This is an older novel, written in the 1930's or thereabouts. It was originally in Norwegian, and the author later won a Nobel Prize for Growth of the Soil, which I haven't started yet.
All the reviews said this was a disturbing novel of isolation. It was, and is, fascinating.
The protagonist, writing in the first person, describes his life as a writer who has suffered hunger and starvation long enough that his mental faculties are injured beyond repair (it would seem). He writes occasionally for a newspaper, makes enough to get by a few days if his story is purchased, or goes without food for days if it doesn't get picked up. The malnourishment causes a variety of problems, from extreme mood swings to paranoia to hallucinations. He takes to chewing on wood shavings, then stones, then a piece of his jacket pocket to try and defy the hunger. When he does eat, he is usually ill from the food. He gets to a point where he visualizes taking a bite out of his hand to eat, and does so. He comes out of his trance when he does, but it shows how far out of reality he became. A few times he either finds money or is given some by a benevolent person; he simply can't accept this, and gives it away.
The insanity is beyond anything I imagined. Perhaps because it's told in first person style, where every thought and inkling is described and explored. The people he harasses, the fights he starts, his visions of his own talent (highly inflated) and his paranoia are frightening. He has tremendous pride, not wanting to take help from others, even when he hasn't eaten for days. One shopkeeper, realizing his situation, actually pretends to make a mistake and gives him too much change...rather than take this for food, he gives it to a more 'impoverished' soul than him. It's not that he's selfless, far from it. His pride consumes him. He can't bear to imagine anyone thinking badly of him, even when he is selling off his clothing and the buttons on his coat. He even has the opportunity to make use of a homeless shelter to get food and a bed, and he refuses rather than to look bad.
Physically, the starvation manifests itself in losing his hair in clumps, a peeling skin rash and raw skin from his dirty clothes rubbing his skin, blackened nails, lost teeth, and a chronic dizziness and fever.
I was amazed in that while he did write to earn money, he never seemed to try and seriously find a job. And he never seemed to consider stealing, which would have occurred to me before I would be chewing on stones. Again, it wasn't out of honor, it was about his perception of what others would think of him, and he wanted to be thought of as honorable, even though he wasn't.
He was truly isolated. No family is mentioned, his only friends are actually acquaintances that avoid him because of his strange behavior and pathetic appearance, exactly what he was hoping to avoid. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of child he was (okay, I know it's fictional but I still think this way) and what made him so prideful and vain.
It's said that everyone has a story they tell themselves about themselves. How they account for their choices and actions in their own head, and how they justify or condemn themself. In this I wondered, since I could clearly see the story he was telling himself, and how inaccurate it was from his reality, how far off is my perception of myself? Is the way I think as completely out of touch? Is my inner voice as flawed and stubborn as his?