Sunday, June 29, 2008

Out Stealing Horses

I loved this novel by Norwegian writer Per Petterson (Petterson is a former librarian and bookseller). It won the 2007 Dublin Impac award, which has honored several of my favorite recent books, including My Name is Red (Pamuk), The Master (Toibin), and No Great Mischief (MacLeod). This award is administered by Dublin City Public Libraries (how cool is that!) and is open to books in any language.

The novel is written as a memoir by Trond Sander, a sixty-seven-year-old man who has isolated himself in the country after his wife's death to settle in to his last days, with only his dog Lyra for company. His story is primarily focused on the summer of 1948 when he and his father spent their last summer together. Remarkably, one of his few neighbors turns out to be a link to that time and place. Trond recounts the events of that year, the people that he remembers, and the secrets that he finally learned about his father.

I was surprised at how much it reminded me of some aspects of Cormac McCarthy -- the spare language, the meticulous descriptions of physical activities -- felling timber, riding horses, rowing boats in the river -- and the beautifully rendered prose about the natural world and animals. This is an especially good book for dog lovers; it makes you want a dog like Lyra. It has flashes of violence, but certainly not McCarthian in scale. It's much gentler and more reflective. The timeline of the things Trond tells you is just out of sync enough that revelations come at intervals, and the novel keeps opening up further and further from what seems to be, at first, a simple tale of a boy's coming of age into something much denser and more satisfying. Lovely.

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