Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review: Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

A quiet, contemplative novel, this has received accolades and raves in abundance from the literary world. As I am always contrary, the short of is that I liked it but wasn't wowed by it like everyone else. Perhaps it is simply yet another victim of excessive expectations up to which it couldn't possibly live.

Trond, a 67 year old man, has chosen to buy a house in a remote part of Norway, and to mostly seal himself off from the rest of the world in spare solitude. But a chance encounter one night with his nearest neighbor, sends him tumbling back in memory to the pivotal summer of his adolescence. His neighbor is the younger brother of Trond's friend, the one with whom he adventured and imagined and played the summer he lived with his father at another remote summer cabin home before tragedy played itself out in both boys' lives.

Told with heedlessness to a linear timeline, the novel slides forwards and backwards from the present to the distant past and back again, from Trond's current, slow labor around his cabin to his childhood to his father's past. Petterson has a quiet way of revealing the story behind that pivotal summer and the main players in the book. This subtleness is a real strength of the novel. Trond, drawn as the slightly curmudgeonly would-be hermit, is a very different literary character than I usually encounter in my reading and he comes across as entirely authentic. He is gruff and short and yet curious and glimmers of the imaginative boy of his youth still shine through.

Other characters are really incidental in the story as it is Trond and his memories and understandings of the course of his life and his father's which matter most in the narrative. But other characters are introduced and are left as merely sketches from Trond's memory. Even his daughter, who comes to visit him one day, is a flat character, one whom the reader may be surprised to encounter, given her brief exlanationless flash through the pages.

While I recognize that this was a beautifully crafted novel, it still wasn't one that called to me to immerse myself in it constantly. I needed breaks from the simple, intense, and yet oddly slow moving revelations found within its pages. Just as Trond held himself aloof from others, uneasy but wanting to be content with his solitude, I found myself staying aloof from the story but wanting to be drawn in. In looking back on the book as a whole, I find myself labelling it lovely and sleepy, somehow unfinished and quietly startling. An intriguing read, it didn't hold my interest as well as I'd hoped.


  1. I first heard about this through another book blogger who requested it in a giveaway I was running last year. It sounded so good, I bought a copy for myself too. Like with many new books that I bring into the house, it was relegated to a spot in my TBR room and sits waiting its turn.

    I'm sorry it didn't turn out as good as you hoped. I like mixed reviews like this especially because it helps keep my own expectations more realistic. It's easy to get caught up in the hype sometimes.

    Thanks for the great review, Kristen!

  2. Same here. I liked it, but wasn't wowed by it... I wasn't very thrilled with the ending.

  3. I LOVED Out Stealing Horses; glad u enjoyed it as well. Great review

  4. This is on my Wish List, and by the varied reviews, I am anxious to see what I will think about it!

  5. I've had my eye on this one for a while. Sorry that it was just okay for you. I'm not too crazy about slow-moving books myself.

    Diary of an Eccentric


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