Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, translated by Anne Born, (2003 in Norwegian, 2007 in English) has won so many awards and received so much critical acclaim that the mind boggles. And, amazingly enough, considering my track record, I loved this book.

My personal takeaways, which I consider connected, from the book (and don't all great books mean something different to every reader?): 1--We are shaped the most by those we love who disappoint us the most. Absence defines us. 2--There's a great, very brief exchange between the narrator and his daughter about Charles Dickens' David Copperfield along the lines of the great fear being that maybe you aren't the hero/central character in the tale of your own life.

Out Stealing Horses is filled with great descriptions and pragmatic, breathtaking insights. The location--rural Norway in winter--in which the narrator, a sixty-seven-year-old widower, is reflecting back on when he was fifteen, parallels his own stoic isolation.

Slight warning: The book begins and then ends rather abruptly. Along the way, we have glimpses of the narrator as a father, husband, and son to his mother. Really, though, this is the story of the impact of his father on him, to my way of thinking.

Here's an excerpt from p.69-70:

What I do, which I have never let anyone know, is I close my eyes every time I have to do something practical apart from the daily chores everyone has, and then I picture how my father would have done it or how he actually did do it while I was watching him, and then I copy that until I fall into the proper rhythm, and the task reveals itself and grows visible, and that's what I have done for as long as I can remembe, as if the secret lies in how the body behaves towards the task at hand, in a certain balance when you start, like hitting the board in a long jump and the early calculation of how much you need, or how little, and the mechanism that is always there in every kind of job; first one thing and then the other, in a context that is buried in each piece of work, in fact as if what you are going to do already exists in its finished form, and what the body has to do when it starts to move is to draw aside a veil so it all can be read by the person observing. And the person observing is me, and the man I am watching, his movements and skills, is a man of barely forty, as my father was when I saw him for the last time when I was fifteen, and he vanished from my life forever. To me he will never be older.

All this would probably be hard to explain to this friendly mechanic, so I merely say:

"I had a practical father. I learned a lot from him."

My overall personal rating of Out Stealing Horses is an A.


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