Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 264 pages; 2006. Translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born.
This is a delightful, thought-provoking and ethereal book by an author the Independent describes as “one of Norway’s finest living writers”. It’s a relatively simple story tinged with nostalgia about a 67-year-old man’s remembrance of things past and how events in the summer of 1948 shaped the rest of his life.
The narrator, Trond, is a widower who has lost touch with his children. He is living the life of a recluse in an isolated part of Norway with his faithful dog Lyra. By a strange coincidence his only neighbour, another elderly man, whom he stumbles upon by chance, is someone he has not seen since that fateful summer. This brings some painful memories to the surface and forces Trond to recall what happened all those years ago.
Back in 1948 Trond and his father left Oslo to spend a summer in a cabin in the woods not far from the Swedish border. Here Trond hangs out with Jon — a tearaway also holidaying in the area with his family — who encourages him to go ‘out stealing horses’, a euphemism for riding the local farmer’s horses without permission. But then tragedy strikes Jon’s family and the rest of the summer becomes a turning point in 15-year-old Trond’s life.
Through a series of painful but carefully realised incidents, Trond discovers what it is to grow up, to fall in love, to grieve. He also finds out that life is fragile and not always as straightforward as it seems, that adults sometimes keep secrets and that those closest to you can also betray you.
Essentially, this is a coming-of-age story, but it is written so eloquently and with such a love for Nature — the descriptions of woods, waterways and the changing seasons is pure magic — that the reader falls under a kind of spell and does not want the story to end. I found it a deeply atmospheric read that transported me to another time and place as if I, too, was out in the Norwegian countryside rowing down the river or riding horses bareback through the forest.
Having read this book in one sitting, I can see why Out Stealing Horses earned Per Petterson this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. It’s a truly accomplished and evocative read.