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Per Petterson
Per Petterson was born in 1952 and was a librarian and bookseller before he published his first work, a volume of short stories, in 1987. Since then he has written three novels which have established his reputation as one of Norway's best fiction writers.
Out Stealing Horses could have been a much longer book. You could have gone deeper into some of the relationships and could have made more of the wartime experience - but thank goodness you didn’t. It is wonderful in its spareness and simplicity – it says so much more. How do you, as a writer, make those judgements?
I don´t make a judgement, really. I could say that what I write is what I know, and if I had known more, I would have told you. And it would have been true. What is also true, is that every time I try to paint the “bigger picture”, the “A to Z” thing, I always get bogged down. And of course, there has to be air and space in your narrative, and you have to have substance. And there has to be room for the reader. There are famous books I would call “wall to wall books”, llike a carpet that doesn´t breath.
Why did you choose to tell the story from Trond's point of view?
Well, I always look for the voice. Most of my books are I-books, and it is fascinating, although the books are quite different, the voice is mine, and at the same the voice of the operson telling his or her story. (I did the same in the novel called To Siberia with a female protagonist). Trond is the one that things happen to, and between his understading of them, and what is really going on, there is a gap there which is very tempting for a writer. That is also the gap where the reader may slip in.
Trond's father's situation is complex both emotionally and morally and, for all his failings, the character you portray is in many ways very sympathetic. But are the lies he tells in any way justified?
There are not so many lies, I think, they more like omissions. But there is one big lie, of course. The father will not follow his son when summer has ended. He has his back against the wall and has to make a choise between two different versions of his life, and they are both so huge in their impact, and both seem to have the same size, if you know what I mean. If they weren´t, it would not have been difficult, would it? I have seen very nice people do worse things than that. But this just my guess, in a way. If I had known, I would have told you!
Some of the events in the book are particularly evocative (for example – to name but two, Jon and Trond’s experience in the tree and Trond and his father taking a shower together in the rain). Are they drawn from your own experience?
Yes and no. None of them are things I have done or have seen in the same way, but the feeling of them, the pain and the joy of them, are of course drawn from my own experience. Life, really.
The father/son relationship is a common theme and has been the basis for some powerful stories. You are obviously a son but are you also a father of a son(s)?
I am not a father of sons, I have two daughters, and my experience with daughters are the same as the old Trond has. Your daughters will find you, they honestly believe that their fathers need them. Sons do not always think in the same way. They are more easily offended. And yes, of course, I am a son, and all the father-son relationships in my books are drawn from the relationship with my own father, which was complicated, but not really as dramatic as in my fiction.
Regrettably, we hear little about Norwegian literature in the UK. Are there other writers we should look out for?
Dag Solstad, Kjell Askildsen, Jon Fosse, Lars Amund Vaage, Hans Herbjørnsrud, Hanne Ørstavik, Liv Køltzow, Anne Oterholm, Roy Jacobsen and many more.
Per Petterson

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