"Mysteries" (1892) is the story of Johan Nilsen Nagel, a mysterious stranger who suddenly turns up in a small Norwegian town one summer-and just as suddenly disappears. Nagel is a complete outsider, a sort of modern Christ treated in a spirit of near parody. He condemns the politics and thought of the age, brings comfort to the insulted and ...
"Mysteries" (1892) is the story of Johan Nilsen Nagel, a mysterious stranger who suddenly turns up in a small Norwegian town one summer-and just as suddenly disappears. Nagel is a complete outsider, a sort of modern Christ treated in a spirit of near parody. He condemns the politics and thought of the age, brings comfort to the insulted and injured and gains the love of two women suggestive of the biblical Mary and Martha. But there is a sinister side of him: in his vest he carries a vial of Prussic acid. The novel creates a powerful sense of Nagel's stream of thought, as he increasingly withdraws into the torture chamber of his own subconscious psyche.
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I started reading Knut Hamsun's books when I visited Norway 2 years ago. Until I recently read "Mysteries " I unilaterally loved everything he wrote. The main character in "Mysteries", Nagel , is a disturbed person. At first you have great sympathy for him, then his actions toward other people in the story make you dislike him. Nagel is a character on a self-destructive course. Yet Hamsun never gives you his whole story, you get only hints here and there. At the very end, I got the feeling that perhaps Nagel was right about some things - but I was not sure. This is a book that undoubtedly has several layers of meanings. One reading is not enough to figure it out. I guess I can say I finally met a Hamsun story I did not love.
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