I borrowed Out Stealing Horses from a friend of mine, who loved it. I think every review I’ve read has been glowing, so I certainly had high expectations.
Out Stealing Horses is about Trond Sander, 67 years old, who has moved from the city to a remote, riverside cabin. The story alternates with Trond in the present day to Trond remembering things from his childhood, from stealing horses with his friend, to his friend leaving his gun where his brothers could find it and one brother accidentally shot the other brother dead, to felling trees with his father.
The story was very slow, certainly more character driven than plot driven. Also, as the story was originally written in Norwegian, I found the translation to be awkward. I’m sure there’s a fine balance between translating exactly what an author wrote and making it intelligible to the translated language, but I think this book could have done with a little more tweaking in the translation. Of course, I seem to be the lone voice on this so perhaps I’m wrong. But check this out: “I picked up an armful of poles and carried them out, distributing them at suitable intervals along the steel wire and went back empty-handed for more, and my father and one of the men from the village measured out lengths and with a crowbar made holes every two metres along the line, alternately on each side of the wire and thirty-two in all, and my father was down to his singlet now, white against his dark hair and his tanned skin and his smooth shining upper arms, and the big fencing crowbar went up and then heavily down with a sucking sound in the damp earth, like a machine, my father, and happily, my father, and Jon’s mother in tow planting the stakes in the holes the whole way along to the point where the steel wire reel was and a new peg was going down to keep the rack standing, and I could not stop watching them.” Like I said, I think this sentence could do with some tweaking. Maybe it works in Norwegian, but I don’t think it works in English. At least, it doesn’t for me. OH, and at one point Trond says, “Sit you down.” I know a translator can’t change a work too much, but can’t the translator make it sound like English? Or must we be reminded every single sentence that this book was not originally written in English?
I think the translation is part of the reason that it takes so long to read this relatively short book. If you check out some of the other reviews I’ve linked to, many other people commented on the length of time that it takes to get through this rather slight book. So beware. You could probably finish a book twice as long in approximately the same amount of time.
The book plods along and I was disappointed to find I never had any feelings towards Trond, good or bad. As a reader, I need to feel something, anything to get me engaged. Make me hate the protagonist, make me love the protagonist, but make me feel something. I guess we never connected.
A couple of interesting plot developments are Trond’s father, who is an interesting character, especially as the story progresses. Also, Trond unknowingly has become neighbors with the boy he knew as a child, the boy who killed his brother (not Trond’s; his own). That relationship is very interesting, as Trond recognizes who the guy is but doesn’t say anything, and one night the guy (okay, he has a name: Lars) comes over and says, “I know who you are.” Trond replies, “Yes, I know who you are too.” Lars says, “I thought so.” AND THAT’S THEIR WHOLE CONVERSATION OVER THE COURSE OF DINNER. I’ve heard of people who don’t talk much, but this is crazy.
I won’t be rating this book as I feel like I’m the only person who didn’t like it, and it was named One of the 10 Best Books of the Year by the New York Times. Perhaps I’m not highbrow enough.
Other (probably better) reviews: