Posted by: Neil Hollands
Per Petterson’s 2003 novel (translated to English in 2005 and published in the U. S. in 2007) Out Stealing Horses has been mentioned before on Book Group Buzz, but it’s the kind of book that’s going to leave a reader ruminating whether they like it or not. Having just finished it, I’ve got to contribute my two cents to the discussion.
In Horses, 67 year-old Trond Sander chooses the contemplative life, leaving behind the world after the deaths of his wife and sister to return to the quiet Norwegian countryside where he spent his youth, in particular the site of events in 1944 and 1948 that would forever change him and his family, reverberating through him when other significant events of his life occurred. The short novel tells its story slowly, switching back and forth between the present and events from the past that are told out of chronology. It’s a novel that will send one back to reread scenes, as their true significance are often not revealed until one discovers the context later in the book.
I listened to this on audiobook, and while the narration by Richard Poe was adequate, I would recommend that this book be read in print, and not rushed. The audio format makes confusing jumps in chronology even more bewildering and the style and setting, sparse and quiet, may enhance any tendency one has to wander off during audio narration.
Still waters run deep here. Several scenes take on much more weight when one discovers what happened to one of the characters before, and while reading it, I found myself pondering the unknown experiences that might contribute to the behavior of the people I encounter, particularly when they act in ways that are hard to understand. It’s also a book that leaves one thinking about how a few events can imprint a person forever. Trond and the other aging man who lives near him in the countryside, Lars, both carry unseen scars and shared history that have led them away from other relationships, back to solitary lives of manual labor and quiet contemplation. Full of the fallout of wars, family tragedies, and unexplained betrayals–their pasts are fixed in their memories in detail–but still ultimately hazy and unknowable. Petterson says much by leaving much unsaid, and his setting, the sparsely populated forests and rivers of the Norwegian countryside, provides the perfect underscoring for his style. It’s a book that was sometimes frustrating, but one that I know will stick with me for some time to come.