Per Petterson ‘Out Stealing Horses’

-People…think they know  you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts imagenot feelings…..not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are

Trond is now an old man,  following his wife’s death he decides to move out from the city to an isolated hut in the countryside. By coincidence he recognises his only neighbour after all these years, Lars, Jon’s brother. And the story of his life bubbles to the surface, how decisions, large or small shape the people we become.

Trond has now become a solitary person, but not an inactive person, a little apprehensive with his choice and living with the shadow of events shaped during his childhood.

-I did not bring a television set out here with me, and I regret it sometimes when the evenings get long, but my idea was that living alone you can soon get stuck to those flickering images and to the chair you will sit on far into the night, and then time merely passes as you let others do the moving.

Two major events in the past are the key to who Trond has become and they are linked by the same seemingly innocuous phrase, the title of the book. Young Trond had gone to spend the summer doing up their country cabin with his father and had made friends with Jon, a young lad of his age living nearby, the book begins with Jon coming to their door early in the morning:

-Are you coming?’ He said. ‘We’re going out stealing horses.” That was what he said, standing at the door to the cabin where I was spending the summer with my father. I was fifteen. It was 1948 and one of the first days of July. Three years earlier the Germans had left, but I can’t remember that we talked about them any longer. At least my father did not. He never said anything about the war.

During their adventure, Trond cannot understand the strange reactions of his friend Jon and we learn of a major personal tragedy is the cause of this, in trying to understand what Trond has heard, his father questions him about their morning and reacts unexpectedly to Trond’s story:

-When you were out this morning, were you with Jon then?
-Yes I said
-What were you doing?
-We were out stealing horses.
-What’s that you say? My father was taken aback.
-Which horses then?
-Barkald’s horses. We weren’t really stealing them. We were just going to ride them. But we call it stealing to make it more exciting.

As the story moves on we learn of the role of Trond’s father during the war, as with many people in this isolated village near the Swedish border, such as Jon’s mother, but not his father, he helped people cross the border from occupied Norway into Sweden. As they worked the escapes their password which he muttered outside of Jon’s parents cabin was of course:

-Are you coming he said we’re going out stealing horses

Obviously heard by the young Jon. One night due to neglect by Jon’s father, he and Jon’s wife were forced to flee to Sweden for the duration. This was the second major event that shaped Trond’s life, his father could never settle down to his previous life after this. Looking back on his life, Trond comments:

-People…think they know  you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts not feelings…..not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are

And I guess this is true for all of us but with a little less drama.
As the book cover says Out Stealing Horses is a poignant and moving tale of a changing perspective on the world, from youthful innocence to the difficult acceptance of betrayal, and of nostalgia for a simpler way of life. 

First published in Norwegian as ‘Ut og stjœle hester’ by Forlaget Oktober in 2003
Translated into English as Out Stealing Horses by Anne Born and published by Vintage in 2006

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One thought on “Per Petterson ‘Out Stealing Horses’”

  1. I so loved this book. I’ve never reread it for fear it might not hold up to the sheer magic I felt reading it. All the same I have gone on to read more Petterson over the years and have never been disappointed. With this book I remember hearing him talk about traveling in a vehicle when he was touring in the US and listening to the English translation of Horses. He found himself thinking “My this is a good story,” and then reminding himself “I wrote this story!” He said he thought it was even better in English than in Norwegian.
    Several translators have been involved in bringing his work into English but Anne Born also translated an earlier work, Siberia, which is quite different and very good.

    Like

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