By February 17, 2011 2 Comments Read More →

Out Stealing Horses

out-stealing-horses-novel-per-petterson-paperback-cover-artMy book group’s recent discussion of Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses took us in some interesting directions. Translated from the Norwegian, Out Stealing Horses is narrated by Trond Sander, a 67-year-old man who has moved to a remote region of Norway on the border of Sweden. He has moved to be alone, to have the quiet to read and learn to subsist on the essentials. But his past comes back when on a walk he runs into a man he knew from his youth.

Out Stealing Horses is about how one summer in Trond’s life marked him forever. In that summer, he learns of his father’s secret life in the Norwegian Resistance movement before his father mysteriously disappears from his life. It’s a story of abandonment, loss and how the choices we make in life shape us.

Petterson’s writing is quite evocative and I found myself typing up several passages. Most of the group enjoyed the writing. But a few were left cold by the whole thing. They felt that the women were ciphers, that the main character’s ruminations were ponderous, that his detachment as a parent was upsetting. Trond is definitely a compelling narrator, even as you begin to suspect that he has left a lot out in his own self-examination.

As with preparing for any discussion, I am often as stirred by what I learn about an author as I am about the book itself. Per Petterson is very articulate in interviews. Here is one passage and a response by Petterson that struck me from a Guardian interview:

But his distinctive voice became audible to his inner ear when he found his own subjects, which could scarcely be less radical: work, the family and the second world war. “Some critics said, hey, why are you writing historical novels? I say, they’re not historical, they’re contemporary, because people walking around who lived through this, even a little bit, they carry it inside. The contemporary isn’t just what you can see now.”

In the novel, Petterson paraphrases but doesn’t attribute a quotation from L. P. Hartley’s The Go-between: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

So while my group had mixed feelings about Out Stealing Horses, I look forward to reading more by this thought-provoking writer.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

2 Comments on "Out Stealing Horses"

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  1. sedgarlee@lvjusd.k12.ca.us' Susan Edgar-Lee says:

    This is one of my favorite books of recent years. The sparse beautiful prose evokes a feel for the place and time I really enjoyed. It made me want to visit Scandinavia in the summer.
    But mostly it made me think about summers in my past and the family connections that Petterson wrote about.
    I won’t say too much about the storyline in case you haven’t read it yet. For me it had a very “real” feel to it and I liked the inward examination of this novel. If you like a lot of action, though, it’s probably not the book for you.

  2. shavers@crc.losrios.edu' Shelley says:

    Your group’s points of criticism of the book sounded reminiscent of criticisms of another Scandinavian–Ingmar Bergman!

    As someone writing about women facing economic crisis, I loved the comment about how historical novels are contemporary. Sadly, it’s true.

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