Thursday, November 13, 2008

Out Stealing Horses

I rarely read just one book at a time. The other fiction book I'm reading right now came to me from an article in The New Yorker. Per Petterson is a Norwegian novelist I'd never heard of, although I'm always curious to read any Scandinavian fiction I find. Part of this is due to the time I spent in Denmark, and part of it is in my blood, thanks to my grandmother who is always happy to share about her Swedish heritage.

It turns out my small local library had several of Petterson's books on the shelf, although not the main one reviewed in the article. Nevermind, I brought home "Out Stealing Horses." The title reminded me of Cormac McCarthy's "All the Pretty Horses," and for some reason that made me choose it.

"Out Stealing Horses" is a very quiet, straightforward novel. It feels like a kindred spirit to much of the work of Hemingway in its sparseness. It is the story of an old man who, as he slowly goes through the mundane routines of daily life, reflects upon a series of tragic events that occurred when he was a teenager, and how those events follow and revisit him into his old age. It is a coming of age novel, filled with the revelations, disappointments, and reflections that generally accompany such a work.

What I found fascinating about this book is that the majority of the book takes place outdoors. The main character, Trond, lives in the city, Oslo, for most of his life, but the transformative moments in his life take place outdoors, both as a young man and an old man. As a result, the bulk of the story takes place outdoors. The indoor scenes usually occur mainly in preparation of returning back outdoors. By being an almost constant element in the novel, nature is one of the main characters, directly affecting the characters in several places. I imagine Norway has stunning countryside, so with that in mind, it isn't hard to conceive the outdoors holding a firm grasp on any story in Norway. Most of Trond's experiences in the book take place in solitude, which is probably why nature looms so largely. There are few other characters to compete, nor could they compete against the outdoor settings that, even in their rustic simplicity, still carry a power.

I plan on reading more of Petterson's work, but first, I need to finish up the other various books I have scattered around.

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