Sunday, January 11, 2009

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

I finished Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson last night and I'm really glad I finally got around to this one. It has won many awards such as IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Independant Foreign Fiction Prize. It was recently translated from the Norwegian language so that those who read English are able to enjoy it.

The book follows the life of Trond Sander with two focuses. It concentrates on his current life as a sixty-seven year old man who has moved to a remote house in the country after the death of his wife three years before in a car accident. He chooses to return to the area where he had spent several summers with his father as a teenager in the country. His only current neighbor is Lars, whom he realises is the same Lars who was a neighbor's child back then. Once he realises this, the book focuses on his memories of those summers, and especially the summer when he was fifteen.

Like most fifteen year old boys, he was in that half-boy, half-man stage and testing everything. He loves and admires his father, but wonders at his frequent absences from the family back in Oslo. His best friend in the country, Jon, faces a family tragedy that Lars is also a pivotal part of, and leaves the family. Trond starts to put together pieces of his own family's history and to understand the relationships going on around him that he had been oblivious to as a child.

One of the big secrets he discovers has to do with those absences. It turns out that his father was involved in a network of Norwegian resistance workers who smuggled out documents and later people during World War II. Other members of the network included his father's best friend, and Jon and Lar's mother. Trond is a bit in love with this woman, and starts to act out his emerging sexuality with her by putting his arms around her in front of her husband and his father. That shocks them enough that the physical work they were doing is interrupted and an accident occurs, injuring the husband. Trond is shocked later to observe his father and Jon's mother kissing, making it evident that they are involved in an affair. That leads to the last secret, the fact that when Trond returns to his mother and sister at the end of the summer, his father stays behind. He leaves them and starts another life with Jon's mother. Trond never sees his father again.

I really enjoyed this book. The language is poetic, and reflects the stark beauty of the Norwegian countryside. The secrets are revealed slowly and with each secret, the reader feels that another piece of a jigsaw puzzle is slotted into place. The issues of family, relationships, and control are explored. This book is recommended for all readers.

1 comment:

Diane said...

Loved, Loved this book; great review.