When I picked up Pan last month at Foyles at Charing Cross, London I had two thoughts in my mind regarding the title. My immediate thought was the pan in which one cooks but then it couldn’t have been this simple given Munch’s work on the front cover of the book. My second thought was in direction of Pan’s labyrinth and from that I thought of Pan – the Greek god of the wild. It turned out that the second guess was more closer to the profile of the work.
I was looking for Hunger by him but couldn’t find it and made peace with my purchase. It was surprisingly lean unlike the tomes of work that was common in the times during which Hamsun produced magnificent works. He veered off from the pallor tradition of writing endless dialogues and wrote bluntly on the raw human emotions in the heart and the various confounding debates of the human mind.
Pan is a story written in first person featuring Thomas Glahn and Edvarda, set in Sirilund, where time is spent frolicking in and admiring nature. I sometimes get bogged down by too much detail as it happens in many famous works where the writers keeps on describing the sunset for three pages, but here I took pleasure in reading about the grass blades, foaming sea against the docks, little hut, beetles, and other wonders of nature and the random act of naming the ants while sitting under a tree in solitude. So very human.
People will say it is a book about psychology but to me it is about the author and his way of describing what humans are and what do they want to say to other humans; They aren’t paragon of virtues but are flawed and thus humans.
“Do not forget, some give little, and it is much for them, others give all, and it costs them no effort; who then has given most?” – Knut Hamsun, Pan
The timeline love story reminds me of 500 days of summer which has similar events and the misunderstanding between the two reminds me of Dev D. They love each other over a period of spring, summer, and autumn but neither understands what it means and eventually drift away.
The epilogue which describes the fate of Glahn set in southern India seems like another short story and is not archetypal of Hamsun’s period (Although Maggie seems to be an unrealistic character to me in that period in Indian subcontinent). Such literary devices put him ahead of his time and not confined to any literary tradition.
Today, Hamsun is seen in a dubious light despite being a literary genius from Norway who was awarded Nobel prize for literature in 1920, and it’s attributed to his far right political views and his and his wife’s relationships with then Nazi ruling Germany. It opens the never ending debate whether we can dissociate the artist from his/her personal life and political views. Despite that one can’t ignore the significance of his works and the literary evolution he was responsible for, his works aren’t another damp squib but something of Steve Jobs’ dots that one connects while looking in the past.