other people could experience them too; when I read Mysterier, it was almost as though I had gone through Doctor Parnassus's magic mirror, and found myself inside his crazed mind. Or, to use another analogy, remember the sequence from Mary Poppins where Bert and the kids jump into the picture; but instead of the anodyne country scene that Bert has drawn on the sidewalk, imagine that they have leaped into one of Van Gogh's last paintings. It's an unpleasant and frightening book, but a remarkably powerful one. The language is extraordinary. Here are two passages I particularly liked, with my translations.Det minder mig litt om en nat på Middelhavet, på kysten av Tunis. Det var vel hundrede passagerer ombord, et sangkor som kom fra Sardinien et sted. Jeg hørte ikke til selskapet og kunde ikke synge, jeg sat bare på dækket og hørte på mens koret sang nedenunder i salonen. Det varte næsten hele natten; jeg skal aldrig glemme hvor det lydde godt i den lumre nat. Jeg trek i smug alle dører til salongen i; tættet sangen inde, så å si, og så var det som lyden kom fra havsbunden, ja som om skibet skulde gå ind i evigheten med brusende musik. Tenk Dem noget i retning av et hav fuldt av sang, et underjordisk kor. Frøken Andresen som satt Nagel nærmest sa uvilkårlig: Ja Gud hvor det måtte være deilig! It reminds me a little of a night I once experienced on the Mediterranean, off the coast of Tunis. There were a hundred or so passengers on board, a choir who came from somewhere in Sardinia. I wasn't in their party and I couldn't sing myself, I just sat there on the deck and listened while the choir sang underneath me in the saloon. They sang nearly all night; I will never forget how wonderful it sounded in the warm darkness. I sneaked down and closed all the doors; concentrated the essence of the song, as it were, and it was as though the sound came from the bottom of the sea, as though the ship was sailing into eternity on the music. Imagine something like a sea full of singing, an underwater choir. Frøken Andresen, who was sitting closest to Nagel, said involuntarily: "Oh my God, it must have been so beautiful"And later, in the scene which I think explains the title:Stemmen er en farlig apparat. Forstå mig ret: jeg mener ikke netop stemmens materielle lyd, den kan være høi eller lav, klangfuld eller rå, jeg mener ikke det stemmestofelige, tonetillværelsen, nei jeg holder mig til mysteriet bak den, den verden som den utgår från ... Til helvete forresten med denne verden bak! Altid ska det være en verden bak! Hvad fan raker det mig? The voice is a dangerous instrument. Understand me correctly: I don't mean simply the material quality of the sound, whether it's high or low, melodious or harsh. I don't mean the acoustic or prosodic properties. I'm talking about the mystery behind it, the world it comes from... Oh, never mind, fuck the world behind it! There's always supposed to be a world behind things! What's it got to do with me?I'm not sure what this means, to be honest, but I feel it's saying something important. Maybe someone can explain it to me. Mostly, I feel relieved to have escaped intact from the Imaginarium.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Edward

    Acknowledgments Introduction & Notes Suggestions for Further Reading Translator's Note --Mysteries Explanatory Notes Textual Notes

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ben Winch

    When I was a teenager my dad urged 2 novels on me - Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game and Knut Hamsun's Hunger - which I consider all-time favourites to this day. Hesse I loved immediately; I read everything of his I could find. But Hamsun took a little longer. Upon first reading Hunger I thought, 'Huh? That's it?' It's not that I didn't like it, but it perplexed me. Hesse - and most if not all of my parents' other recommendations (Marquez, Kundera, Eco, Grass) - had seemed so... grand, somehow. Exalted. But Hamsun was When I was a teenager my dad urged 2 novels on me - Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game and Knut Hamsun's Hunger - which I consider all-time favourites to this day. Hesse I loved immediately; I read everything of his I could find. But Hamsun took a little longer. Upon first reading Hunger I thought, 'Huh? That's it?' It's not that I didn't like it, but it perplexed me. Hesse - and most if not all of my parents' other recommendations (Marquez, Kundera, Eco, Grass) - had seemed so... grand, somehow. Exalted. But Hamsun was the opposite; his gaze was microscopic. And crucially, not once did he signpost any moral message or 'broader significance'. Hunger was so far from a novel of ideas it was baffling. What was it about? Why did it exist? Why did Dad revere it? But 20 or so years and several readings later I'm with Dad. Hamsun (the young Hamsun) was a genius. Hunger, Mysteries and Pan (his first 3 novels, in that order) are masterpieces, worthy of comparison with anything I've ever read. There are scenes in these books that have burnt themselves indelibly into me: in Hunger when the delirious narrator becomes paranoically obsessed with an old man in the park; in Mysteries when Nagel plays the violin at the town talent night; in Pan when Glahn (heartbreakingly) shoots Aesop. Hamun's characters are alive. Thrillingly so. His secret? He doesn't fence them in, or use them to illustrate theses. Hunger is what Crime and Punishment could be if it were allowed to grow wild. And Mysteries is even wilder. Less autobiographical, more imaginative, more broad-reaching. At times it's almost surreal. Sure, the character is virtually the same, but transplanted into this more fertile terrain he is really allowed to flourish. It's mind-bending, the tricks he plays on himself and others, the tangle of motivations, the palpable sense of mystery that he, the reader and Hamsun all feel as the story unfolds. Add to this the almost incredible, sleek modern-ness of the prose (which reads just as well in both existing translations) and, for a book written in the 1890s, you have a minor miracle. In Europe when these books were published young people would queue up for hours to buy them. Hamsun - who had travelled to America and seemed to have brought back something of its toughness or laconicism - was revered by most of those writers who would go on to invent European modernism. There simply wasn't anything else like him. Flash forward to John Fante and Charles Bukowski, both of whom read Hunger and reiterated: even by then (40-50 years later) he was one-of-a-kind. Look, Camus almost did it with The Outsider, but again he didn't let his character free. Read Hunger and tell me it doesn't breathe. Compare it to almost anything and tell me if it seems dated. Mysteries,, OK, maybe there are passages that have dated, but only because it's looser, shaggier. But that scene where Nagel plays the violin - God, it's brilliant! This guy in a loud suit who all through the novel has denied he has any musical talent even though he carries around a violin case (he even goes so far as to admit it's just for show, though he could be lying) suddenly gets up at this rinky-dink talent night and plays his heart out. The townsfolk are stupefied, but here's the catch: we still don't know if he's any good or not! His technique is bad, that much is clear, and yet even he, after all his modest denials, is forced to admit that he really did put some soul into it. I mean, Jeez, is this not punk rock about 80 years before the fact? It gives me the shivers. And then the whole romantic tangle he gets himself into, so deep that even he doesn't seem to know which of these women he really wants, or if he wants any of them at all. And those scenes in the forest - revisited in Pan and hewn into something more recognisable, more lyrical - but here just raw and real and magical... Read Hunger, read Mysteries, read Pan. Re-read them. There's plenty of others, but I dunno, I've never made it more than a few pages into any of them. I didn't want to spoil it for myself. The twentieth century starts here. (As to the Hamsun-haters, those who won't read him because 'he was a Fascist', wake up! Firstly, what the f**k has that got to do with his work anyway? This is imaginitive writing! It's about as close to apolitical as you can get, and I guarantee, you will find no subliminal Nazism here. And secondly, being a Fascist (like being an anti-semite or a smoker, unlike being gay) is NOT something you're born into. My Dad says he's going to vote for the Nationals (ie: the ultra-conservative country party) next time around, because in all conscience he can't vote for Labour after they've been proven so corrupt. Does that make him 'a conservative' forever more? Does it make his 30 year old self (who was about as un-conservative as they come) a conservative too? Because Dylan was 'born again' in the 70s should we judge Highway 61 Revisited the work of a Christian? Besides which, if you read only authors who share your political beliefs how f**king narrow are you?!)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Deepthi

    In the middle of the summer of 1891 the most extraordinary things began happening in a small Norwegian coastal town. A stranger by the name of Nagel appeared, a singular character who shook the town by his eccentric behavior and then vanished suddenly as he had come. This is how Hamsun introduces us to Nagel, his yellow suit and his world of mysteries. I finished this book an hour ago. I spent my night reading this breathtaking novel. And for the past one hour I have been sitting in front of my lapto In the middle of the summer of 1891 the most extraordinary things began happening in a small Norwegian coastal town. A stranger by the name of Nagel appeared, a singular character who shook the town by his eccentric behavior and then vanished suddenly as he had come. This is how Hamsun introduces us to Nagel, his yellow suit and his world of mysteries. I finished this book an hour ago. I spent my night reading this breathtaking novel. And for the past one hour I have been sitting in front of my laptop, lost in thoughts; attempting to write a review. I admit, I have failed. All I would say is: READ IT. You will know why my brain froze. Mysteries is haunting, enigmatic, existential, and one of the best novels I have come across. Highly recommended.

  6. 5 out of 5

    notgettingenough

    I've decided I need a new bookshelf. 'It's not you, it's me'. Perhaps all ex-Catholics need one of them, the one for the books they feel guilty about not finishing. To begin with I hated this in a 'I hate this but I want to read it' way. That became 'I hate this but by God I'm going to finish it'. And a couple of nights ago, up at 3am that in turn became 'Yeah, nah. Move on'. And sometimes one moves on without the least guilt at all, other times one is tortured by it. Then one adds th I've decided I need a new bookshelf. 'It's not you, it's me'. Perhaps all ex-Catholics need one of them, the one for the books they feel guilty about not finishing. To begin with I hated this in a 'I hate this but I want to read it' way. That became 'I hate this but by God I'm going to finish it'. And a couple of nights ago, up at 3am that in turn became 'Yeah, nah. Move on'. And sometimes one moves on without the least guilt at all, other times one is tortured by it. Then one adds the inadequacy of looking it up on goodreads and discovering one wasn't clever enough to stick with it. I suppose that's the 'fear of missing out' on literary social media. And I still do feel a bit like that. Guilt aside, I also feel like I might be missing out on a whopper of an ending. Grrrrr. Maybe the shelf should be called 'I'm moving on but I can't get you out of my mind.'

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rod

    Yes. "Mercurial." That is the word that kept coming to my mind to describe Johan Nagel, the central character of Knut Hamsun's masterful Mysteries. Specifically, entries 2 and 4. Maybe not "thievishness" (though I wouldn't put it past him--not for a second), but Nagel embodied the other characteristics so much that I often found myself wondering if he was actually a flesh-and-blood human or some kind of earthbound trickster god sentenced by the "All-Father" to live among the mortals. I doubt it, but I can't rule Yes. "Mercurial." That is the word that kept coming to my mind to describe Johan Nagel, the central character of Knut Hamsun's masterful Mysteries. Specifically, entries 2 and 4. Maybe not "thievishness" (though I wouldn't put it past him--not for a second), but Nagel embodied the other characteristics so much that I often found myself wondering if he was actually a flesh-and-blood human or some kind of earthbound trickster god sentenced by the "All-Father" to live among the mortals. I doubt it, but I can't rule it out. Such are the "mysteries" that Hamsun gives us. Certainly there are abundant mysteries in Mysteries, but I didn't see the novel as a puzzle that Hamsun intended for us to piece together to get all the answers, like those people who analyzed, re-analyzed and over-analyzed every single element of Lost trying to find the answer instead of just enjoying the damn show. I doubt that Hamsun had all the answers himself. I think he knew that the questions are so much more interesting than the answers. Agh, I loved the book (maybe not as quite as much as Hunger, but it's up there), but I'm not quite feeling a review for it yet. Maybe I'll try again later. Just read s.penkevich's review, it is quite dandy. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bobby

    The only mystery here is why I read all 330 pages of this nonsense.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    Mysteries [1892] – ★★★★ “Is there any way of knowing? There are so many strange things between heaven and earth, beautiful, inexplicable things, presentiments that can’t be explained, terrors that make your blood freeze” [Knut Hamsun/Gerry Bothmer [1892/1971: 161]. Translated from the Norwegian by Gerry Bothmer, Mysteries begins with the following lines: “In the middle of the summer of 1891 the most extraordinary things began happening in a small Norwegian coastal town. A s Mysteries [1892] – ★★★★ “Is there any way of knowing? There are so many strange things between heaven and earth, beautiful, inexplicable things, presentiments that can’t be explained, terrors that make your blood freeze” [Knut Hamsun/Gerry Bothmer [1892/1971: 161]. Translated from the Norwegian by Gerry Bothmer, Mysteries begins with the following lines: “In the middle of the summer of 1891 the most extraordinary things began happening in a small Norwegian coastal town. A stranger by the name of Nagel appeared, a singular character who shook the town by his eccentric behaviour and then vanished as suddenly as he had come” [Knut Hamsun/Gerry Bothmer [1892/1971: 3]. Nagel is a total stranger to the little town, but he soon makes an unforgettable impression on its inhabitants, and people are taken aback by his unusual opinions and contradictory nature. But, who is he really? And, what is his agenda in this ordinary little town in Norway? We are taken on a journey into the mind of this eccentric character as he meets a typical-to-every-small-town parade of characters: a local beauty, a town’s misfit/clown and a proud deputy, among others. A journey is probably the word for our experience of this main character because Hamsun was really the author ahead of his time in terms of creating characters that disrupt societal status quo, making this story particularly intriguing, even if uneasy to consider. Nagel is a man of extraordinary visions and eccentric ideas, but what is the real truth here, and what should we really expect? Hamsun is clear that there are no easy answers when it comes to the spontaneity of the human nature or the restlessness of the human spirit. At the start of the novel, Nagel, a stranger, arrives to a small provincial town in Norway, and first impressions of him are hazy: “he’s an agronomist, and he’s just returned from abroad. He says he’ll be here for several months. Hard to figure him out”, says one character [Hamsun/Bothmer [1892/1971: 12]. Nagel is dressed in yellow and has a habit of talking to himself. He also immediately makes friends with one of “the lowest members” of this community, with a person everyone calls “The Midget” and who is the butt of all jokes in town. The Midget is not the only person that interests Nagel since Nagel also catches a glimpse of the beauty of the town – soon-to-be married Dagny. Nagel also arrives at a peculiar time for this town since, only recently, one youth has allegedly committed suicide in the woods of the town, and, also allegedly, because of Dagny Kielland. As Nagel tries to acquaint himself with this new community, he also becomes the centre of attention there, and local dynamics and relations may as well change because of him. The greatest mystery in the novel is the true personality of Nagel, as well as his true intentions. As readers, we do not know where to stand with this character, and this sense of apprehension and unease drives the story forwards. As in Hunger, the main character here seems full of contradictions (“I’m a living contradiction”, says Nagel [1892/1971: 165]), and his thoughts and actions are sometimes very erratic: his secrecy gives way to brutal honesty, and what we can certainly predict with accuracy is Nagel’s unpredictability. Is he a saint or a sinner? A madman or the sanest person in town? When we read the following statements from Nagel we are puzzled – is it a voice of a madman or actually of a person freely dispensing wisdom to people who are yet incapable of understanding him: “When I’m talking to someone, I don’t have to look at him to follow his thinking. I can sense immediately whether…he is lying…The voice is a dangerous instrument. I don’t mean the timbre of the voice…I’m not talking about the sound but about the inner world from which it springs – the underlying mysteries” [Hamsun/Bothmer [1892/1971: 145]; and “what really matters is not what you believe but the faith and conviction with which you believe…” [Hamsun/Bothmer [1892/1971: 195]. The theme of romantic love further complicates matters in the story since, because Nagel has fallen in love, he appears even more irrational to us – romantic love itself may be equated with madness (“Amantes – amentes” (lovers are crazy persons) or so the famous Latin phrase goes). However, the feelings of love experienced by a person in love are considered by that person as being completely justified and, thus, “rational”. At various times, Nagel appears arrogant and self-deprecating, selfish and selfless, angry and kind, experiencing high highs and low lows (probably suffering from a bipolar disorder). His changing mood starts to reflect the changing weather in town, with rain giving way to blue skies. The dense woods around the town also stand for hidden things and elements still to uncover. Nagel also embodies that type of a main character that will later come from the pens of Franz Kafka, Albert Camus and Ken Kesey, that type of a character whose brutal honesty shocks and who, with his different way of looking at the world, is there to break societal conventions. The question that Hamsun poses in Mysteries, however, is whether this unconventional behaviour will result in the societal liberation and enlightenment, or lead to a societal downfall. Naturally, existentialist and absurdist themes are also present in Mysteries. Nagel is uncomfortable with the society as he sees it, as well as recognises his own insignificance in relation to the world, which makes him particularly lonely: “what a tiny speck the earth was, and how insignificant its inhabitants – Norway had two million bumpkins supported by mortgages and bank loans. What was the point of living, anyway? You fight your way ahead with blood and sweat for a few miserable years, only to turn into dust” [Hamsun/Bothmer [1892/1971: 64]. Like in Hunger, the focus in Mysteries is also on the absurdities of life. Preposterous situations emerge when the character employs roundabout schemes to get to the heart of the matter or win the confidence of people, for example, when he tries to buy a used old chair for an enormous price from a person who would give it to him for free. Knut Hamsun’s Mysteries, as its main character, makes us uneasy and comfortable, detached and intrigued, dumbfounded and enlightened. The book may not be as cohesive as Hamsun’s Hunger, but it clearly shows us how much we do not know about others, and the extent to which we rely on conventions and assumptions in our everyday judgements of situations and people. The book revolves around one outrageous personality we find difficult to understand, but, possibly, when we do begin to do so, it is already too late in the plot for any second thoughts, and it is here Hamsun makes his final point.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jim Leckband

    I've always wanted to read a book by an author named Knut. But first let me give you 200 crowns and I'll tell you a story that happened to me in San Francisco. First, though, I'm in love with you and I can't live without you. I can't really play the violin even though I have a violin case but everybody in town wants me to play. You're really a very sinister person underneath - it might not look like it now, but you will turn out badly - like The Midget. The dastardly midget replaced my prussic a I've always wanted to read a book by an author named Knut. But first let me give you 200 crowns and I'll tell you a story that happened to me in San Francisco. First, though, I'm in love with you and I can't live without you. I can't really play the violin even though I have a violin case but everybody in town wants me to play. You're really a very sinister person underneath - it might not look like it now, but you will turn out badly - like The Midget. The dastardly midget replaced my prussic acid with spring water and I've tried to kill myself but all I do is run around and slam my head into the ground. And that chair that is missing two legs - it is a masterpiece! I collect them and cowbells and will give you 200 crowns for it! A stranger comes into town and causes mayhem and confusion. What it all means? I don't know, but the above paragraph sums it up as much as anything else can. What are the mysteries? It's a mystery...

  11. 5 out of 5

    David

    Henry Miller described Mysteries as ‘…closer to me than any other book I have read’. I’m no Henry Miller, but it is a very dear book to me too, quite like a close friend. It seems that there is no getting to the bottom of it, no matter how many times you engage with it, just like a human being. On a first reading it is seems a mere catalogue of disconnected events taking place in small town, with a stranger called Nagel at their centre, who has arrived on a steamer. He comes and goes and behaves Henry Miller described Mysteries as ‘…closer to me than any other book I have read’. I’m no Henry Miller, but it is a very dear book to me too, quite like a close friend. It seems that there is no getting to the bottom of it, no matter how many times you engage with it, just like a human being. On a first reading it is seems a mere catalogue of disconnected events taking place in small town, with a stranger called Nagel at their centre, who has arrived on a steamer. He comes and goes and behaves in an erratic manner as he interacts with a handful of other characters in the town. It is a novel very like Hunger in that respect, and Nagel has indeed been seen as the hero of that earlier novel later in life, after Christiania has finished with him. Nagel too seems to be acting in accordance with strong inner compulsions that even he does not understand. To that extent, Mysteries, like Hunger, is a novel about youth, about being driven by your unconscious, which is quite clear about what it wants. Nagel arrives at the small Norwegian coastal town on a steamer in the summer of 1891. He immediately leaves and arrives a second time. He leaves letters lying around in public view which catalogue revenue from his estates, but later reveals that he wrote them himself. A woman friend visits for a while and calls him by another name. He has an ‘affair’ with a woman in the town, Dagny, during which he does everything he can to put her off him. He is constantly setting up characters for himself to play, enacting roles, and then pulling them down. He is perhaps experimenting with different personas for himself and finding them all equally empty. He befriends a midget whom he comes to regard as the quintessence of evil, and is hugely generous to a lonely and impoverished woman, Martha, by pretending that a broken chair she has is extremely valuable to him. The midget is intensely Christian, or at least that is what he wants people to think, but he performs some ‘unspeakable’ act on Martha, to whom Nagel is attracted – perhaps because she has no persona, no pretensions. Towards the end of the novel, Nagel becomes intensely superstitious, obsessed with an iron ring he lost which will ‘purify’ him, and soon after commits suicide by running off a jetty. In an epilogue, Dagny and Martha, in conversation about events that happened years earlier, reveal that the midget was indeed evil, though nobody else believed it at the time, and that he had come ‘to a bad end’, though we are not told what that was. We can interpret this novel in whatever way we wish. It is a sort of mirror that we can hold up to ourselves. It is a novel about inner exploration, corruption identity; the surface shifts and changes constantly; there is no ‘message’ or plot. Hamsun, for all his Wagnerian faults, was a true genius, and once we have read Mysteries a part of us remains in that small Norwegian coastal town with Nagel, as a part of us remains in Christiania with the hero of Hunger. It works on an unconscious level, and the unconscious finds something deeply nutritious in it, returning there again and again to drink. Something remarkable within us is attracted to these books because they speak to it in its own language of symbols and shifting connections. Standard novels with a beginning, middle and end are works of the superficial ego, which Nagel is trying to purge himself of.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marts (Thinker)

    Visit my poetic review here: https://formuchdeliberation.wordpress... After reading this novel you'll be left in a barrage of mystery, you may even be wondering what was the point of it all since there's no true plot, the novel starts in the middle of somewhere but goes nowhere and ends nowhere...

  13. 4 out of 5

    James

    I was introduced to the author Knut Hamsun by reading his first novel, Hunger. It is a Dostoevskian tale of a young journalist who is literally starving to death. His story is about trying to write and live while not even being able to afford a scrap of food, pawning his vest to be able to survive a few more days. It is a searing story that one does not forget. I had reread that book about a year ago, but still had not tackled any of Hamsun's other works before I had picked this book. My expecta I was introduced to the author Knut Hamsun by reading his first novel, Hunger. It is a Dostoevskian tale of a young journalist who is literally starving to death. His story is about trying to write and live while not even being able to afford a scrap of food, pawning his vest to be able to survive a few more days. It is a searing story that one does not forget. I had reread that book about a year ago, but still had not tackled any of Hamsun's other works before I had picked this book. My expectations were high, as he is a Nobel Laureate, but I was not sure if he would equal, much less surpass, his earlier novel. Now I look forward to reading more of his works. I was drawn to Mysteries because of a reference in Henry Miller's The Colossus of Maroussi where he said of Mysteries that it "is closer to me than any other book I have read." High praise from a writer that I respect and whose Colossus I loved. Mysteries is not exactly thrilling, but it is an adventure into the unknown. It does not rely on a traditional plot, rather it starts under mysterious circumstances where a strange young man named Johan Nagel without any past appears in a small coastal town where a person has been recently killed. However, playing against expectations the book doesn't delve in to the suspense of the murder, rather all the mysteries lie in Nagel's relations with the townspeople and in discovering the duality of human mind. The duality that confuses us more than the bystander why we are what we are. How can we be so selfish while performing a selfless act? Why do we care about so much about something whose absence doesn't matter in long run? Why do we love someone who doesn't love us back? I found moments in the book left me feeling that I was sharing a dream with the characters - an eerie feeling indeed but more puzzling than frightening. Sven Birkerts has said that Hamsun has created " works of desperate lyrical romanticism". But Hamsun is also a precursor to and in some ways participant in modernism, writing works that span the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. This book is compelling with challenging arguments that you think and perhaps question your beliefs, especially the arguments on societal interpretation of the genius. Birkerts, in his introduction, goes on to say that Mysteries is "compelling in its fans a depth of devotion that owes less to narrative, character development, or evocative prose than to something more elemental, more . . . mysterious." (p. x) It is thus to me and a novel of ideas that I can truly enjoy.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rhett

    It reminded me a lot of Twin Peaks--there's even a midget, and there's actually a Twin Peaks episode that drops Hamsun's name, so I'm sure David Lynch loves this book--but the Agent Cooper isn't an agent, he's an eccentric stranger who mysteriously shows up in a small town in Norway, who like Cooper, mingles and charms his way into the town scene and gets caught up in their dark inner secrets. Same tone and scariness and humor too.....I want to reread this soon.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    Though not a perfect book, Hamsun has again created a unique character, a unique atmosphere, and something resembling Musil's "man without qualities" in the person of Nagel. Mysteries, in some ways, supercedes "Hunger" in scope and depth of writing, but is much more disorganized and not as consistent in tone. Both Hunger and Mysteries simmered and seethed with nervousness, desperation, exhausted illumination, and fascinating strangeness, but where Hunger flowed essentially like four movements of Though not a perfect book, Hamsun has again created a unique character, a unique atmosphere, and something resembling Musil's "man without qualities" in the person of Nagel. Mysteries, in some ways, supercedes "Hunger" in scope and depth of writing, but is much more disorganized and not as consistent in tone. Both Hunger and Mysteries simmered and seethed with nervousness, desperation, exhausted illumination, and fascinating strangeness, but where Hunger flowed essentially like four movements of a symphony, Mysteries weaves through high and low points of artistic success. Still, I have to say I was moved many times and found myself totally immersed in Nagel's dark subconcious wanderings and flights of fancy. The chapter where he recounts the story of his night following Jack-O-Lantern through the woods was especially striking.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Thi T.

    I adore Knut Hamsun's ability to write such realistic internal monologue. A friend recommended this book to me when I told him that one day in the lab, I was suddenly hit with the paranoia that I had gotten a drop of hydrofluoric acid on myself, and was somewhat convinced that there was a chance I could die right there. One of the scenes in this book describes perfectly what that feeling is like and what ridiculous thoughts run through your mind during such a moment. Definitely will go back and I adore Knut Hamsun's ability to write such realistic internal monologue. A friend recommended this book to me when I told him that one day in the lab, I was suddenly hit with the paranoia that I had gotten a drop of hydrofluoric acid on myself, and was somewhat convinced that there was a chance I could die right there. One of the scenes in this book describes perfectly what that feeling is like and what ridiculous thoughts run through your mind during such a moment. Definitely will go back and re-read it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Yoana

    Contains spoilers I feel somewhat uncomfortable expressing tepid feelings about a book that’s universally praised as a phenomenon in world literature but I was less than impressed with Mysteries. Perhaps it was that it was oversold on the back cover (the author was pronounced to have „complete omniscience about human nature“, where I only found incomplete, albeit self-absorbed, knowledge about a certain type of male person), or that I read it in 2016 with my firmly 2016 point of view, Contains spoilers I feel somewhat uncomfortable expressing tepid feelings about a book that’s universally praised as a phenomenon in world literature but I was less than impressed with Mysteries. Perhaps it was that it was oversold on the back cover (the author was pronounced to have „complete omniscience about human nature“, where I only found incomplete, albeit self-absorbed, knowledge about a certain type of male person), or that I read it in 2016 with my firmly 2016 point of view, or that I can’t read much anymore without running it through the very specific lens of a host of modern values and expectations. But my ultimate impression is of a pretty worn-out cliche – though I guess it wasn’t that glaringly cliched in 1892 – of the misunderstood, tortured genius who’s enormously magnanimous but can’t ever be happy because he sees the ugliness of the world and it causes him pain, and spends all his time in self-absorbed internal and external monologues that are supposed to be mysterious and brilliant but are in fact predictable and hollow. Yawn. He goes around treating women and the less fortunate like children, manipulating them „for their own good“. He carries around a firm belief that he’s better than other people, expressed not only in his treatment of them, which is rarely concerned with their expressed wishes or convictions, but in his penchant for „shocking“ polite society with his disdain for popular icons of the age such as Gladstone, Tolstoy and Ibsen. Nagel experiences zero character development – one gets the idea that he’s above it, that he’s no mere mortal and therefore can’t have a story arc where he errs and learns as a result – or doesn’t. He enters the stage heavy with the wisdom of the world and exits it the same way. He has transformative power in some wretched souls’ lives, never gets any gratitude for it, or the love he clearly deserves more than any other man, and then leaves. Apart from the general boredom of reading about the kind of (male) character/author I was taught to admire throughout my formal education and with whom I became disillusioned once I started thinking for myself, there was an extra treat in the form of Nagel’s „courtship“ of his great – tortured, obviously – love, Miss Kielland. His pursuit consists of never shutting up about himself, forcing his company on her at every opportunity, disrespecting her feelings and her engagement, stalking her (at one point he says „So I come every night to stare at your window even though you forbade me! It’s not a crime!“, no joke), forcing his embraces and kisses on her despite her resistance, threatening suicide and killing her dog. He motherfucking kills her dog. And the reader is supposed to sympathise with him and his great anguish – which he talks about while forcing the woman he’s supposed to love to endure him and listen to him after she’s told him at least a dozen times she wants to be left alone. I suppose he doesn’t see her as a person like himself, but as a personal goal. I had to stop and laugh in exasperation at some of his lines. „I’ll kill myself right here to rid you of my presence!“ he says to her pleas to leave her alone – well, you can rid her of your presence by doing what she asked and walking away. But that wouldn’t have the power to manipulate, would it? He doesn’t really care about her wanting nothing to do with him, he cares only about his not getting what he wants, to it’s either her affection or death. Accepting the fact that his feelings are unrequited doesn’t come in anywhere. His „You’ve got to give me a chance!“ – shouted at an engaged woman who’s told him expressly, several times, that he cannot expect anything of her, that she loves her fiancé and that she wants him to go away – is so depressingly familiar and modern, I got genuinely angry reading it. What do men think „Give me a chance“ means? „Let me have what I want“? Because it was made perfectly clear to him he could not have a chance. But his desires are more important to him than her feelings or wishes. Some things never do change. Maybe I’m not sophisticated enough or sufficiently versed in philosophy to appreciate Nagel’s long monologues about greatness and the mediocrity of universally hailed great men, but they dragged so badly, I kept counting the remaining pages. The two rather interesting aspects about the novel, for me, were the impactful descriptions, in a presciently Modernist manner, of Nagel’s episodes of altered consciousness – when he’s under the influence of opium, when he’s feverish and when he’s clearly having hallucinations. It’s a curious look at the instability of the mental state that sounds strikingly modern to me. The other thing that was somewhat intriguing was the mystery – who killed Karlsen? Was he really killed? What’s the Midget’s secret vice? And what became of him? It would usually be anticlimactic to leave such questions unanswered, but in this novel, I think it works to its advantage and fits in with the general atmosphere of uncertainty, the style of smoothly switching back and forth between traditional narration, stream of consciousness and downright surreal descriptions of apparitions, premonitions and fairy-tale visions. Yes, I know the book is about investigating the depths and the implications of human consciousness. About how the more evolved suffer more because they understand more, about exploring the edges of the human experience of the world. I’m just not impressed with it. As usual, this theme is seen through a narrow and narcissistic perspective that confuses a limited and demographically specific personal experience for the universality of the human condition. I can’t respect that.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    Much weaker than Growth of the Soil, Hunger, or Pan. Disappointing. Hard to stick with. Zone outs aplenty. Didn't engage me. Wonky translation, or at least one that could use an update. Romantic proto-hippie maniac. All over the place. Cool bit with an angel hallucination. But mostly just not clear enough on a language level. Bailed on page 117, never to return.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hend AlEssa

    I finished reading this novel with a strange sense of detachment, alienation and silence. I didnt know what do I think of it, maybe I was totally puzzled, maybe because I read Hunger first and i kept on falling in the trap of comparing it with other Hamsun's novels. To be honest, sometimes I think it's wrong to read an author's masterpiece before his/her other novels. despite the fact that he didn't receive his nobel prize for Hunger. However, that novel left me totally with a different perspect I finished reading this novel with a strange sense of detachment, alienation and silence. I didnt know what do I think of it, maybe I was totally puzzled, maybe because I read Hunger first and i kept on falling in the trap of comparing it with other Hamsun's novels. To be honest, sometimes I think it's wrong to read an author's masterpiece before his/her other novels. despite the fact that he didn't receive his nobel prize for Hunger. However, that novel left me totally with a different perspective about everything. Hunger, for me is Hamsun's masterpiece. in every detail and in every incident, the narrator is engrossed deeply in my mind forever, from the very first pages until the end. He is an iconic character that can not be compared to any other. Well, in a sense he reminded me of The Underground narrator, but still, he was unique. In his stream of unconsciousness and "association of ideas" Hamsun introdused us to yet another lovable character. Nagel. the main protagonist of Mysteries. His eccentricities and mania made me captivated and very interested to read more for the sole purpose to know what he would do next. His motifs were unclear, Hamsun intended to keep all the mysteries to himself, when reading all the short stories Nagel narrates to the peripheral characters either to amuse them or to keep them wonder about him even more, he gives bits and pieces of a potential account of his past life. One can not be very sure whether it was correct or was merely a fabrication from the mania in his head, he has this tendency to degrade himself and can not be held accountable of the events, yet , he is doing this not for any malicious reason, I inferred that in some events that he was purely humble and helpful. Nevertheless, I've enjoyed all his short stories, and anecdotes he narrated, and I sympthaized with him for his unlucky love encounters and misfortunes. I criticized Dagny a lot all through the course of the novel. But, Hamsun has this way of depicting female characters either as shallow and self-centred or angelic and pure with no wits . misogynist maybe.. I dont really know. you can't take Nagel's perspective seriously. But for some reason I kept thinking he is very very similar to the main character in Hunger. I even allowed my imagination to presume he is the same character who after landing on the ship and leaving Kristina in Hunger , he then harbored in another small city in "Mysteries" and started another life. one can allow himself to go on with his imagination when he reads an amazing masterpiece that can peneterate deep down in soul and mind and even imagine that the fictional characters are real and their destiny didn't stop in the pages of the novel. I loved Mysteries, and I even loved the unexpected ending which came as a suriprise at the end.. I wanted to know a lot of answers, but I guess this is the intent of the author, to leave you puzzled with unanswered questions, maybe to create the desired effect, or to selfishly keep all the answers fir himself, it is his book at thend !. Maybe the answers were never known even to the writer, when he wrote his book and imagined all of the characters and Jove inspired him to depict such mania and rationality in the most creative style. I love Knut Hamsun.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

    this was fabulous; incredible; superlative-full. i have rarely come across such passionate writing; the passion coupling with the character of nagel, a solid plot...the scope of the subject matter is large, and i would need to read the book again to gain a more full understanding of what is going on, on the implications of hte story, in just grasping as much as i can of what i feel Hamsun was talking about, relating that to life. this is something that needs to be meditated upon, i think. or at this was fabulous; incredible; superlative-full. i have rarely come across such passionate writing; the passion coupling with the character of nagel, a solid plot...the scope of the subject matter is large, and i would need to read the book again to gain a more full understanding of what is going on, on the implications of hte story, in just grasping as much as i can of what i feel Hamsun was talking about, relating that to life. this is something that needs to be meditated upon, i think. or at least when i read it again i will follow the henry miller reading technique of stopping whenever i come across a strong passage and taking a walk, digest things a bit. chapter 18 ranks up there with the closing of "you can't go home again" as one of the most inspiring chapters i have ever read, but with "mysteries," everything is insane and inspiring and full of compassion and yearning, even with what feels like a dry translation, though i have no way of knowing for sure--but when reading henry miller right after finishing the book--and henry miller being one who at times can occupy a relatively straight forward/pseudo-dry prose--i could sense a more fluid, lively and individual style; the ideas came across vivid as anything i've read, but the prose sounded like Standard Unit English. i've had similar experiences with translations of some of the bits of Dostoevsky and Chekhov i've read: same large-set white man with rigid accent and mustache, sitting next to a fire, things pretty dry, language, etc., though with Hamsun's Mysteries at least the man made it outside, under a tree in the shade on a sunny day. more Standard Unit stuff. but that is unfair: when i read Hamsun (at least in "mysteries" and "hunger"), i see some wirey man in his forties, the firing of his brain manifesting visibly in his jumpy, erratic, at times smooth as a pool of grease, demeanor. so there is a contrast. i am listening to a large-set white man reading to me under a tree in the shade, on a breezy day, while i am watching a spark of a man, visibly burning with longing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

    A man, Johan Nilsen Nagel, blew into town a created a stir because of his uncetain origins, unpredictable behavior and sometimes odd appearance. He'd try to help some people but would often be misunderstood. He himself would also be confused about his own motivations. I read this as an allegory. Passages and phrases here and there reminded me of the biblical story of Jesus Christ. Even the way Nagel died here hints strongly of Christ's agony on the cross and in the Garden of Gethseman A man, Johan Nilsen Nagel, blew into town a created a stir because of his uncetain origins, unpredictable behavior and sometimes odd appearance. He'd try to help some people but would often be misunderstood. He himself would also be confused about his own motivations. I read this as an allegory. Passages and phrases here and there reminded me of the biblical story of Jesus Christ. Even the way Nagel died here hints strongly of Christ's agony on the cross and in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested. The story is mysterious so the reader (like myself) would surely immediately suspect some sort of a significance about it and that things, characters and thoughts here are symbolic of some greater things. I did not feel much about the surface happenings of the story, however, because they were too mysterious to be interesting; and neither did I appreciate much their supposed symbolisms because I found them too inconsistent that they'd become overly mysterious also. The title is apt, however, because both the surface story and its symbolisms are indeed mysterious and one can easily get lost in them.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mir

    Yo! I want to read this soon -- which translation is better, Bothmer or Lyngstad? Anybody?

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sanjana

    Damn.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Madhuri

    I will make my character laugh where sensible people think he ought to cry. And why? Because my hero is no character, no 'type,' ... but a complex, modern being. - Knut Hamsun I don't know whether Hamsun spoke these words to describe the character of Nagel in his work Mysteries, but I can say that in Nagel, he was successful in what he intended to carry out. Even though he does not want to call his hero a character, I found the (anti?)protagonist of Mysteries to I will make my character laugh where sensible people think he ought to cry. And why? Because my hero is no character, no 'type,' ... but a complex, modern being. - Knut Hamsun I don't know whether Hamsun spoke these words to describe the character of Nagel in his work Mysteries, but I can say that in Nagel, he was successful in what he intended to carry out. Even though he does not want to call his hero a character, I found the (anti?)protagonist of Mysteries to be a remarkable character - for his inconsistencies and realities. In this novel, a stranger (Nagel) lands in an idyllic, 'simple' coastal town of Norway, for no particular reason. In his unexplained, eccentric existence, he throws the apparently well-formed community into a commotion, bringing out the subtle evil and in-equations amongst the people. Throughout the story, everyone tries to unravel the mysteries behind this stranger - the town, the reader and most of all Nagel himself, who seems to be as puzzled by his actions as others are. Very appropriately, even the writer seems to explore the mystery for a while, and then leaves it unfinished. I found Mysteries to be a novel of the subconscious. Very often, Nagel seems to act on instincts, which, if he explores, turn out to be conscious logical behavior choices. There are many dreams and memories that seem to guide him, and in each he (and the reader) tries to find a symbol. Although, Nagel's behavior could also be inspired by a very acute level of consciousness (as he suggests a few times), where he is able to predict the impact of his behavior on other people. In this calculation of moves, he appears to me very similar to the Johannes of Seducer's Diary, though Johannes was far more consistent with his premeditation than Nagel. In this, he is much closer to a 'normal' modern man, who is sometimes calculative, manipulative, sometimes moved to humanitarian acts and sometimes just plain silly and argumentative. It is quite remarkable that Hamsun is able to draw out these lapses into the subconscious, and so fluidly merge them into the conscious. Apart from the symbols that drive Nagel, he himself is a symbol of modernism, as he breaks from the norms of a collective conscience and chooses personal and individual confusion. This choice may be the force that thwarts the town's order and poses a question to its apparent stability. He opposes all established beliefs, even though he may not have a very sound logical standing in negating them. He seems to uphold inconsistency, unpredictability, and risk, and is therefore dangerous to the limited town. There is a lot that I feel like saying about this work, which I found remarkably enthralling, but I don't think I am much refined to put them down as a long essay - perhaps I will link those thoughts through in bits on the blog later. For now - I will stop at: I loved Nagel. And Hamsun. I will read more from this writer.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Schirmer

    Sometimes I ask myself why I ever bothered to study Russian. Bergman speaks to me in ways that Tarkovsky never will (we have a tradition of watching the complete Fanny och Alexander every Christmas), I'd rather eat at Copenhagen's Noma than anywhere in Russia, and Knut Hamsun's novels are far superior to anything Dostoevsky ever wrote. Well, I've only read this one, but I've got a gut feeling... The plot of Mysteries is extremely simple--a strange man, Nagel, comes to town. An inferior novelist would have him upset the apple c Sometimes I ask myself why I ever bothered to study Russian. Bergman speaks to me in ways that Tarkovsky never will (we have a tradition of watching the complete Fanny och Alexander every Christmas), I'd rather eat at Copenhagen's Noma than anywhere in Russia, and Knut Hamsun's novels are far superior to anything Dostoevsky ever wrote. Well, I've only read this one, but I've got a gut feeling... The plot of Mysteries is extremely simple--a strange man, Nagel, comes to town. An inferior novelist would have him upset the apple cart, challenge the residents, and bring them to other ways of thinking. Indeed, there is an early moment when Nagel interferes in the mistreatment of a little person (given the moniker Midget) and appears to be a champion for social justice. But everything Nagel does is a provocation--not just to the townfolk but to himself. Nagel's actions really are a series of Nietzschean limit experiences. If you've ever sat in a quiet church and dreamed of jumping out of the pew and dancing up the aisle--not simply for disruptive purposes--Nagel is your man. Hamsun slowly reveals these impulses, along with the achingly beautiful flights-of-fancy that accompany Nagel's mania: Tears of rapture came into his eyes, and the intense emotion made his breathing heavy. He was already rocking on the seas of the heavens, singing as he fished with a silver hook. His boat was made of scented wood, and the oars gleamed like white wings; the sail was of light blue silk and shaped like a half moon... This image of a beautiful, fantastic escape shows us Nagel's only true talent: the ability to imagine and invent. The townfolk clearly know this, and despite a series of faux pas that would ordinarily sever social bonds, they keep him around for expressly this purpose. Of course, things cannot end well; a series of limit experiences can only be warm-ups for the ultimate limit experience of all--which comes, not as expected, but rather absurdly. Like many, I had always ignored Hamsun because of his love of National Socialism (truly a tragic and fascinating story in its own right). Norwegians are still dealing with it, and the recently-completed Knut Hamsun Center in Hamarøy has brought back the issue to the international press. Supposedly, it was inspired by Hamsun characters. Like Nagel, it is odd, ugly, and stands out in the forest.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Eldonfoil TH*E Whatever Champion

    Shooting from the hip here..........Not really sure what to make of this yet and will have to read some more Hamsun before deciding. While the book is almost a point blank shout down my alley, a pie recipe with my name on it, I can't definitively get a bit of Gerber's out of my head. My anti-hero (and Hamsun) clearly feels some fabulous paganism, plays transcendental nature over hypocritical humanity from a little black and white box, cries at the thought of what will happen as technology and sc Shooting from the hip here..........Not really sure what to make of this yet and will have to read some more Hamsun before deciding. While the book is almost a point blank shout down my alley, a pie recipe with my name on it, I can't definitively get a bit of Gerber's out of my head. My anti-hero (and Hamsun) clearly feels some fabulous paganism, plays transcendental nature over hypocritical humanity from a little black and white box, cries at the thought of what will happen as technology and science demolish dreams, poetry, and the inexplicable, and tells wonderful fantasies. There's The Midget, the scenes of social sham, on and on with all the vegetables I love on my plate. But for some reason I still have odd sensations of not being pulled in under the surface. I'm watching all of it rather than being taken in by it. One thought I'm toying with is that he is a simplistic Dostoyevsky. Walk in to a town, add little to no context, tell some dreamy stories, fling around with women, criticize everything and nothing, "it's all a mystery" but for the stars....... And yet I also think that assessment is not fair---I sense Hamsun did struggle, did put on paper what was in his veins, and that there are a hell of a lot of European writers who used many of his stamps and ploys with much less effectiveness and authenticity. Let me read some more.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jake Goretzki

    For all its standing as a classic and - yes - its importance as a pointer to Modernism (exploring individualism, fantasy, mental breakdown, etc, etc) this is a pretty tiresome read. Not for want of developments (Nagel's never short of schemes and is full of abandon), but he's so unhinged and irrational, it's hard to find the impetus to invest in him or to want to pay him much attention. I know that's the idea, but he's like listening to a compulsive liar at a teenage summer camp. After a while i For all its standing as a classic and - yes - its importance as a pointer to Modernism (exploring individualism, fantasy, mental breakdown, etc, etc) this is a pretty tiresome read. Not for want of developments (Nagel's never short of schemes and is full of abandon), but he's so unhinged and irrational, it's hard to find the impetus to invest in him or to want to pay him much attention. I know that's the idea, but he's like listening to a compulsive liar at a teenage summer camp. After a while it's: "Can you just shut up for a while?". I'm a strong believer in the view that there is nothing quite as tedious as listening to someone telling you what happened in a dream they had (next time someone offers you one, offer to hum them an improvised tune you're about to make up - for it's that interesting and revealing). Nagel talking about his dreams is that level of taxing. It's a short novel, but I longed for it to finish. Which is a shame, as I loved 'Growth of the Soil'. Maybe that was the grounded, rustic outrider in his work, with 'Hunger' much closer to this odd ball of loopiness.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Zack

    Every Knut Hamsun book is totally different from every other. I mean, this one's superior to Growth of the Soil, even possibly to Hunger, but it's such a different kind of book comparisons aren't really fair. For some reason, another Hamsun book, Pan, also totally different from any of the others, is dedicated by him to Johan Nilssen Nagel, the (fictional?) protagonist of Mysteries. This is his second book, written right after Hunger, and carries the same kind of fire, but this time way more inv Every Knut Hamsun book is totally different from every other. I mean, this one's superior to Growth of the Soil, even possibly to Hunger, but it's such a different kind of book comparisons aren't really fair. For some reason, another Hamsun book, Pan, also totally different from any of the others, is dedicated by him to Johan Nilssen Nagel, the (fictional?) protagonist of Mysteries. This is his second book, written right after Hunger, and carries the same kind of fire, but this time way more inventive and complex in delivery--it has several clearly defined characters (including a crippled pariah nicknamed "Miniman" who is a kind of unholy doppelganger of the anti-hero main character) and relationships developing throughout. Johan Nilssen Nagel is an eccentric madman on some kind of personalized emotional mission. Totally excellent ending, like a metaphoric exclamation point. I first read this during a grad school residency in Vermont about a year ago, and missed a lot of the craftsmanship. Very clever carpentry.

  29. 5 out of 5

    John

    The mad protagonist of this novel was not as effective for me as the protagonist of Hamsun's "Hunger," nor did the whole thing work as well as some of the other Hamsun novels I have read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This novel is rather like Hamsun's Hunger, but more absurdist. If you like Dostoevsky, even Nietzsche, you might want to give Knut Hamsun a try.

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