guest review: Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, trans. by Anne Born – from Pops

Pops joins us again! You can see other contributions from my dad here. He says he wrote this one just to get me interested in reading it myself. 🙂 It’s on the stack, Pops. Thanks for the review!

This is one of the better books I have read in a very long time. I hesitate to use words like “spectacular!” because it’s not that kind of book. Rather, it is quite simply unique, heartwarming, insightful, and a joy to experience. I could also cite this book’s bestselling credentials (from 2005), and its broad acclaim in reviews – but let’s face it, that doesn’t always count for much.

I am also reluctant to describe what the “story” is, because in fact a summary may in itself sound spare and unremarkable – and spoil the real value here. What’s special is the way the story is told and how it is revealed, the author’s voice and the narrative structure he uses. This is a reading experience; I found myself rereading a paragraph to “taste” it anew each time: the content, the style, the implications. I liked the mood his tale creates – relaxed and thoughtful; the endearing characters, and the story’s sense of place.

Trond Sander is 67 years old as the 20th century is coming to a close and he has just moved into a small Norwegian cabin in the woods for his remaining life. In his first person narrative, we gain glimpses of his life from two perspectives: first, as he reflects while establishing a simple routine around the cabin, in the little village, on walks with his dog. His reflection also takes us back to a few formative years of his youth during & just after the German occupation of Norway, and key events that happened then.

His story unfolds in pieces between these times separated by 50 years. The narrative pace varies, sometimes relaxing and melancholy in short and simple sentences, then sometimes without warning winding up into a rush of action, revelation or redirection all in one long continuous sentence that had me holding my breath by the end. I quickly gave up any temptation to decipher “where is this story going?” – quickly I became deeply invested in the journey, it was so delicious; the destination mattered little.

And in fact, there is no conclusion, or closure, or any such catharsis. Against a simple but rich background, we learn a lot about the man, his life, his influences – and are left to contemplate the rest. Similarly, the narrative style leaves ample “work” for the reader to understand, appreciate, interpret. At the risk of confusing my point, in this way I was reminded of John le Carré – which in my sense is high praise; I love such work.

Finally, a word about the translation from Norwegian. I am always intrigued by wondering what a story was like in its original language. It seems the burden of good translation is great, and the results may be anywhere from great to disappointing; the translator essentially becomes a co-author. I don’t know Norwegian; I can only assume that such distinctive narrative style is from the author, and that its wonderful success in English reflects a skilled and faithful translation. Kudos to Anne Born for that. And, just so we get the author’s name right: Per is like “par” and Petter rhymes with “letter.”

Thanks for those final pronunciation tips. We don’t always know when we read, do we.

Well, I’m talked into it. Lovely review, Pops. Thanks for contributing!

2 Responses

  1. […] am enjoying this audiobook on Pops’s recommendation; recall his review here. And I am enjoying, particularly a little joke like this one, in which author Petterson has his […]

  2. […] may recall that Pops read and reviewed this book some time ago, and recommended it. I’m glad I finally got around to […]

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