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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Out Stealing Horses

Per Petterson

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To purchase Out Stealing Horses

Title: Out Stealing Horses
Author: Per Petterson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 258 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Out Stealing Horses - US
Out Stealing Horses - UK
Out Stealing Horses - Canada
Out Stealing Horses - India
Pas facile de voler des chevaux - France
Pferde stehlen - Deutschland
Fuori a rubar cavalli - Italia
Salir a robar caballos - España

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Our Assessment:

A- : well-crafted, powerful

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly A 20/5/2007 Sean Howe
FAZ . 4/3/2006 Felicitas von Lovenberg
The Guardian . 17/12/2005 Ian Thomson
Independent on Sunday A 6/11/2005 Paul Binding
The LA Times . 29/4/2007 Susan Salter Reynolds
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 7/2/2006 Andreas Breitenstein
The NY Rev. of Books . 24/6/2010 Tim Parks
The NY Sun A 20/6/2007 Benjamin Lytal
The NY Times Book Rev. . 24/6/2007 Thomas McGuane
The New Yorker . 10/12/2012 James Wood
The Spectator A 28/7/2007 Jonathan Keates
Sunday Telegraph A 15/1/2006 Patrick Ness
The Village Voice . 17/7/2007 Robert Shuster
Die Welt A 20/5/2006 Gabriele von Arnim
Die Zeit . 6/7/2006 Kristina Maidt-Zinke

  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "But the real trick is in the way everything finally, neatly converges into an emotional jolt." - Sean Howe, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Die konzentrierte Anspannung, mit der Trond nicht allein versucht, sich ein Bild seines flüchtigen Vaters zu machen, sondern sich selbst zu begreifen, und seine wachsende Furcht davor, womöglich nur einer von vielen zu sein, ohne Bedeutung für andere wie für sich selbst, verleiht diesem an äußeren Geschehnissen keineswegs armen Buch Sog und Größe." - Felicitas von Lovenberg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Out Stealing Horses is tinged with an autumnal sense of loss and the self-examination of an old man looking back on his life. Beckett's Malone Dies is a clear influence, but Petterson is triumphantly his own man. This book is a minor masterpiece of death and delusion in a Nordic land." - Ian Thomson, The Guardian

  • "Out Stealing Horses shares with its predecessors their paradoxical meeting-up of highly articulate yet limpid prose and conscious artistry (the construction is of the Chinese-box kind) with intractable-seeming material, any confrontation with which partakes of the atavistic. (...) Anne Born's sensitive translation does justice to an impressive novel of rare and exemplary moral courage, and commendably makes convincing the confrontations of different individuals, different milieux." - Paul Binding, Independent on Sunday

  • "It is a novel with a distinctly Scandinavian tone (.....) There is scant talk and much mystery, giving the 67-year-old narrator a lot to ponder." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Much of Petterson's worldwide success with Out Stealing Horses depends on two qualities: a deceptively simple, wonderfully incantatory style in whichsmall units of well-observed detail and action, connected only by a string of "and"s, accumulate in long rhythmic sentences that frequently give us the impression that the next detail will be very bad news. We are kept spellbound and anxious." - Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

  • "Out Stealing Horses will interest fans of Rick Bass, J.M. Coetzee, and even Marilynne Robinson -- Mr. Patterson has something like her talent for scene setting and chronological collage, and all of the writers above have mastered a kind of tempered, minor-key retrospection. Out Stealing Horses is one of my favorite two or three new novels to appear this year." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "Among the agreeable surprises of Per Petterson’s novel is the misleading suggestion that the modesty of his narrator’s voice foretells a tale of minor events, an account of the sort of photorealism that prevents anything from ever happening. In fact, the book contains some bold, convincingly stated coincidences well outside the range of our highbrow realists." - Thomas McGuane, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Here is a remarkable novel, one which appears to be about nothing in particular, featuring barely half a dozen characters, several of whom have no names. Hardly anything happens. (...) Yet Out Stealing Horses (...) is as touching and enthralling as any more traditional novel, its qualities enhanced by the candour and simplicity of Per Petterson’s style and Anne Born’s limpid English translation." - Jonathan Keates, The Spectator

  • "Although its tone is stoical, this is not a stark, despairing work. Stoic does not mean unemotional; it means privately emotional, and there are deep feelings stirring here. When Trond finally reveals the question he desperately wants to ask Lars but will never be able to, it is a heart-stoppingly sad moment. Yet Petterson is artful enough to also include love and joy and an intelligent journey from boyhood into manhood, across that border into the region where fathers first become unknowable. The plotting is so subtle that one barely notices questions being raised and then, cleverly, answered. By the end, when all the pieces fall into place, we can see how elegantly Petterson has constructed matters, letting us live in a mystery we don't know needs solving until the solution is presented." - Patrick Ness, Sunday Telegraph

  • "A story mostly of expositions and denouements is bound to fall short of American expectations of showdowns and knockouts. That said, there's pleasure here -- Petterson's spare sentences are frequently lyric -- but it's like the pleasure you get from a film's scenes and cinematography, not from the complete film itself." - Robert Shuster, The Village Voice

  • "Und so bleibt dem Leser reichlich Raum für eigene Phantasien. Malen ist die Kunst des Weglassens, hat Caspar David Friedrich einmal gesagt. Petterson ist darin ein Meister. (...) Pferde stehlen ist kein verlockender Titel. Aber es ist ein verführerisches Buch. Wunderbar geschrieben in einer Sprache, die klar ist und wasserhell, zart und eindringlich, menschennah und gänzlich ohne Sentimentalität." - Gabriele von Arnim, Die Welt

  • "Der Roman Pferde stehlen schildert mit geradezu provozierender Langsamkeit das Leben in und mit der skandinavischen Landschaft. (...) Genauso kann man darüber staunen, wie still es in diesem Buch ist, obwohl so viel darin geschieht. Am Ende geht keine Gleichung auf, und die Götter, wenn es sie denn gäbe, hätten kaum Grund zum Lächeln. Trotzdem stellt sich das Gefühl ein, dass Per Petterson mit seiner ruhigen, kraftvollen, niemals angestrengten Prosa die Dinge des Lebens in die Balance gebracht hat." - Kristina Maidt-Zinke, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Out Stealing Horses is narrated by sixty-seven year old Trond Sander. He's recently moved to a remote house in the countryside, and is getting used to his new surroundings and settling in for the winter. His wife died three years earlier (as did his beloved sister), an he is pretty much withdrawing from the world. He doesn't have a telephone (and hasn't been in touch with his daughters in a while). He did get a dog, however.
       City-comforts apparently don't appeal to him: he likes to work with his hands (not minding that his new house is going to require a lot of work) and he doesn't need modern-day distractions. He claims, for example: "I hate being entertained, I don't have any time for it" -- though, in fact, he has little but time.
       The novel describes both his present -- more or less everyday life -- as well as returning to his past, specifically a summer from his mid-teens. (Significantly, his new neighbour turns out to be one of the boys who figured in that past.)
       Petterson has a remarkable touch in both describing Trond's present-day -- an old man settling in a final resting place, as it were -- and his past. The teenage days -- from just after World War II --, in particular, are presented with the peculiar precision of long-ago but lasting memories. And it's no surprise that they're vivid, as it certainly was a defining summer for him.
       The first episode he focusses on is when he goes 'out stealing horses' with a local boy, a summer-friend at the place where he spends the summer with his father on the Norwegian-Swedish border (while his mother and sister remain in the city). In fact, as he later tells his father:

We weren't really stealing them. We were just going to ride them. But we call it stealing to make it more exciting.
       Actually, there's little need for such exaggeration: there's already too much excitement (albeit of a very wrong sort), as it turns out Trond's friend is responsible for a family tragedy. What happened is pretty much the most terrible thing one can imagine happening, but when Trond's father finally tells him about it he adds: "Still, that's not the worst of it". And in a way he's right.
       Yes, Out Stealing Horses is, in its outlines, a very sombre Nordic novel. Trond doesn't really sense it, but there are obvious indications that his father is fairly desperate all summer. Another accident leads to further (if relatively minor) physical injury and ultimately there is what amounts to quite a big betrayal. Certainly, it is something that fundamentally affects Trond's life. Yet Petterson makes of it all a story that truly is also -- to use an awful term -- life-affirming. Trond is still a youngster, but this summer is a big step in the transition towards adulthood. Much is still mysterious -- from how to handle the milk-maid (or rather the feelings she arouses) to much about his father -- but the pieces begin to come together.
       Significant, also, is Trond's father's recent past, in particular his role during the war and under the German occupation. He often came to this summer house -- which, like the house the old Trond recently acquired, was in great need of repair (i.e. there was a good excuse for Sander to be there). But, it turns out, that was just a cover so that he could be the last link in passing information and people to safe Sweden.
       When Sander sent Trond home at the end of the summer of 1948 the boy did not yet realise what that seemingly insignificant parting meant -- despite his father's weightier words:
     "But that's life. That's what you learn from; when things happen. Especially at your age. You just have to take it in and remember to think afterrwards and not forget and never grow bitter. Do you understand ?"
       Trond says he does, but in fact spends a lifetime trying to understand, and Petterson so effectively conveys that struggle that has followed the character all his life.
       Out Stealing Horses is a remarkable life-story. We hardly learn anything about Trond and his career or his family (though he clearly loved his wife and children) but the fundamental part of him, the man he was and became, is fully realised.
       Nicely told, cleverly allowed to unfold, written with great control, Out Stealing Horses is certainly recommended.

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Out Stealing Horses: Reviews: Per Petterson: Other books by Per Petterson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Per Petterson was born in 1952.

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© 2007-2012 the complete review

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