Most of Out Stealing Horses occurs in unspecified, outlying areas of Norway, though there is also a short period spent in Norway’s capital, Oslo. At one point, “eastern Norway” is used to designate the setting, but Norway has a very long eastern border. Also, proximity to Sweden is mentioned, but again, Norway shares a long border with this country. What is known is that both during the summer of 1948 and fifty years later, the setting is somewhere in the woods and is located somewhat closely to very sparsely populated villages surrounded by thick northern forests and bodies of water.

The feeling of the setting is that of isolation, cold weather, and closeness with nature. Another feeling that emanates from the story is a pristine setting. There are no polluting elements. People seem to appreciate the silence and fresh air, as well as the challenge of dealing directly with nature for their food and warmth. The characters either have lived in these outlying areas all their lives or have come here, as in Trond’s situation, to get away from humanity and all the pitfalls of crowded society. Out in the woods, dogs, horses, birds, and fish are their own beings, not animals used for peoples’ advantage. Trond’s father even refers to fish by the name of Jacob, personalizing the contest between his need for food and the fish’s need to stay alive. Birds and plants are recognized by their scientific names. In the case of Trond, as his older self, his dog, Lyra, is literally his best friend.

Living out in the wilderness is likened to a spiritual retreat, a place where one can go to rid one’s mind of unnecessary chatter, to reconnect with what is truly important about life and to become less aware of competing with other humans in the game of getting ahead. The soul is the focus in this setting as much as the body and mind.

Flashbacks to the German occupation of Norway provide a different type of setting....

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Out Stealing Horses

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses is a relaxing novel that takes the reader on a tour of the Norwegian countryside and forests throughout the eras, jumping between modern-day Norway and 1940’s Norway just after the German occupation, following protagonist Trond Sander as he is forced to relive his past to understand his present and to accept his future.

Three years after his wife died in a tragic car accident, Trond finds himself widowed and alone, living in a new house and environment. He has cashed out his retirement and moved to the remote countryside to avoid people, who he never cared for much, and spends the rest of his years living as he wishes with his dog, Lyra. Not knowing anyone, nor they him, Trond remarks how little communication is needed to form relationships in small communities where neighbors “know about my working life, how old I am, that my wife died three years ago in an accident I only just survived myself, that she was not my first wife, and that I have two grown-up children from an earlier marriage, and that they have children themselves.” Trond accepts and enjoys his superficial relationship with his new community, offering them just enough information necessary for them to form their own understanding of him, knowing that “people like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are,” and liking the fact that “what they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and lets you off the hook.”

Not having to make an effort to be accepted by the community and retaining his solitude seems to be working until Trond discovers that in his quest to remove himself from all aspects of his former life, he has moved next door to a ghost from his past. One evening, a neighbor wanders onto Trond’s property while looking for his dog. Trond instantly recognizes the man as his childhood friend Lars Haug, stating, “Lars is Lars even though I saw him last when he was ten years old, and now he’s past sixty, and if this had been something in a novel it would just have been irritating.” Lars is a part of the past that Trond has worked a lifetime to repress. By pointing out the far-fetched coincidence that the protagonist should happen upon the person partially responsible for him wanting to escape society, Petterson gives the chance meeting realism and honesty, a twist of fate to which the reader is able to somehow relate, or at the very least, accept.

Unnerved by the unwelcome presence from his adolescence, Trond is thrown back to the summer of 1948, where he spends a summer working with his father on their timber farm in Norway’s forests, while his mother and older sister remain at home in Oslo. He is woken one morning by fellow fifteen-year-old Jon Haug, who wakes him regularly to steal horses from their neighbor Barkald, the wealthiest landowner in the region, and take them for a joy ride, returning them unharmed. Their day begins as any other adventure, but after their ride, Trond witnesses a frightening side of Jon as he crushes a tiny bird’s nest in his hands, destroying something helpless and precious and upsetting Trond without him fully grasping why. Trond returns home emotionally disturbed, soaked to the bone after a sudden rainstorm, and anxious to get away from his friend. As he dries by the fire, his father delivers the grave news that Lars, Jon’s younger brother, shot and killed Odd, Lars’s twin. The killing, of course, was an accident, but it had been perpetrated using Jon’s air rifle, which he neglectfully left out loaded. Jon voluntarily left the family to live with relatives in Innbygda, never to see Trond again, and taking part of Trond’s innocence with him. The incident causes an older Trond to reflect on “my friend Jon who one day just disappeared out of my life because one of his brothers had shot the other out of his life with a gun that he, Jon, had forgotten to unload. It was high...

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Out Stealing Horses Bibliography

"Conversation: Per Petterson and Marilynne Robinson." PEN American Center. Accessed January 24, 2008, from <>. A discussion between these two authors that delves into their writing style, what motivates them, and where their stories come from. Petterson also reads a chapter from his Out Stealing Horses.

Keates, Jonathan. 2007. "Into the Norwegian Wood." Spectator (London), July 28. Keates provides an interesting insight into the attraction of Petterson’s award-winning novel.

McGuane, Thomas. 2007. "In a Lonely Place." New York Times Book Review, June 24, pp. 1, 12–13. McGuane offers a long, detailed exploration of Petterson’s book.

Oberndorf, Charles. 2007. "Slipping Through Boyhood Memories." Seattle Times, July 1, p. K-7. This review praises the book highly.

Sjavik, Jan. 2008. "Review of Out Stealing Horses." World Literature Today, 82 (1): 65–66. A positive review and brief summary of the novel.

Silberg, Mats. 2007. "Out Stealing Horses at It Again." Norway Culture, Official Site in the United States. Accessed January 24, 2008, from <>. An article about Petterson’s success, including his statement describing that success as a “freak accident.”

Stocke, Joy E. "Language Within Silence—An Interview With Norwegian Writer Per Petterson." Wild River Review. Accessed January 24, 2008, from <>. An in-depth interview in which Petterson describes his background and his style of writing.

Thompson, Bob. 2008. "A Literary Career Fueled by Tragedy." Los Angeles Times, January 2, p. E.12. Thompson provides a background story of Petterson and his family.

Out Stealing Horses Bibliography

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Booklist 103, nos. 19/20 (June 1, 2007): 38.

Chicago Tribune, August 18, 2007, p. 10.

Entertainment Weekly, no. 936 (June 1, 2007): 71.

Kirkus Reviews 75, no. 9 (May 1, 2007): 415.

Library Journal 132, no. 9 (May 15, 2007): 84.

The New York Review of Books 54, no. 19 (December 6, 2007): 53-55.

The New York Times Book Review 156 (June 24, 2007): 1-13.

The New Yorker 83, no. 19 (July 9, 2007): 91.

Publishers Weekly 254, no. 15 (April 9, 2007): 32.

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