Saturday, March 28, 2009
Time is so very fluid here, and so the central theme of river and the water, and even the fluidity between borders. Where does Norway end and Sweden begin? The characters can’t really tell out in the wilderness. Only at the end, when society and civilization impinge with currency and language as Trond and his mother discover the money his father made is insignificant, is the difference made clear.
This was definitely a man’s/nature’s world. Women were on the edge, or kept out, or marginalized. I was shocked when Trond’s daughter appears suddenly out of nowhere, and he doesn’t immediately recognize her. His wife is killed in a car accident. His sister dies of a disease. This has me thinking more and more about the role of Lars’ mother. At first I saw her also as on the edge, the sexual awakener, the mother. Think of her, riding home all that way not knowing her son had been killed by his twin! But she is very central to the entire book. Without her, nothing would have happened. And yet, we barely know anything about her.
I miss the online format, but I have a few offline groups that I participate in – a fiction, nonfiction and mother/daughter book club -- but I realize I may have to drop at least one of these because I always seem to need more time and flexibility. I love the online format for this and the way it lets you think through and write down impressions. Looking forward to participating and getting to know everyone here!
I enjoyed Out Stealing Horses tremendously. One reason I was attracted to it was because one of the reviews compared it to Haldor Laxness whose book Independent People is one of my favorites. I realize I enjoy reading books about solitude -- maybe because I’m craving it in my life right now. We see Trond adjusting to his new life -- cooking for one, deciding when to build a fire, his companionship with Lyra, nervousness about the snow shoveling and any disruption in routine. These were some of my favorite parts of the book. They felt comforting to me somehow. I read the review that Barbara posted and remember thinking that the book would make a good movie (starring Max Von Sydow as the older Trond! ) but it didn’t feel contrived to me like the reviewer implied. At the end of the review the reviewer said that the book was bound to fall short of American expectation of “showdowns and knockouts.” I got to thinking about that and wondered if the quiet way the book ended was un-American…
Barbara, I was interested in your comments about the flatness of the emotion. I also have to disagree – but I found that often the physical effects of an emotion were sometimes described more vividly than the feeling itself (Jon’s violent crushing of the bird egg, the possible emotions at play that may have contributed to the accident where Jon’s father was injured) But I did feel there were things omitted that would have filled out the picture of Trond just a little bit – there was no discussion of his later life, wives or family life before he decided to become a hermit. Even a paragraph or two would have been enough. Thanks so much for posting those photos. They really helped define what I envisioned- we’re lucky to have your background and perspective!
Cinnamon, I love the fallen tree metaphor that you discovered. How it is pinning shut the door to his toolshed! How appropriate that Lars, who must be dealing with his own conflicting feelings about the coincidental reunion, is helping him pry it open. Speaking of metaphors, I thought the suit that his mother bought for him was a good metaphor for his new role as “man” of the family, his maturation and coming of age.
I have to say that the book did bring up some painful memories for me. I was at a similar age as Trond when I discovered that my father was having an affair (before my mother did). I could relate to Trond’s grief over the realization that his family life would never be the same, that his father wasn’t the shining example of loyalty and manhood that he had held him up to be, that his mother was heartbroken. The difficulty of realizing that his father was a person who deserved love and happiness yet not quite being able to forgive him for what he did to get it. All of these were things that my family went through – I imagine many people with broken families have these struggles. I feel very lucky that my father made an effort to maintain our relationship even though the one with my mother had ended.
Barbara if there is another link you have in mind, I'd still like to read the interview.
Friday, March 27, 2009
The nearest I have ever been to Norway is my handcream- so this book was like getting off a plane and knowing straight away you are in a different country by the landscape, the air, the smell. I loved the descriptions of smells- ' the smell of roasting meat and coffee in the air, the smell of smoke, and timber and heather and sun-warmed stones and some special scent I had not noticed anywhere else...' And the descriptions of weather- 'a grey layer of cloud floats across the sky like a duvet..' and of watching the stars.
'Out Stealing Horses' is the code word for a cell of the resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Norway in 1944. Although Barbara had previously posted about the resistance movement, I stupidly had not realised this was a theme of the book until Franz reveals it to Trond. I was as surprised as Trond! I think this is tribute to the light, subtle touch with which Petterson (and his translator Born) writes. I liked this lightness of touch- the language wasn't florid or fancy, yet the elemental descriptions were so effective- wood, earth, stone, water, sky, wind, green ,river. I felt I was there.
Just like the waterways Barbara previously mentioned, I thought the rhythm of the narrative was like a flowing river, the current overturning stones (buried facts) as the water (plot) twists and turns.
Trond's desire to get attention from his father; his hope that the summer has somehow bonded the two of them together; his simple trust in his father; his hope and faith that his father will soon leave the remote forest and return to Trond and his mother and his sister- all this hope, in spite of having glimpsed the 'other life' his father led as a protagonist in the resistance and as the lover of Jon's mother- all this hope is cruelly dashed with the letter that curtly announces his father's intention not to return.
The ensuing years living without a father has a profound effect on Trond's life, his relationship with his wife and eventually his relationship with his own daughter. His inability to communicate with her mirrors his own father's self-interestedness.
It is not surprising that Trond is drawn back to living in the forest, in a place similar to that which he shared the summer of 1948 with his father. He says of that time- 'I was the forest'. His father goes around sniffing the branches, and the scents of the forest are in Trond himself: 'Before I fell asleep I put my forehead against the coarse timbered wall sniffing the faint scent of the forest it still held'. As if by inhaling these scents he can some how get closer to his father. I found this very poignant, heart-wrenching stuff.
The reconciliation of his abandonment comes in meeting Lars again years later. From the age of 10 Lars has enjoyed the attentions of Trond's father- who has set up home with Lars' mother. Trond does not explicitly say how this makes him feel- you can only imagine. Meeting with Lars is unexpected and at first Trond is not too happy with the ensuing flood of memories- 'it ties me to a past I thought was well behind me and pulls aside the fifty years with a lightness that seems almost indecent'. We think we have put the past behind us but it can rear up at any moment. The falling of the tree is hugely symbolic. We are told elsewhere that it is an unusual event for these trees to fall- they usually bend with the wind. The fallen tree is the huge blockage in Trond's life caused by the abandonment of his father. It almost kills him. He literally cannot get on with his life without removing it- it is pinning shut the door of his toolshed!
The cutting up and removal of the tree by Trond and Lars, working together, not discussing the past but knowing, sharing is also symbolic. Cutting out dead wood. Removing the blockage. Moving on. Reconciliation.
Once the blockage is removed, up pops Trond's daughter. We glimpse how much she is craving Trond's love, just as Trond craved his father's. We feel the daughter's pain. A father's abandonment has affected the next generation also.
What happens to us in childhood shapes our lives. Such a well-known fact, it is almost a cliche. Psychotherapists start with childhood, but most people in the world do not have access to 'therapy'. Petterson has shown very effectively the subtle and lasting consequences that can arise from the decisions we take and that our children will be affected and moulded by who we are and what we do. I wonder- did Trond's father have any idea what he was doing to his son? If so, would he have done things differently? Do we have sympathy with him?- he was a 'hero' of the Resistance after all.
I found myself thinking about what 'blockages' there are in my own life.
'I look back to that time, I see how each movement through the landscape took colour from what came afterwards and cannot be separated from it'
I loved this book- a little gem, with so much in it. I want to read it again and have recommended it to my actual reading group- thank you Barbara!
Postcript: I also loved his relationship with his dog- very accurate interpretations of doggy language!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The book has been criticized for being flat, a story told without emotion. But you have only to know Norwegians to realize this is the way they face life. The challenges and high points are rather flattened into a sort of continuum.
A central theme in the book is that of loss. Lars shoots his 10-year-old twin brother with a loaded gun left out by his older brother Jon. Jon wantonly smashes an egg from a goldcrest nest, possibly out of frustration for his dead brother; he then leaves home to join the navy. Trond’s father’s macho behavior causes Jon’s father to suffer injuries from which he never recovers. Trond loses his father altogether at the end of the summer of 1948. Trond’s second wife dies in a tragic car accident.
I felt a certain sadness as I watched an old guy try to become a hermit as a way of escaping from life. He is not naive to the existing dangers as he prepares for what could be a harsh Norwegian winter. It is only with some reluctance that he meets his neighbor, contacts someone to plough his snow, and talks to his adult daughter.
The language, even in its translation, is beautiful. We ride the horses bareback in Barkald’s field with teenage Jon and Trond. We feel the hormones rise as Jon’s mother approaches most any man or adolescent boy. We watch the ill-fated logs become stuck on their trip to Sweden. We understand the feelings of betrayal and disappointment Trond and his mother feel in the final chapter.
I especially like the very end of the book, where Trond and his mother have a brief respite from their troubles as they walk down the streets of Karlsrud with Trond wearing his new suit. In the last sentence he draws a line from his father’s philosophy “We do decide for ourselves when it will hurt.” And then the story is over for the reader.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
During my 1973 trip to Norway with my parents, we spend some time with a friend's family in Southern Norway. They had been very involved with the resistance movement in World War II. We drove to a remote area near the coast where you could still find remnants of barbed wire from that era. My father was fascinated by the barbed wire and brought home several souvenirs, which I'm sorry I no longer have. For a while my friend (who was a toddler during WWII) lived in that area with his grandparents when things were heating up in Oslo.
Here's a link to Akershus Castle, which houses the resistance museum in Oslo. It's a fascinating place and a good reminder that it took many countries to defeat Hitler's wrath in Europe. The Scandinavians were often silent heroes in that fight!
Clearly the story involves a network of persons committed to this cause!
Sunday, March 8, 2009
But as far as The Virtual Book Club goes, my question is about Mr. Pip a novel by Lloyd Jones. Can we decide if this is our book for May?
And, are there any books suggested for the rest of the year? Do we want to discuss for awhile? Choose just a few books at a time, or the whole 12?