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. Fear dominates as German soldiers patrol the region with guns, constantly watching for discrepancies in behavior that might signal a problem individual. Trond’s father, specifically, is involved in an underground resistance movement, along with Jon’s mother. They both smuggle documents into Sweden to help defeat the German armies. Their activities are clandestine and rely on their neighbors either being unaware of what they are doing or loyal to their goals. Murder, for example, is accepted as a legitimate means to an end. The overall feel of this part of the novel is in direct opposition to the setting in other sections of the story, which is all but completely serene.
Even though Trond is telling the story when he is in his sixties and looking back to when he was a teenager, the settings of both sections are all but identical. They both take place on large plots of land near dense forests. Both versions of Trond live in tumbledown small cabins, which sets up the inferred relationship: like father, like son.
The story ends in the city, always an uncomfortable setting for Trond. People in the city are less friendly, directions are more complicated, and socialization is more feigned. The city appears to be where one must go to make money. But once the money is made, the narrator once again returns to the solitude and beauty of the wild country, where trees must be chopped, roofs are propped up under the snows, and one’s food is caught in the forests and streams.
Out Stealing Horses
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...
(The entire section is 2,641 words.)