on 9 January 2010
I picked this book up because of the reviews here on Amazon, and I have to agree, it is a genuinely wonderful book. The writing is beautiful and atmospheric, reflective and sad. It centres on Trond who has moved to a remote cabin in Norway, and it is here that he reflects on his life and his relationships.
Like other reviewers I'd also recommend that you read it slowly to truly appreciate it. It is a short novel, and an easy read, but there is a definite depth to it. Trond examines his life (the events and relationships that have shaped him), in a way that for me highlights his struggle between a desire to withdraw and a desire connect. I found myself both gripped and saddened by the psychology of this struggle, and also humbled by the human experience I felt privileged to have some small insight to.
As for recommending this book, I do so wholeheartedly. I think you'll really like this book if you are a fan of the understated slow-burn style novel that engages your mind and your emotions.
This is a lyrical book ; in many places, a beautiful one. The narrative is driven by three instances of traumatic loss. Trond, now 67, has sought solitude in a little cottage, not much more than a shack, in the Norwegian hinterland. You could say that he is running away from the world, but to some extent he is also returning to something like the kind of rural environment in which, as a boy and teenager, he achieved greatest happiness. His relationship with this setting has its positive side. He looks forward to making practical improvements to the cottage and enjoys the companionship of his dog, Lyra. Though he is shutting himself off, there is no feeling that he expects or wishes to fade away. From this situation, he reviews his life, and information from the past emerges so that eventually we have a fairly complete picture of his formative years.
The book is really beautifully written. Descriptions of the surroundings, the trees, the water, the tracks, journeys (including one on horseback into Sweden), the simple life in the cottage are marvellous and sometimes deeply satisfying. A key element is Trond's relationship with his father (it is with his father that he makes the journey into Sweden), a crucial relationship in his life, and this is handled with understated delicacy. His father's life, which includes wartime work with the Norwegian resistance is seen through the boy's eyes. Trond may have become a recluse, but he is courteous and still likes people - he gradually makes contact with his neighbour, Lars, and he welcomes a visit from his daughter, though both of these encounters bring memories from the past which are not wholly positive. The book ends with a visit Trond and his mother make to Karlstad, and it would be quite natural for that ending to be bitter and negative, but it is not so, not at all, and we see that Trond, who has been through very hard times, is a survivor ; as his father had said (picking nettles) 'we decide for ourselves when it will hurt'.
The translation seems fine to me - it reads well. A feature of Petterson's style is the use of very long, rather meandering sentences, but he uses them with great skill, adding detail to detail in a way which works well.
Overall, it's an unusual book - a good thing! - and a thoughtful one - as The Independent reviewer wrote, 'a luminous story, a genuine work of art'.
on 11 July 2008
This is such a lovely book - I haven't read anything quite so evocative and atmospheric for a long time. Simple but majestic prose, I found myself narrating incidents in my own life with the same stark yet intimate tone. (Perhaps that's a strange quirk of mine, but I only do that when I feel completely involved and at one with a book and a writer.)
Set in Norway, the book is about Trond, a man who has set up home in the middle of nowhere almost as a retreat from life; he is nearing old age. So proceeds a description of his current state of mind intertwined with memories of a youthful summer spent with his Dad in a very similar area. And in Trond, Petterson creates a character whose honesty you immediately like, but only really understand at the very end of the book, keeping you engaged throughout. And even then you are left with questions, though perhaps that is the key. Trond is still finding out new things about himself, still surprising himself, even though he tells himself that he has withdrawn. The story burns slowly, but like watching fire grow, it draws you closer. This is a meditation on the things which make us, and the moments which you somehow remember, many of which you don't understand because they happen when we are too young. It's beautifully written, elegtant, and very moving. I loved it.
on 10 February 2012
This book was selected for the Round the World book group. We all loved it. The hero, Trond, is 15 in 1948 when he spends a summer in the country with his father. Later in the book he is an older man of 67, living in an isolated part of Norway. Trond, at 15, has a friend called Jon whom he met when he is away with his father on the land which he has bought. There is a tragedy when Jon, who has gone shooting hares, leaves his gun lying about when he is supposed to be looking after his younger brothers. One of the brothers starts to pay with it and kills the other brother. Later we see Trond and his father helping the local landowner with the hay harvest. The description of this, in the 1940's, and the preparations to make certain that the hay will dry properly, is fascinating. The passage where Trond describes his first experience in watching a lynx is wonderful. No one believes him since they seem to be rare in those parts. The war intrudes into the idyll which the young Trond inhabits. The Germans occupy Norway, arriving through neutral Sweden. A detachment of young men, little more than boys, is posted to the village. The locals cultivate them, putting them at their ease and lulling them so that they are not aware of what is going on. Trond's father becomes a courier for the resistance. He chats to the guards, offers them cigarettes, smokes with them so that they get used to him walking up the road with his sack. He carries mail and papers to go to Sweden. A neighbour's wife is also involved. She brings someone who has to escape to Sweden, and takes him in a boat. His fear leads him to make considerable noise in the boat, drawing the attention of one of the infrequent German patrols. Trond's father activates the already laid explosive charge and blows up the bridge. The boat reaches the other side of the river, but the refugee is killed. The woman and Trond's father escape to Sweden. Strangely, there seem to be no repercussions against the villagers. As we approach the end of the book, the adult Trond's daughter Ellen visits him. She has sought him out, with great difficulty. It is an emotional reunion, written beautifully. We go back in time again. Young Trond is on a three day riding expedition with his father. The description is wonderful. You see what Trond sees riding through the woods, and you can almost feel the movement as the horse changes pace. After Trond took the decisive action which led to breaking the log-jam, the strengthening of the bond between father and son is almost palpable. We move forward again to a time when Trond's father has been away for a considerable period. A letter arrives. It says that he will not be coming back from Sweden. There is an authorisation for Trond's mother to go to a bank in Sweden and collect the money which was made from the timber floated down the river to Sweden. The description of the train journey is clarity itself. There isn't much money, and it must be spent in Sweden under the currency laws prevailing at the time. Trond's mother buys him a suit. The 15 year old Trond grew up that day. He made a decision which led ultimately to the 67 year old man we have met in this book. Any other decision at that crucial moment would have taken him on an entirely different, and not so good, direction through life, and he would have become a different person from the one we know. Please read this book. I think you will love it as much as we all did. Our average score of 8.5 put "Out Stealing Horses" in joint second place in our list of favourites from the last eight years of our trip round the world.
A quietly compelling novel, translated from Norwegian and set in Norway, where an elderly man has moved to a remote part of the countryside and reflects on both his changed circumstances and on a long ago summer that changed his life. I found it a little slow for my taste, but I do tend to prefer faster paced novels. However it does have an interesting story once you get into it. There's a lot of introspection and description of both places and of thoughts and feelings. It's one of those novels that describes scenes and actions in minute detail, unafraid to leave out the more dull bits. For example, Trond never simply gets up. Getting him from bed to his front door can take several pages of description.
For readers who enjoy meditative, carefully written books and don't mind a slower pace, this would be a good choice. I'm not a fan of this type of novel but still found it enjoyable, although I won't rave about it - but that's my personal preference more than a fault of the writing. It's not overlong which helps. The characters are interesting, and the sections set in occupied Norway in World War II are particularly good. It's not difficult to read, although I did find myself skimming a bit when the descriptions went on too long. Overall, it would be a sound choice to read, if this is your kind of thing.
So concludes Per Petterson in his award-winning novel of remembrance of those decisive youthful events that changed the course of one's life, as well as those of others. My first reading of Petterson was his novel, It's Fine By Me, which came compliments of the Vine Program. This is the second novel (and won't be the last) of his that I've read, and I consider it by far the better of the two, since it resonated more strongly on numerous issues.
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.
"Out Stealing Horses" by Per Petterson is a quiet and somewhat melancholic novel about one man's attempt to understand the events of his own childhood and finally escape from something that haunts him since he was a child, a work of fiction that enabled author to win the International Prize for Literature IMPAC in Dublin and translation of his book to many world languages.
The main character, 70 -year-old Norwegian named Trond spends his sad lonely days somewhere in an isolated cabin in the woods of cold Norway and tries to explain himself and the reader tragic event from his childhood and everything that came out of it, at the end of the 50s of the last century, which all had a profound influence on his whole life.
The story jumps alternately from that fateful summer which he as 15 year-old spent working with his father and his current lonely days carried out in his isolated cabin while the reader gradually learns what happened and what caused Trond spending his life in such a sad way.
The novel begins with a tragedy that will befall Trond's best friend, but in reality it's only the introduction to the events that will affect his relationship with his father while Trond is learning what happened to his father during the World War II, truth in which sad fate of his friend will perfectly fit...
Lately, we are witnessing the flood of many different novels, primarily thrillers, coming from cold Scandinavia, so this book is at least in that sense a refreshment, which unfortunately cannot be said for its subject and feelings that evokes.
Although the novel is full of nostalgia and melancholy, inside reader can find the true moments of happiness and satisfaction, feelings that are normally connected with youth, especially if there is a longer time lag.
But in same time novel is full of characters' coldness which are sometimes cold just like the area from which they come, who aren't revealing their feelings or motives for which they decided to or failed to do something.
This is a story that emphasizes a well-known (and maybe wrong) fact that men have trouble expressing their feelings, even when it comes to members of their family or other close people, especially if they are also members of the stronger sex .
Thus it is not surprising that at the end of the novel, although details won't be given to not spoil the pleasure of reading, the reader won't get all the answers, only suggestions and assumptions on which everyone will have to make a judgment.
All above-mentioned leads to the conclusion that this is a somewhat different way of writing than what is usually encountered, a style that will be more or less liked by someone, but it's certainly something which makes this book about loneliness, about understanding the people around and what builds human character, a work of literature that should be read...
Now at the age of 67, and looking forward to the relative isolation of his new life, Trond has just taken up residence in a remote cottage needing more than a little renovation.. Has he settles in he looks back to 1948, the year that he was 15. That was the year he went stealing horses with his friend Jon, it was also the year of more than one tragedy.
Trond tells his story, jumping from the present to 1948 as daily events in his life remind him of the past. As he does so we gradually piece together the effects 1948 has on both his family and that of Jon's. The result is a beautiful and atmospheric story of reconciling the events of the past and the hope of a new beginning.
I was captivated from the very first paragraph, ‘Early November. It is nine o’clock. The titmice are banging against the window. Sometimes they fly dizzily off after the impact, other times they fall and lie struggling in the new snow until they can take off again. I don’t know what they want that I have. I look out of the window at the forest. There is a reddish light over the trees by the lake. It is starting to blow. I can see the shape of the wind on the water.’ The isolated Norwegian landscape is at the heart of this lyrical novel.
The narrator in Per Petterson’s novel, wonderfully translated by Anne Born, is 67-year old Trond Tobias Sander who, after his second wife’s death, has rmoved from Oslo to live alone with his dog, Lyra, in a remote cabin which he is gradually renovating before snowdrifts make this impossible. Trond has decided to cut himself off from almost all human contact and has no plans to move anywhere else. His only neighbour is Lars Haug whom he meets when searching for his dog, Poker.
Trond knows Lars from the summer of 1948 when, as a 15-year old boy, he lived in a cabin, not far from the Swedish border, with his father. The novel then moves between these two periods. During that earlier summer, Trond became very close to his father and spends time with Jon, the elder son of a nearby family, who has younger twin brothers, Lars and Odd. Early one morning the two elder boys set out to ‘steal’ horses from a nearby landowner, in fact they plan to catch them and go for a ride. This event has tragic consequences for Jon and his family, and greatly influences Trond’s life.
The story is so intricately put together that little that can be said without spoiling it for other readers. Trond’s father was a courier in the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II. The occupation is dealt with obliquely until the German soldiers, themselves just youths, become aware of the activities of the Norwegian resistance. The only false note occurs when the occupiers take no action against the local population after a bridge is bombed and soldiers killed.
Petterson is wonderfully sensitive to the 15-year old Trond, man enough to help his father fell trees and float them to the sawmill but just a child when it comes to understanding the relationships and feelings of the adults around him. Trost, the boy, is confused by not really knowing his father whom he feels very close to. His unarticulated need to overcome this gap is most beautifully presented. Unlike many contemporary writers, Petterson delicately shades the boy’s adolescent yearnings that, as a result, become palpable.
Much of the novel describes the natural world that Trond inhabits as boy and man [‘the smell of smoke, and timber and heather and sun-warmed stones and some special scent I had not noticed anywhere else than by this river.’]. As a teenager he and his father control nature by felling trees. As an old man, he is at the mercy of the natural world, fearing snowdrifts and falling trees. We sense his panic and need to live up to a father who, seemingly, could do everything he turned his hand to and was liked by all.
The halting conversations between Trond and Lars, 50 years after they last met, is particularly emotional, with the former wanting desperately to ask the question he has avoided all his life. The characters are almost exclusively male but, at the end, the author introduces two female characters, absent until then, who throw light on the narrator as man and boy. Many will empathise with the surliness and aggression of the teenager when he crosses into Sweden for the first time.
The autumnal and winter evenings, the shortening days and the blue of the dusk parallel Trost’s feelings of approaching death. Whether he will ever understand the events of his teenage years becomes a central question. There are few shattering revelations, simply a heightened awareness of days and years passing within a natural environment that is both harsh and beautiful.
It comes as a surprise to realise that, in the 50 years between the two stories, we know so little about Trost’s life.
on 18 February 2010
The atmospheres created by northern landscapes have always held a strong attraction for me. Whether by personal exposure or when represented in paintings, music or literature, the vastness of space, rugged coastlines, deep dark forests and, above all, the crystal clear colours brought on by the specific climates, their lure can be ever so powerful. In Per Petterson's OUT STEALING HORSES sixty-seven year old Trond Sander is profoundly drawn to such a place: he leaves Oslo and settles in a remote cabin somewhere in north-eastern Norway. Skilfully portrayed by the author, the character superbly fits the environment: he is somebody who responds completely to that lure of tranquility, the promise of harmony with his surroundings that gives time for contemplation of his life and keeps him occupied with the daily chores required to fix up the very basic cabin he had bought. And finally, he may also find some answer to a question that has been with him ever since one summer vacation in a comparable place when he was fifteen years old...
Trond Sander has all the time in the world now, as he ponderously goes through the daily chores of a self-sufficient hermit. Time is taking a different meaning for him as he reflects early on:
"Time is important to me now, I tell myself. Not that it should pass quickly or slowly, but be only time, be something I live inside and fill with physical things and activities that I can divide it by, so that it grows distinct to me and does not vanish when I am not looking."
An encounter in the middle of the night with another apparent recluse, who lives down the river, annoys him initially as an interruption of his private time. Yet, when he realizes that the man is his boyhood friend's brother, Lars, his peace of mind is disrupted in a fundamental way. Memories come to the fore that were long buried in his mind, or were they really? From then on his musings of that one fateful summer vacation with his father take over much of his mental time. What appears initially to be the account of an ordinary, uneventful past, turns very soon into a special time that may have influenced the rest of his life.
The reader is transported into a narrative that alternates between Trond's descriptions of daily activities in the here and now and the events during the summer vacation with his father when he was fifteen. In all aspects, it was a watershed time for young Trond, a growing up period where the awkwardness of youth was combined with a new appreciation of a men's world of hard labour mixed with camaraderie, jokes and loyalties. Two tragic accidents involving his friend Jon, brother Lars and their family, shape the rest of the vacation and life afterwards. Delicate in its description, the reader is inescapably drawn to Trond and his surroundings. There are allusions to the reasons for his father's surprising familiarity with the small village and its people that the boy can describe yet without full understanding of their meaning. While father and son have a close relationship in many ways, there is a certain verbal awkwardness between them and it needs Franz, one of his father's work friend, to play a sort of intermediary to explain to the son what the father is and was all about. Strange? Maybe, but it completely matches the impression the reader develops of the central characters.
Trond, now with the hindsight of some fifty years, can make more sense of some of the events of the past and, in his mind, can put them into a wider context. From the outset, though. his present day reflections are interspersed with subtle hints to the past and, once the reader knows the story and goes back to read the beginning a second time, they will fall into place perfectly. Will he be able to answer that one life-long question? Well, maybe. The concluding part of the novel is at one level surprising and at another open-ended. Just as life is.
Petterson's language is spare and efficient in its use of imagery and evocation of atmospheres, both internal and external to his protagonist. While it is correct, as other reviewers have stated, that very little happens in the novel and the story unfolds ever so slowly, a reader like myself is easily fascinated by the character and completely drawn into the two sets of situations, past and present. With a narration style that leaves the reader to ponder, compare, and visualize, and fill in mental spaces, Petterson has achieved a remarkable work of fiction. [Friederike Knabe]