Out Stealing Horses

Book Reviews / Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

I finished Out Stealing Horses on Saturday morning, before meeting with my book club in the afternoon. I was relieved it was over.  I’d dragged 9 days to read such a short book and couldn’t believe it.  So, how come big books get the bad rap so much?

I was expecting something different than what I got.  Actually, the description on the back cover is slightly misleading.  In spite of that, it was good for me but not great. It’s the story of a 67 year old retiree who is living out in the countryside in an old run down house that he’s just bought and is renovating himself.  The story takes place in Norway and the glacially cold landscapes and dark silent nights develop into a story that is both surprising and very melancholy. I can’t say more than that. The little you know about the plot the better off your reading experience. Speaking of the reading experience, Petterson’s writing is simple and undeviating, from his descriptions of the landscape to Trond’s personal feelings. It is perfectly written from the first person, while interchanging with flashbacks.  However, I had a problem with the quiet, slow pace, and depressing tone of this book. There were several times when I started out reading and wound up falling asleep.  Yes there were some slow areas.

Having not read much Scandinavian literature, reading this one made we wonder about the way Scandinavian authors tell stories.  It seems to be very different from the anglo-saxon way.  It’s intriguing and seems to be very much like a puzzle and emotionally charged.  I’m interested in continuing on to read Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 1 or Skomsvold’s The Faster I Walk.  If anybody has read either and wants to encourage me to read one or both of them, down below is where you need to tell me all about it.

As my book club discussed the book, we wondered how well it had been translated.  There were some parts that just seemed to have nothing special happen in them and we discussed in depth the utilization of the word “special” in one part of the book.  The book is only 264 pages but even so the plot thickens and makes you wonder because Petterson doesn’t give you all the details.  His writing resembles his protagonist’s personality.  He refuses to fill in the blanks.  We as readers have to do that.  This can either drive you mad, keep you confused, or titillate your imagination.  If anything this book will spark meaningful conversation and much speculation on the different characters – why they do what they do, the outcome of their actions, and oh all the what ifs….

Favorite passage:  “The face there is no different from the one I had expected to see at age sixty-seven.  In that way I am in time with myself.  Whether I like what I see is a different question.  But it is of no importance.  There are not many people I am going to show myself to, and I only have the one mirror. To tell the truth, I have nothing against the face in the mirror. I acknowledge it, I recognise myself. I cannot ask for more.” (Out Stealing Horses, p. 98-99)

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10 Replies to “Out Stealing Horses”

  1. This one had a huge word of mouth following and won prizes I believe, but I was a little underwhelmed by it and remember having that ‘I don’t get it’ it must be me – feeling, when everyone else seems to understand a books literary merit except moi. I’ve since read a couple of others of his, his debut which was translated much later Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes which was ok, but the sequel I Curse the River of Time, which I read before the debut was stunning and for me is the rightful masterpiece of this author.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion Claire! I thought this one was very cerebral but depressing. Because it’s so slow in places I can see readers getting bored. I must admit that I probably would have DNF-ed it after reading 100 pages if it hadn’t been for my book club. So I guess that says something for book clubs. I’ve made a new discovery, however I wouldn’t re-read this one. 😉

  2. I saw you were reading this, and was curious as to what you’d think. A bit patriotic when I see you’re reading Norwegian books 😉

    I loved this book when I read it several years ago, the slow pace didn’t bother me at all. There was something about the mood of the book, and the father-son relationship that got to me. And I think it was excellently written, though parts of that is the way Petterson uses the Norwegian language. He has a way of writing that leans towards a working class dialect that sets him apart from other Norwegian writers, though that has changed somewhat in his later books. I have no idea how that translates to English, probably not at all.

    I’d say this book is a good example of current Norwegian litterature. I also find it different from the anglo-saxon way that is way more focused on plot and story than most Norwegian literary fiction. That’s one of the reasons that I can’t stick to Norwegian books alone, I need a break from all the angst and loneliness from time to time.

    That being said, I think you should pick up ‘The faster I walk’. I just re-read it in English actually (because I chose this as my book in Brooke Lee’s ‘Project Annotate’), and I loved it as much as when I read it in Norwegian back in 2009. It’s a very different book. Not plot heavy, and the loneliness is still there, but it’s also really funny. One of my favourite Norwegian books from the last decade. Knausgård? I still haven’t gotten around to him myself. The hype ruined it from me. Mayge 2016 is the year…

    1. I found this book very slow and sureI wouldn’t pick it up again, however I would try to read something else from him. I treating what you said about Norwegian lit. We were all feeling something about the translation but not sure what since non of us speaks Norwegian. Will have to try Knausgaard and definitely The Faster I Walk !

  3. A book that makes you fall asleep doesn’t sound too good. I’ve not read much Scandinavian writing to be able to gauge the style myself, somethings g I want to do later In The year.

    1. Yes I don’t know it well at all. The only Scandinavian novels I’ve read are the Millennium series. I really enjoyed them despite that cold lonely feeling. That seems to be a common denominator. I’ll know more once I’ve read The Faster I Walk and My Struggle.

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