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Firmly connected to the cold, often bleak landscapes they inhabit, Per Petterson's characters are never frivolous, however impulsive and even violent their actions might be. Often shackled by circumstances over which they have little control, they respond in the only ways they can, sometimes self-destructively. In the ironically entitled It's Fine By Me, an early Petterson novel from 1992, Audun Sletten shares his life from his teen years to age twenty, always honest in his feelings and always sensitive to his personal standards of behavior though he often imposes these standards with violence.

As the novel opens, thirteen-year-old Audun Sletten and his mother have just moved from the rural countryside to an area outside of Oslo, and from the first day of school, the reader sees that life is going to be difficult for Audun, who lacks any sense of compromise. Petterson's depiction of Audun is lifelike, carefully crafted to allow Audun to maintain the personal respect he believes he deserves, while at the same time, so psychologically revealing that readers will immediately feel empathy for him and understand his behavior. As the novel moves back and forth between Audun as a thirteen-year-old and Audun as a sixteen- or seventeen-year-old, his tendency to hit first and deal with the results later creates problems for him and for others around him. Even as a twenty-year-old, he is still quick to react with force. Still, he shows some empathy for others - adults who treat him kindly, and some other, younger children who do not threaten him. Gradually, after many dramatic events, the reader sees Audun beginning to grow emotionally.

Some of his growth is the result of his fast friendship with Arvid Jansen (who becomes the main character in Petterson's I Curse the River of Time), and it is Arvid's father who guides him to read books that he finds appealing, an experience which leads him to want to be a writer. Ardun's own father, a violent drunkard who thinks nothing of beating his wife, smashing Ardun in the mouth, and hurling his younger brother against the wall, has been gone for five years during most of the novel, his actions revealed through flashbacks, but when he does show up to lurk about, his appearance terrifies Ardun. Wonderful peripheral characters have their own stories - his younger brother Egil; Leif, an elderly farmer and his wife Signe, who provide him with refuge as a child; his sister Kari, who goes off with a Jimmy Dean clone and then inspires Ardun to "rescue" her; and old Mr. Abrahamsen, a man on Ardun's paper route, who takes the time to show he cares.

Beautifully developed and filled with details which ring true, not just in terms of the time and setting, but in terms of psychological honesty, It's Fine By Me feels autobiographical in its ability to convey real feelings by real people. The moving conclusion to this novel shows Ardun's growth - often with the help of those who care about him - and readers who see themselves (at least in some aspect) within the character of Ardun will celebrate his coming of age - all the while knowing that Ardun is a work in progress and that he'll never be able to take life or his own responses to threats for granted.
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on 22 November 2011
Set in the 1970's in Norway, this is the story of Audun Sletton.
When the book starts Audun is 13 years old and facing his first day in a new school where insists on keeping his sunglasses on all day and refuses to talk about where he came from and his past.
Five years later Audun is the only one of his siblings still living with his mother in a working-class district of Oslo. He is in his last year of school but not sure if that is the place for him. Audun has one good friend, Arvid and shares with him a love of reading and socialist political ideas.
Slowly Audun shares some memories of his life so far with the reader, if not with those around him. We learn about his violent father who disappeared five years ago but could be anywhere, even on his way back to his family. We also find out about Audun's younger brother and older sister and slowly start to understand Audun's problems with his life and the world around him.

This is a very good coming-of-age novel. In many ways Audun is a typical teenager, trying to find his place in the world and to understand the actions of those around him. But there are issues in Audun's life that make him a far from average teenager. The violence that were a dominant feature in his early life, and a devastating loss make him feel more alone in an incomprehensible world than the average teenager does.
The reader won't always be able to understand or approve of his actions and decisions, but will at all times sympathise with him and will him on, hoping that he will come out at the other side to a brighter future.
At times violent and at other times tender, this is a powerful story, both heartbreaking and uplifting.
I feel this would make a wonderful book for discussion since not everything is explained in detail and several issues are left open to interpretation by the reader.
This is a story that will stay with the reader for some time after finishing the book, with a main character that will provoke all sorts of emotions.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 February 2013
At the age of thirteen Audun moves with his family, but without his father, to a working class area on the east of Oslo. Audun is self assured but reserved, and already had determined how he will conduct himself inn his new home. Almost despite himself he strikes up a close friendship with fellow schoolboy and near neighbour, Arvid, a friendship that will see him through the rest of his schooling.

The novel follows Audun to his nineteenth year, by which time just he lives with his mother, while the shadow of his father still lurks somewhere. Both Audun and Arvid are independent thinkers, and neither is the sort to take the course of inaction, so it is not surprising they get in the odd scrape. But is is clear that while he rubs many up the wrong way, Audun endears himself to some of his neighbours as well of some of the those with whom he works - as no doubt he will to the reader.

It's Fine By Me is a relatively short read, but far from short in content and impact. Characters are well drawn and convincing, and it is this that really makes if it so fully engaging a read.
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on 5 June 2014
As a Norwegian, I do recognise certain things, fortunately I came from a loving family!!
He writes very well and I have already read "Out steeling horses", and "the wake"
I shall continue to read him, either in English or in Norwegian
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Its Fine By Me is semi-autobiographical and could be called a "coming of age" novel in that it follows the life of Audan between the ages of 12 and 18. Audan lives with his mother and sister in a working-class suburb of Oslo. He had a brother who was killed in a road accident and Audan now struggles with his role as "number one son", while his shadowy and violent father comes and goes, wreaking havoc whenever he turns up on the scene. Interestingly Audan's best friend is Arvid who is the main character in the earlier book, I Curse the River of Time.

When you read Petterson you see a different side to the Scandinavian experience than that depicted in home and living magazines. Rather than elegant houses set among scenic lakes, furnished with clean-lined sofas and expensive electronics, you find yourself in working class areas among docks and factories, as rough and ready as any industrial area. Alcohol seems to be a perennial problem, and when people leave a bar they fight each other before leaving for their troubled, down-at-heel homes.

Audan comes from such a home - his father makes occasional appearances but is greeted with with a low-level terror by his family who know that arguments end up with a beating from the angry drunk. He keeps a gun and on one occasion he leaves home and turns round and shoots at the house, breaking the kitchen window and narrowly missing Audan's mother.

The book slips back and forth between the years, with Audan being 13 in one chapter and 17 in the next, then back again, his reminiscences always being acute, social interactions mixed in with glowing descriptions of the nearby Norwegian countryside.

Audan eventually drops out of school and begins work in a noisy, dangerous print-works. The factory prints newspapers and magazines and Petterson describes the perils of splicing huge rolls of paper to each other without stopping the rollers of the press. One worker loses his fingers during a moment's inattention but Audan takes to the work and finds some satisfaction in it.

There is so much more in this book than I can mention here - descriptions of summer job as a farm-hand, a terrible fight which Audan gets into,a mission to rescue his sister from what seems to be terrible danger - this is an interesting book, full of anecdotes but with an emerging story of a boy's journey from childhood to man-hood.

I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to. I assumed that the publishers were now publishing 20 year-old work from an immature Petterson, but was surprised to find that I probably liked this one more than any of the author's later works. I immediately liked Audan's "voice" (the book is written in the first person) and found myself sympathising with his troubles. He exhibits all the traits of adolescence - from wearing sun-glasses at all times to finding ways of separating himself from his mother. But his struggles are real and he deals with them courageously if not always successfully.
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on 5 August 2012
"It's Fine by Me" is a coming of age story. Audun, the growing boy, has had a tough Norwegian upbringing. His dad is a violent alcoholic who mistreats him, his brother and sister and their mom. The book begins when Audun is thirteen in 1965 just as society is undergoing seismic shifts. Audun is lucky he has one true friend in Arvid. They talk about books and Audun borrows classics from Arvid's father's bookshelves. Arvid's dad also becomes a little of a substitute role model for Audun. The story unfolds slowly with lots of literature references featuring Hemingway and Jack London. Audun is an odd mix of a heavy reader yet a ready scrapper when challenged by local lads. He has the scars and bruises to prove it.

The Norwegian landscape and farmland play a wonderful role in this book. Audun uses them as a restorative when life becomes too difficult. There are as many people who help him as there are those who hinder or attempt to hinder him. He goes his own way. He knows his own mind at a young age. Always determined to be a writer he makes the odd decision to leave school a few months before graduating. `School' continues in rough manual labor and in books. He goes out in nature when things feel overwhelming. He looks rescues himself by rescuing loved ones.

Though this is my first Petterson so it's hard to judge I don't think this would be the best place to start. In places it feels disjointed though perhaps Petterson is inviting the reader to reach your own conclusions. Since the book is loosely autobiographical we know there's a positive outcome but Audun has a singularly tough route to adulthood.
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on 3 February 2013
I came only recently to Petterson's fiction. I dipped into Out Stealing Horses at a friend's house and promptly bought it. Since then, I've worked through the lot, I think. I love his meshing of weather and scenery into the psyches of his characters.
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Lower working class Oslo, 1970. A tough life. Per Petterson is a Norwegian novelist, most acclaimed for his novel, Out Stealing Horses which, regrettably, I have not read. But when his latest novel (and it should be emphasized that "latest" means, "in translation") popped up in my finely-tuned Vine offerings, I had to punch the "Please send" button in the hopes of closing in another lacuna on my reading list (not to mention, instantly doubling my list of Norwegian authors read, one beyond Henrik Ibsen.)

As with most novelists, large portions of this book are semi-autobiographical. The fact that Petterson was able to overcome a rough upbringing, perhaps even find "salvation" in literature makes his writing all the more remarkable, in the spirit of Jean Genet. Much of the life of his characters transcends the particulars of nationality. There are the highly dysfunctional families, with the absent and/or abusive fathers. There are the curses of the working class, all too often "salvation" is sought, not through literature, but drug use, starting with the ubiquitous cigarettes. In particular, there is the scourge of the Nordic countries, a morose form of alcoholism. On page 69, there is a succinct summation of the issue: "There are some things with alcohol you must never do. You must never drink alone, never drink on Sundays, never drink before seven o'clock and if you do, it has to be on a Saturday. If you're hung-over, you go for a walk in the forest, and you must never drink the hair of the dog. Do that, and you are an alcoholic, it's common knowledge..."

The protagonist is Audun Sletten, a boy, who, of necessity, must develop a "tough guy" image, and wear sun-glasses, not just to protect his eyes from the ultraviolet light. As a handmaiden, sometimes literally, of the alcoholism, is death which stalks the family. At school, he develops a friendship with Petterson's principal character in other books, and his apparent alter-ego, Arvid Jansed. Given the year, and their natural anti-establishment bent, they run the flag of the National Liberation Front (of Vietnam) up the flag-pole at school. Though they read extensively, including Jan Myrdal's Confessions of a Disloyal European, school seems like the ultimate in futile acts, and Audun tells his mom that he is dropping out.

Audun finds a job at a printing plant. He has the opportunity to become more his own man, with his own money. In the process, the reader is treated to the tedium, as well as the dangers of work in the plant. There too a grim hierarchy is imposed, that of worker upon worker. Overflowing testosterone, and the corresponding fights are also an integral part of his working class existence. The novel principally concerns boys and men; the girls and women are in the background, and their choices, if any, seem to be only grimmer. The title conveys a Nordic "stiff upper lip" to the unfolding disasters of life; the reality is the subject quote, an assessment by Audun's friend, Arvid.

In real life, for all too many in similar circumstances, the "stiff upper lip" becomes flaccid with one too many drinks, and thus there is the improbable positive spin to the novel. Nonetheless, a few make it, and this novel helps celebrate the fortitude. 5-stars.
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on 12 February 2014
Complete; to me this book is like a painting, it is so smoothly written you could be forgiven for not realising the intricacy and depth. This is the second book of this author's I have read and I am captivated.
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on 5 January 2013
Good name. fluid writer, coming of age story. bit too norwegian james dean/hemingway for me, but still good. I will read I curse the river of time next.. Good article on author in new yorker here: <...>
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