Hold on to your hats, it's a book review! I told you I was going to get back to reading as soon as summer got here, and I did. The first book I read was one that was recommended to me some time ago by Verbatim reader Steve—it's Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. (I know everyone everyone else is reading books by a certain Swedish author, but I went for a Norwegian. Thrillers aren't my thing anyhow.) This is a slim, lovely novel told in the form of a memoir.
Trond is a 67-year-old widower who moves to a cabin in the country to live out his remaining years. He intends to busy himself puttering around the house and yard with his dog and hopes he doesn't have to come into contact with too many people. However, by sheer coincidence, his only neighbor, Lars, turns out to be someone he knew—well—in his childhood. (Trond admits, "If this had been something in a novel it would just have been irritating ... that kind of coincidence seems far-fetched in fiction ... and I find it hard to accept.") This chance meeting brings on wave after wave of memory for Trond. He remembers his youth in great detail and can recall every sensation and thought he had at a particular moment—although sometimes he chooses not to. For him it's as if there's a shelf containing films in his brain, and he just selects the one he wants to watch.
Although he remembers significant, life-changing events from his past, this is by no means a plot-driven book. It's more just a series of memories that together help describe this character—although in truth we learn very little about his life apart from the present (1999) and the summer of 1948. The nature descriptions are exceptionally vivid and moving—I found myself wanting to smell the spruce trees and feel the icy water splashing up from the river as Trond described them.
So, things happen, but by the same token nothing really happens in this book. It has a pleasantly slow and dreamy rhythm to it that suited me just fine. My only problem is that I didn't understand one particular passage of it, and it seemed pretty important. At one point near the end, he longs to ask Lars a certain question, and I don't really get its meaning. If you read the book (Steve, can you still remember it? Anyone else?), would you let me know how you interpreted it? It's on page 198. Thanks in advance. (UPDATE 8/3/10: I posed this question to the wonderful folks at Ask MetaFilter and got it figured out.)
In the meantime, if you don't mind a leisurely paced book without a stunning climax, you will be rewarded with truly lovely writing and thought-provoking descriptions of both the external and internal events in one man's life.