When most reviewers speak about Per Petterson’s novel Out Stealing Horses, one word that consistently comes to mind is quiet. Petterson’s writing is quiet and thoughtful and even a little sly. Critics describe the tendency of this novel to sneak up on readers and capture them without their being aware of it. Another quiet element of Out Steeling Horses is the story’s setting, which is colored by the beauty of Norway’s forested backcountry. Even the storyline of Out Stealing Horses is somewhat shrouded in silence. But through Petterson’s skillful writing, much is said without the need for a lot of words.
The major part of the story revolves around a father and son who spend one summer together, in 1948, in a small cabin away from most of the rest of the world. The young boy and narrator of this novel, Trond Sander, is fifteen in 1948, but he is a sixty-year-old looking back on that special summer in other parts of the novel. It was during that 1948 summer that Trond was transformed from a boy to a man. Between the two versions of the narrator, a son’s love for his father, which is duly returned, is made quietly apparent.
The book is not all silence, though. There are memories of World War II and the German occupation of Norway. There is the accidental killing of a neighbor’s son. Although the relationship between Trond’s mother and father is only hinted at, there is also the betrayal and abandonment of Trond’s patient mother as his father leaves the family for long, unexplained periods of time. When Trond, narrating from his adult persona, loses his wife in a car accident, Trond’s withdraws from the rest of his family and hides away, much as his father had done. In an effort to claim a life of peace and tranquility, he tells no one where he is. It is a feat Trond discovers to be impossible.