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I finally finished Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson and found it redeemed in the last couple of pages. Throughout the book, I am sorry to say, I was often bored by its slow-moving narrative that mimicked the books’ frozen Nordic setting, its incredibly long sentences and its overall construction: the present was interspersed with the past, so momentum in both time-frames was interrupted before it could build. What is wonderful about subtle books, though, is that they can culminate with the smallest actions and these actions can feel monumental. Such was the case with Out Stealing Horses. The last few pages changed the terms of the book and certainly broke my heart a little.
In general, I write a new blog post each time I finish a book, story, essay, etc. that moves me in some way. I have not written a blog post in nearly three weeks. This unusually long hiatus has been caused because the book I am reading is moving me so very very slowly.
It is called Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson. Great title, right? The title isn’t the only aspect of the book I like. Some of the imagery is stunning, particularly a pair of wrenching expressions of grief by two tragic little boys. It is also interesting to read about a landscape, culture and lifestyle I’ve never encountered before. The protagonist of the book, Trond, in the present, lives a solitary life up in frozen Norway. He recounts episodes from his childhood shuttling between the city and the country with his father, undertaking all kinds of outdoor Nordic activities I’ve never contemplated. It’s all very beautiful.
So, why so…boring? I love a good, quiet, careful book. But I am having a lot of trouble getting through this one. I’ll be back when I’m through to try to analyze, once and for all, why that is. I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that I am reading a translation. I feel a remove from the characters, action and most importantly the language–I find myself wondering if Mr. Petterson actually used the Norwegian equivalent of word “weird” as many times as the English word “weird” appears in the book (or was it more like he wrote: strange, bizarre, weird, unexpected, etc…). I can’t tell for sure yet. I thought I better write something in the interim, though, because I have to admit, I couldn’t help starting another book and I’m pretty into it, so it may be a while still.
In the meantime, because I’ve used this excuse a bit before (see: Gilead) I wanted to list a few slow, quiet books I have loved to prove I like them as much as I say I do and see if you can add some to the list.
—Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
—Plainsong by Kent Haruf
—The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguru (I think this might warrant it’s own post soon; I was babbling about it this weekend and despite all the whiskey and the fact that it w as 2am, I couldn’t contain my passion for it)
–of course: To the Light House by Virginia Woolf
–much, but certainly not all, by Alice Munro
What I notice about this list is that each book left me with an overwhelming impression of place. I am transported when I think back to each one: to a frozen Idaho landscape, covered in blue-white snow; wide plains, a farm, the air filled with the scorched smell of branded animals; the measured particularity of the English countryside; the house, the yard with Lily’s easel on it, the fog on the water. These books, though slow moving, seem to be more powerfully, sensually evocative than other faster paced works.
I’d love to see what books you think fit into this category.