Thursday, September 11, 2008

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (a review)

Out Stealing Horses: A Novel
5 out of 5: Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses is, quite simply, a masterpiece. After the death of his wife and sister, 67-year-old Trond Sander moves to a lonely cabin by a lake in rural Norway, a place he thinks of as his “final home.” While preparing for the upcoming winter, Trond’s newly remote surroundings dislodge memories from the momentous summer he spent as a teenager with his father in similarly remote surroundings on the Norwegian-Swedish border. In spare and elegant prose (masterfully translated from Norwegian into English by Ann Born), Petterson mingles the present with the past to create a delicate story that’s far from fragile.

It’s the inner strength of Petterson’s prose—its precision coupled with its perfect pacing—that elevates this novel well above its familiar themes. Each word seems carefully selected, each sentence exactly crafted. Quiet moments of reflection are punctuated by intense, emotional events to create an overall tone that is contemplative without being at all sluggish. On the intense end of the spectrum, Trond describes his experience of a storm in a single, breathless sentence:

Next time I wake up it is possibly blowing still harder, but now like a sucking where the wind is being ploughed and split by the roof ridge; no rattling, no crashing, more like a booming in the depths of a ship near the engine, for everything is rocking now in the darkness and moving onward, and the house has masts and lanterns, and a foaming wake and is dressed all over, and I like that, I like being on a ship, and maybe I am not so wide awake after all.

On the quiet end of the spectrum, Trond unhurriedly contemplates his reflection in the only mirror in his cabin and thinks, “I am in time with myself.” Like Trond, this book is in time with itself. Highly recommended.


Petunia said...

You don't give a 5 lightly so that is indeed high praise. I'll look into this one.

Gwen Dawson said...


Exactly right. I save the perfect 5's for those books that actually approach perfection. This is one of those.


sandy said...

A 5 out of 5 means this one goes automatically on my wish list. Thanks, Gwen!

Sandra said...

I agree, it was a great story. I'm glad you reviewed it. I did too but only a couple of sentences. I hate giving anything away in a really good book.