Out Stealing Horses Critical Overview
by Per Petterson

Start Your Free Trial

Download Out Stealing Horses Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Critical Overview

In 2007, four years after its publication in 2003, Out Stealing Horses finally garnered critical praise and literary awards. The slow simmer is akin to Per Petterson’s own gradual embrace of his craft. For many years, Petterson worked in various other non-literary careers before finally turning his full attention to writing. 

Fame outside of Norway also took some time to gain momentum. Not until the early 2000s were Petterson's novels translated into English. He remained obscure in the English-speaking world until everything changed in 2007. That year, Out Stealing Horses won the Twelfth International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, beating out such literary giants as U.S. novelist Cormac McCarthy and South African writer J. M. Coetzee, writers who share Petterson’s sparse writing style. Out Stealing Horses was also awarded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in the United Kingdom that same year.

Some reviewers refer to Petterson as a “writer’s writer”, one who writes with grace and understatement. Jan Sjavik of World Literature Today says that Petterson’s novel “offers a superb portrait of human loneliness, loss, and betrayal as well as lyrical depictions of life in close contact with nature.” In other words, this is not a book of action but rather one of poetic prose.

Jonathan Keates, writing for London’s Spectator, also points out Petterson’s simplistic yet emotional style by stating that even though Petterson’s novel has no defined plot and very little seems to happen throughout the story, with emotions completely understated and descriptions simply stated, Out Stealing Horses is nevertheless “as touching and enthralling as any more traditional novel.”

Charles Oberndorf of the Seattle Times has a different way of describing Petterson’s novel: “It is a book of small moments and small mistakes, some of which have disastrous consequences.”

Although it took Petterson a long time to catch the attention of his English-speaking audience this should not be the case for anything Petterson publishes going forward. Based on the quality of his writing as well as this sudden storm of interest he has received for Out Stealing Horses, readers will soon be enjoying translations of some of his earlier books,...

(The entire section is 536 words.)