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Review – Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson


Out Stealing Horses
By Per Petterson
238 pages
Published 2005 (English translation)

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:

1 More Chapter

An Adventure in Reading


Breaking the Fourth Wall

Madeleine’s Book Blog

| Tags: , , , , , 16 comments »

16 Responses to “Review – Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson”

  1. cali

    I’m pretty sure my book club will be reading this book in the future. That was a killer sentence — yikes!

    I see you are reading “The Senator’s Wife.” I’ll be curious to see how you liked it.


  2. Icedream

    I have this on my tbr pile, it’s been sitting there awhile. I still plan on giving it a try but Yikes! I couldn’t even follow that sentence- my mind started wandering halfway through it.


  3. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)

    I just added this to my TBR list.


  4. Jeane

    I’m glad to read this because the book’s on my TBR from all the great recommendations of others. I sometimes like the foreign flavor translations leave in place, but that long sentence you shared seriously needed some editing. It made me feel like I was reading Joyce for a moment.


  5. bermudaonion

    Sorry it didn’t work for you.


  6. Lezlie

    I meant to read this one this year, but never got around to it. Maybe in 2009. . . I’ll be curious to see if I agree with you or the ones who love it.



  7. samza

    I loved Tales from Jabba’s Palace. It’s so great to see I’m not the only one. It was great to see how you came up with your idea for this story.


  8. S. Krishna

    Really interesting review. I’m disappointed because this is one I want to read – now I’m not sure if I will or not! I stumbled this post 🙂


  9. Michele

    Nicely written (your review, that is). I’ve struggled with Petterson in the past. Maybe the highbrow comment applies to me, too, and that’s why I just don’t connect with his books.


  10. Jill

    Weird timing because I just read the first chapter of this book last week and couldn’t get into it. I just posted about it yesterday! Within the first 10 pages I was already thinking that the translation was awkward.


  11. lisamm

    This is one I’d jotted down as a possible suggestion for book club. I’m getting out a BIG eraser right now!!


  12. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

    At last I’ve found someone else who didn’t like this book!

    Everyone else seems to rave about it, but I just found it dull. I looks as though we have similar reading tastes, so I’ve added you to my feed reader.


  13. Lisa

    Translation is a tricky thing but I think the idea is to get the essence of what the writer was saying, not necessarily a word-for-word translation. In English, we say, ” My name is…” In Spanish they literally say “I am called by the name…” Same meaning. There is no reason, if you were translating from Spanish to English, that it would have to be a literal translation because nothing would be lost by saying it the way we are used to reading it. Sounds like that should have been done here.


  14. jackie

    Well I loved the cover, the actual book – not so much! I agree it was slow and unsatisfying.


  15. Marinka

    I didn’t love this book when I read it, but it stayed with me for months afterwards and I still think about it sometimes. I think he captures the imperfect memory of childhood where you both know what’s going on and are not entirely sure.

    I actually liked that scene with Lars a lot–culturally, from what I know about Norwegian men, it’s fairly accurate. Not too chatty.


  16. Marinka

    P.S. Overall, I find that men like this book a lot more than women.


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