I was ahead of the curve when it comes to the Norwegians. Finding Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses felt like a personal discovery in 2005. I’ve always loved a good translation, one that retains a book’s original idioms, place, and cultural details. A good translation gives you the illusion of reading a book in its original language. Ann Born translated Out Stealing Horses. She died a few years ago and I have to think that Per Petterson must miss her. I’m sure she was a good part of the reason that the novel sang the way it did. Its publication in 2005 coincided with a year I was hungry for distraction. I had fallen in love with another Norwegian and although we spoke on the phone every night and spent our weekends together, in between there were all these days to fill where I tried to live in my own skin. Falling in love was like being kidnapped from myself. It was a kind of agitated madness. I was well into my forties when this happened and it caught me unprepared. Maybe love always does. The songs it inspired were pretty good but they didn’t provide relief, really. Books, on the other hand, could be escaped into. A couple of days a week, I rode my green Schwinn over to the Mattituck Library, checked out the new fiction, and talked to anyone I could about books. I was devouring three or four a week. There was a nice man who worked behind the counter, not a librarian, but a local man who loved to read and volunteered there. I would talk to him for an hour. I remember recommending Out Stealing Horses to him.
Since then, I’ve read everything by Per Petterson that has been translated into English. None of his other books is as structured or formal as OSH, but I’ve loved some of them even more. In The Wake may be my favorite. Petterson spoke about that book last week at the New York Public Library, where he was interviewed for over an hour, on the occasion of his most recent publication, I Refuse. His new book was reviewed in the Times last weekend, was on the cover of the Book Review, alongside Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Book Four, also just published. (I have a first row ticket to see Karl Ove read at the 92nd Street Y next week. I guess I’ve got a thing for the Norwegians.)
After Per’s reading, I stood on line to have him sign my copy of his new book, and we talked for a few minutes. It turned out he shared my love of Jayne Anne Phillips’ work and we spoke about that. He was lovely. I was able to tell him that his writing has influenced and inspired mine. Then I left the magnificent New York Public Library and walked to the subway, thinking of my old green Schwinn (now stored in my mother’s garage) and the modest but really excellent library in Mattituck. 2005 was ten years ago, unbelievably, but it doesn’t feel like that.