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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Review: Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses - Per Petterson, Anne Born

If you actually read my reviews regularly (hi mom), you may have noticed that I'm not writing reviews regularly. I've been finding it difficult lately. You see, more than five years ago I began working part-time so that I could focus on being a writer. At the time I had a nearly completed novel and dozens of stories that I intended to publish. Also, I thought I could use all my spare time to keep the house immaculate and also solve the world's problems. Five years later I can say I did a pretty good job at keeping up with the dishes and laundry. You see, having all the time in the world did not work for this writer. And so, I decided (very grudgingly) to go back to work full-time. I figured I couldn't be any less productive of a writer.

The thing is, I'm having a really tough time adjusting. I don't remember how I did it before. And so, I've been slacking on everything. While I continue to read—I do work at a library, after all—my reviews keep pilling up. Seeing all the books I have yet to write something about is almost too stressful.

Apparently, I read this novel, Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson sometime earlier this year. Of everything that stood out about the novel, here's what I remember: 1) the protagonist is an elderly gentleman looking back on his life in Norway; 2) the narrative is completely non-linear; 3) there are some gorgeous passages through this novel.

1) Trond is the nearly seventy -year-old man who is reflecting on his life. He takes his time getting around to all the details of his life (see 2), but does so with enthralling description (see 3). Some of Trond's reflections are quite tragic, and these are the stories that really make the plot interesting. Largely, Trond's narrative lacks much in the way of action.

2) I learned while reading Out Stealing Horses that Per Petterson is a writer who plans nothing. He begins a story without a plan and just writes. This is what we call writing by the seat of your pants. That explains why this narrative is all over the place, but it doesn't make it any less difficult to follow. Personally, I find the style makes for a less-than-pleasant read and that the final payoff on this particular novel was lacking.

3) Out Stealing Horses is a language-driven story. I realize that it has been translated from the Norwegian, so my judgment in regards to its mastery of language is based entirely on the English translation. The sentences in this novel are quite simple, as you'd expect from a character such as Trond, but that doesn't keep them from carrying a certain rhythm and depth that really stand out. Take, for example, this passage:

There was a smell of roasting meat and coffee in the air, and the smell of smoke, and timber and heather and sun-warmed stones and some special scent I had not noticed anywhere else than by this river, and I did not know what it was made of if not a combination of all that was there; a common denominator, a sum, and if I left and did not return I would never be able to experience it again.



For what it's worth, that's what I remember all this time later of Out Stealing Horses. This is far from a thorough or wonderfully written review, but I'm slacking. (If you think this is bad, you should see the state of the dishes in my kitchen right now.)