Out Stealing Horses: A Novel Paperback – April 29, 2008
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“Petterson's spare and deliberate prose has astonishing force.” ―The New Yorker
“A gripping account of such originality as to expand the reader's own experience of life.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Out Stealing Horses looks like a charming but modest chamber-piece. In retrospect--and this is a novel that strikes deep and lingers long--it feels more like some shattering literary symphony.” ―The Independent
“A . . . miracle of a book. ” ―The Irish Times
About the Author
PER PETTERSON has written five novels, which have established his reputation as one of Norway's best fiction writers. Out Stealing Horses won the Norwegian Booksellers Prize, the Critics Award for best novel, and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
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”I live here now, in a small house in the far east of Norway. A river flows into the lake. It is not much of a river, and it gets shallow in the summer, but in the spring and autumn it runs briskly, and there are trout in it…I can just see it from my window once the birch leaves have fallen.
It is here that Trond Sander finds the solitude, the peace and quiet he’s been longing for with Lyra, his dog. It is here, as well, that he comes to realize that with solitude comes reflection, introspection. In his case, rumination of nearly seventy years, a lifetime of memories. Some good, some haunting.
The year he was fifteen, an incident occurred that returns to him, a friend’s life forever changed, and the aftermath affected them all. Ripples of grief and guilt, affect them both, and their families draw even closer together. It is this incident that has wormed its way back into his mind, reminding him of that summer, the summer he worked, moving lumber along the river.
Spare, deliberate, haunting prose moves this story along quietly with a sense of this man seeking a sense of peace with this past, to accept the losses that come along with a life lived, to come to terms with secrets, affections withheld, all of the injustices, real or perceived. And while the memories once belonged to the boy, the man he has become shares this past, these moments of reminiscence with the wisdom gained through the years.
”That part of my life when I could turn the dreams to some use is behind me now. I am not going to change anything any more.”
”If I just concentrate I can walk into memory’s store and find the right shelf with the right film and disappear into it and still feel in my body that ride through the forest with my father…”
The novel commences with Trond Sanders, who considers himself a "spry" 67, deciding to seek the tranquility of a cabin in the woods, along the eastern border of Norway, near the sea, to live out his days. Many a reader might envision a "Walden"-style retreat. The timing is as the millennium turns. A chance encounter with his most immediate neighbor, who still lives a considerable distance away, proves fateful. It is a person that he has not seen for over half a century. An event so improbable, that it would normally diminish the quality of the novel, as the author says. His neighbor is Lars Hung.
The novel moves back and forth over time, from the present (1999) to 1948, when Trond is 15, and Lars is 10. It is only three years after the German occupation of Norway during WW II. Events during the occupation still reverberate. It is about friendships and familial relationships. One relationship is between Trond, in his coming-of-age mode, and his father, whom he realizes he does not know, and as events unfold, never will (that secret world of adults!). Trond, and a neighbor friend of the same age, Jon, far before the age of electronic diversions, seek amusement and thrills by riding their neighbor's horse; hence the title to the novel... which we also learn later is used in an entirely different context.
A loaded gun, left unattended for just a few minutes, leads to the ultimate in tragedy that tears apart two different families. But one learns that the "fault lines" were there before this event...and they stem from the respective positions and actions of the family members during WW II, who resisted, who collaborated, and who just tried to ignore it all. I love Petterson's story telling technique: providing one data point as he is describing the natural world, and then many pages later adding or reinforcing another, and the reader must draw the long line between. For example, the reader learns that Trond and his father might be interested in the same woman, one approximately the father's age. Only glances and a bit of tension are indicated. Then many pages later, Petterson is more explicit, and has the father tell the son to go find someone his own age.
The relationships examined are far more than fathers and sons. There are spousal ones, ones with the neighbor's spouses, the best friends of youth, and as life comes full circle, there is the meeting with Trond's estranged daughter, at his Walden-like retreat. And it is all done in this Scandinavian-minimalist style, lean and functional. Petterson also throws in enough "creaks" in Trond's physical functioning to resonate with those of a certain age... yes, we have to decide ourselves when we will admit that it hurts. And it all plays out against the beauty of the Norwegian natural world, which is screaming out for a re-visit. A wonderful, thoughtful, 6-star read.
Top international reviews
The writing very cleverly delivers layer after layer a picture of a man who intensely analyses, mostly overanalyses, every situation, from should he return a hug or what a certain glance meant, to decisions that have a dramatic impact on his life. You feel he’s on the social interaction autism scale and slightly emotionless, but you can’t help it stirring emotions in you as you read. I read the book with a half-smile, mostly because I really enjoyed it but there is an innocence, and moments of humour, fondness and a sense of endearment towards Trond. It is a well-balanced story with incidents that are fun and jovial, and there are tragic events that he deals with from his family, his friend, his father and his neighbours.
The personal narration from Trond gives an insight into a mind that is reflecting on his past and constantly analysing everything in the present. The writing very cleverly flows with this transition as within the same paragraph you can seamlessly be in a different time as his mind drifts. "You wonder whether that is how we get to be after living alone for a long time, that in the middle of a train of thought we start talking out loud, that the difference between talking and not talking is slowly wiped out".
It is firmly rooted in Norway, the central character Trond, is product of the forties. There are dark allusions to the Nazi occupation. But the main landscape is rural Norway, with its timber chopping and horse breeding.
It can be difficult at times to work out who is who, and the a narrative can be a little repetitive.