A fairly short novel with a timescape of half a century that seems to have left out nothing important is a bit of a miracle. I can’t see how exegetes, excited by unpacking fraught outcomes, can pry this one apart … 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 … The unsentimentalized remoteness of Trond’s place produces a vital tranquility.
Both Out Stealing Horses and To Siberia are essentially about betrayals of trust. In both novels a young person on the brink of adulthood loses, in melodramatic circumstances, the one relationship that made it possible to face an inclement world with confidence. Narrated in hindsight by elderly survivors, the novels hint at a crippled adult life only half-lived in constant apprehension and prolonged mourning. A quiet stoicism holds panic and despair at bay … Much of Petterson’s worldwide success with Out Stealing Horses depends on two qualities: a deceptively simple, wonderfully incantatory style in which small 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 … Anne Born has been able to render Petterson’s Norwegian in a syntactically simple, hypnotically fluent English.
Trond, a 67-year-old man, has retired to a remote corner of eastern Norway, where the barren landscape comforts him after the death of his wife. The countryside idyll is destroyed, however, by the unexpected arrival of a man who knows something Trond would rather forget … 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.