Monday, April 28, 2008


When I think of one of the most powerful tools of the writer I think of imagery.  Those memories that are called up by vivid sensory descriptions are often the essence of poetry. I am currently reading a future book group selection: Out Stealing Horses by the Norwegian author Per Petterson, beautifully translated  by Anne Born.  It centers around the life of young boy a half a century ago who spends his summers with his father in a small cabin in the countryside by a river in the far eastern woods of Norway.  It is a quiet, compelling book that ensnares you in a family story that grows in complexity, seen through the boy's eyes and later from the grown man's point of view. He visits the memories of his youth, his struggling to understand, to deal with the mysteries of human feeling as he revisits his life later on in a solitary cabin. The sense of an earlier time and place is depicted by carefully detailed descriptions of  the woods, river, neighbors, logging and clearing, fishing and boating among the birch and spruce trees of the North country. The characters are complicated, often taciturn, internal people.

I find myself reading slowly, savoring the author's eloquent descriptions of place: "Between the spruce stumps the grass was growing lush and thick, and behind some bushes further on we saw the horses, only their rumps visible, tails swishing horse flies. We smelled the horses droppings and the wet boggy moss and the sweet, sharp, all-pervading odour of something greater than ourselves and beyond our comprehension: of the forest, which just went on  and on to the north and into Sweden and over the Finland and further on the whole way to Siberia..." His descriptions of sounds:  "The sun was high in the sky now, it was hot under the trees, it smelt hot, and from everywhere in the forest around us there were sounds: of beating wings, of branches bending and twigs breaking, and the scream of a hawk and a hare's last sigh, and the tiny muffled boom each time a bee hit a flower...I took deep breaths through my nose and thought that no matter how life should turn out and however far I travelled I would always remember this place as it was just now, and miss it." My favorite: "I waded a few paces into the stream and stood there listening for the sound of oars, but there was only the water sweeping round my legs, and I could see nothing either up river or down...It was a weird sensation to be standing in the night alone, almost the feeling of light or sound through my body; a soft moon or a peal of bells, with the water surging against my boots, and everything else was so big and so quiet around me, but I did not feel abandoned. I felt singled out. I was perfectly calm, I was the anchor of the world. It was the river that did that to me." The book provides numerous examples of quiet, solitary moments with nature that establish a strong sense of the place where the story unfolds.  Real pleasures await readers about to share this place.

1 comment:

  1. I agree - a wonderful book revisiting a boy's coming-of-age in which the natural world is as important as any character.