Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (audio), trans. by Anne Born

out stealing horsesYou may recall that Pops read and reviewed this book some time ago, and recommended it. I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Out Stealing Horses is just a short book, but in the end, it is bigger than it looks. I would like to commend my Pops for his spare review, leaving the plot mostly untouched and teasing us with rather coy praise; he convinced me to read this book (although it took me a while), and now that I have, I can see where his leaving the plot alone was the right move. I absolutely agree that

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.

So, no summary for you, only setting: our elderly protagonist lives alone and isolated in a remote patch of Norwegian forest, as the twentieth century comes to a close. We alternate between his quiet dog walks and simple meals, and his memories of a brief time when he was a young boy-becoming-man. There are perhaps more questions raised than answers supplied; but we don’t mind, because of the lovely evocative moody writing and what we know of our protagonist by the end – which is far from everything.

Again, echoing my father, I was impressed by the translation; enough linguistic oddities remain to indicate translation, only slightly and very pleasantly, as with “very many thanks” (a sweet phrase but not one you hear often in English). I also appreciate Pops’s note about pacing, that it varies, ratcheting up and then calming back down. For all its thought-provoking and occasionally stressful subject matter, Out Stealing Horses is ultimately a rather soothing book. It should go without saying, then, that Richard Poe’s narration is also excellent, matching the tone, mood, atmosphere, pacing, and lyricism that I understand is present in print.

Quiet, contemplative, and understated, I think this is a fine work of art. I get the feeling that this is a book with many layers, and that multiple readings would yield returns, and to the extent that it is about aging, I confess I wonder if I got it all. This is also true of the war bits – I have questions – but I suspect we’re supposed to have questions.

I don’t think my review has done this book justice, but I do think my father’s did beautifully, so let me refer you back to it (again, here), and simply add my additional praise. Good book. Check it out.

Rating: 8 stolen horses.

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