Sunday, July 20, 2008

Out Stealing Horses

This slender yet powerful novel by Norwegian author Per Petterson is one to read and reread.

Following the death of his second wife when he “lost interest in talking to people,” the narrator, Trond, has retired to a remote forest-village in eastern Norway. When his nearest neighbor turns out to be a figure from his past, from a life-altering summer spent in a similar setting with his father, Trond’s memories begin to churn, despite attempts to lose himself in the details of surviving in his new environment (wood-chopping, shopping, cooking, dog-walking). He is forced to sort through a series of traumatic war-time events, both personal and political, that led to his father abandoning the family – and find a way to prevent himself repeating that pattern. The book is a sort of conversation in Trond’s mind as he looks back on past losses and reflects on his coming old age.

One of the best things about Out Stealing Horses is the narrator’s unassuming voice, which belies the force and intensity of the memories conjured up. It’s the calm, deliberate voice of someone I’d like to know better.

Another notable aspect of this fairly amazing book is what one reviewer referred to as “the consolations of landscape.” The quiet setting (snowy forest, river, lake, remote village) is a profound presence in this novel, yielding the tranquility that allows Trond to remember and process what he had not been able to at age 15. You feel that tranquility yourself as you read the author’s lovely descriptions and quiet prose.

Also impressive is the author’s ability to pass back and forth in time with undisturbed continuity. Adding to that, he draws parallels both subtle and obvious between past and present, which helps keep the plot tightly bound.

Finally, this book is filled with wonderful sentences – the kind in which one does the work of many. There's a purity to his prose, and I found myself reading certain passages over and over as I came across them and flipping back to find them again later. Here’s a sample from the first chapter:

“Time is important to me now, I tell myself. Not that it should pass quickly or
slowly, but be only time, be something I live inside and fill with physical
things and activities that I can divide it up by, so that it grows distinct to me
and does not vanish when I am not looking.”
I was sorry to turn the last page of Out Stealing Horses, and I know I will return to this lovely, impactful book. It's easy for me to recommend this one, especially to those who know what it means to seek solitude – the overwhelming beauty of being in a place “where there is only silence” and the associated risk of allowing time to “merely pass as you let others do the moving.”

Monday, July 07, 2008

It's Summer

Which means plenty of reading time for Dan! I read Sense and Sensibility after watching the Jane Austen Book Club (I may also read the other Austen novels at some point this summer). :) It wasn't anything unexpected because the movie pretty much stuck to it, but turns out that even though I didn't like Oliver Twist, I do actually like to read Victorian literature. It was a fun read.
Next I went to the library and lo and behold, they finally had some books for me to read! Yay!
The first was classic chick lit. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. "Annabel Greene is the girl who has everything. At least, that's what she portrays in her modeling shoots. But Annabel's life is far from perfect. her friendship with Sophie ended bitterly, and her older sister's eating disorder is weighing down the entire family. Isolated and ostracized at school and home, Annabel retreats into silent acceptance. Then she meets Owen -intense, music-obsessed, and determined to always tell the truth. And with his guidance, Annabel learns to just listen to herself and gains the courage to speak honestly. But will she be able to tell everyone what really happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends?" It had more to it than just a goofy girl getting the guy. Pretty fantastic.
Next was Deadline by Chris Crutcher. About a guy who learns he has a terminal illness during a regular sports physical and only has a year left to live. He decides not to till anyone so that he can live out his year to the fullest, without anyone treating him differently. He finds love, helps some people, and goes out for football instead of cross country (he's only 123 pounds). I totally balled at the end. Another great one! 
Next: How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles. This was about a girl who gets dragged to Israel for summer vacation by her dad who has never really been part of her life. She meets her Israeli family, finds a hot Israeli guy to annoy and eventually fall for, and discovers a lot about her heritage and her country, and herself. It has a really sweet ending. I loved it.
Last: Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe. (No idea why its called that. There was one part at the beginning with a bad kitty, but definitely not enough to name the book after, but whatever.) It was a murder mystery, Nancy Drew modern style. Pretty great. Funny, crazy characters, a little romance, and a good twist at the end. I couldn't put it down!
So those were the fun books of the month. Next I'll either read A History of Love, or head back to the library. Love you guys!