Excerpt from Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Out Stealing Horses

A Novel

by Per Petterson

Out Stealing Horses
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2008, 256 pages

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I

Early November. It’s nine o’clock. The titmice are banging against the window. Sometimes they fly dizzily off after the impact, other times they fall and lie struggling in the new snow until they can take off again. I don’t know what they want that I have. I look out the window at the forest. There is a reddish light over the trees by the lake. It is starting to blow. I can see the shape of the wind on the water.

I live here now, in a small house in the far east of Norway. A river flows into the lake. It is not much of a river, and it gets shallow in the summer, but in the spring and autumn it runs briskly, and there are trout in it. I have caught some myself. The mouth of the river is only a hundred metres from here. I can just see it from my kitchen window once the birch leaves have fallen. As now in November. There is a cottage down by the river that I can see when its lights are on if I go out onto my doorstep.  A man lives there. He is older than I am, I think. Or he seems to be. But perhaps that’s because I do not realise what I look like myself, or life has been tougher for him than it has been for me. I cannot rule that out. He has a dog, a border collie.

I have a bird table on a pole a little way out in my yard. When it is getting light in the morning I sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and watch them come fluttering in. I have seen eight different species so far, which is more than anywhere else I have lived, but only the titmice fly into the window. I have lived in many places. Now I am here. When the light comes I have been awake for several hours. Stoked the fire. Walked around, read yesterday’s paper, washed yesterday’s dishes, there were not many. Listened to the B.B.C. I keep the radio on most of the day. I listen to the news, cannot break that habit, but I do not know what to make of it any more. They say sixty-seven is no age, not nowadays, and it does not feel it either, I feel pretty spry. But when I listen to the news it no longer has the same place in my life. It does not affect my view of the world as once it did. Maybe there is something wrong with the news, the way it is reported, maybe there’s too much of it. The good thing about the B.B.C.’s World Service, which is broadcast early in the morning, is that everything sounds foreign, that nothing is said about Norway, and that I can get updated on the position of countries like Jamaica, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka in a sport such as cricket; a game I have never seen played and never will see, if I have a say in the matter. But what I have noticed is that ‘The Motherland’, England, is constantly being beaten. That’s always something.

I too have a dog. Her name is Lyra. What breed she is would not be easy to say. It’s not that important. We have been out already, with a torch, on the path we usually take, along the lake with its few millimetres of ice up against the bank where the dead rushes are yellow with autumn, and the snow fell silently, heavily out of the dark sky above, making Lyra sneeze with delight. Now she lies there close to the stove, asleep. It has stopped snowing. As the day wears on it will all melt. I can tell that from the thermometer. The red column is rising with the sun.

All my life I have longed to be alone in a place like this. Even when everything was going well, as it often did. I can say that much. That it often did. I have been lucky. But even then, for instance in the middle of an embrace and someone whispering words in my ear I wanted to hear, I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. Years might go by and I did not think about it, but that does not mean that I did not long to be there. And now I am here, and it is almost exactly as I had imagined it.

In less than two months’ time this millennium will be finished. There will be festivities and fireworks in the parish I am a part of. I shall not go near any of that. I will stay at home with Lyra, perhaps go for a walk down to the lake to see if the ice will carry my weight. I am guessing minus ten and moonlight, and then I will stoke the fire, put a record on the old gramophone with Billie Holiday’s voice almost a whisper, like when I heard her in the Oslo Colosseum some time in the 50s, almost burned out, yet still magic, and then fittingly get drunk on a bottle I have standing by in the cupboard. When the record ends I will go to bed and sleep as heavily as it is possible to sleep without being dead, and awake to a new millennium and not let it mean a thing. I am looking forward to that.

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From Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. Translation copyright 2007 by Anne Born. All rights reserved.

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