Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Final book review of 2009

This is it, the final book review of 2009. I read 92 books this year, easily the most I have read in a single year (working in a library will help in that regard). Historically I average about sixty books a year.

Right now I am on a foreign author kick. I'm in the midst of a book by an Australian. I have an Australian, a Dutch and a German book lined up to be read next and Per Petterson, the author of Out Stealing Horses, is Norwegian. Elegance of the Hedgehog is French. I'm not sure about Shakespeare. I think he was from Detroit.

If the book I'm currently reading and Petterson's book are indicative of what I can expect from writers from other countries, I may stop reading things by Americans. I really liked Out Stealing Horses. The book is told by an old Norwegian man who has bought himself a place out in the countryside after his wife and sister have passed away. He leads a very spartan existence and is glad to live a life alone after all these years. When he meets a neighbor who was a brother of a friend of his during his childhood, he begins to reminiscence about his past. The chapters alternate between present time and him flashing back to when he was fifteen.

As a young lad, he spent a summer with his father, helping him fell timber in an effort to raise money. They lived and worked in a rural area on the border of Norway and Sweden where his father had acquired a place during World War II. The narrator, Trond, discovers that his father helped people escape from the Germans during World War II and also ran off with his neighbor's wife, for whom his father still has feelings, during a botched escape.

During that summer there are a number of tragedies. An accidental death. The running off of Trond's friend because of his involvement in the death. A severe injury. The discoveries about Trond's father, who, at the end of the summer, does not return with Trond to his mother. A lot of twists and turns that tarnish Trond's enjoyable summer with his father.

There is a lot of sadness and resentment that ultimately is resolved with an unexpected event in Trond's life. It's a nice story that moves quite well which deals a lot with relationships. What surprised me the most about it, and something I really liked, was that there was a ruggedness to the writing. The story largely takes place outdoors and while Trond appreciates and describes the pleasantness of the surroundings, he is also equally appreciative of the harshness of it.

When you read a book, you can sometimes get a sense of the physical characteristics of the writer. Michael Chabon to me looks like he writes. He is an intellectual, a bit of a pretty boy, froo-froo writer. Stephen King, like his books, creeps you out when you see him. Per Petterson may be the first writer of whom I would expect, based on his writing, to feel callouses if I shook his hand (well, maybe Joseph Monninger). I may be in the trees with this theory but regardless, Petterson's style is a pleasant change from much of what I have read.

I'm not entirely sure why I don't feel like rating this book two stars. Lack of a plot, maybe. A little too much thinking to make connections. But it is certainly close. Give it a try.

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