Saturday, February 26, 2011

Out Stealing Horses

Accolades for Out Stealing Horses are marked on my softcover, including:  Time Magazine Book of the Year, Winner of the Impac Dublin Literary Award, and One of the Ten Best Books of the Year (New York Times Book Review).

Written in Norwegian by Per Petterson and translated into English by Anne Born, this is a coming of age story, told through the eyes of a 67 year old man who has retired to the country to live out the rest of his years in isolation.  The events of one summer, of actions taken and not taken when he was 15, that would change his life forever.

Some of the sentences go on for lines:
But when you are in the swing, and all of you have fallen into a good rhythm, the beginning and the end have no meaning at all, not there, not then, and the only vital thing is that you keep going until everything merges into a single pulse that beats and works under its own steam, and you take a break and work again, and you eat enough but not too much, and you drink enough but not too much, and sleep well when the time comes; eight hours at night and at least one hour during the day. (p. 75)
His memories and dreams descend on him, he cannot put them from his mind.  The events are retold, not rationalized or explained.  He is puzzling out the moments that shaped him, the 'before' and 'after':
It was as if a curtain had fallen.  It was like being born again.  The colours were different, the smells different, the feeling things gave you right down inside yourself was different.  Not just the difference between heat, cold; light, darkness; purple, grey, but the difference in the way I was frightened and happy. (p 224)
The language is lyrical.  Mesmerizing in detail and insight:
People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are.  What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and lets you off the hook. (pp 67-68)
It is a poignant summer.  The sadness comes in looking back, over the years, because this person chooses to cut the moments of pain out from his life at the cost of creating a certain numbness.  His return to the forest of his youth brings an unexpected reawakening.  Although he attempts to isolate himself and shut himself off from communication with others, they seek him out; and he is all the better for it. 

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