Thursday, 15 March 2012

Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, who's Norwegian in case you were thinking Swedish, is a wonderful book I read last month.  I've reviewed it for The Writing Bar, the blog of the Sydney Writers' Centre, and you can read the review here. 

I've been thinking on and off about Per Petterson's style, or his style in this particular work. Out Stealing Horses is narrated by an older man called Trond, a man with the ability to transform small moments into meaningful ones. He also specialises in sentences of considerable length, but then there'll be a short one to stop you in your tracks. Or it'll be the other way around. I'd like to quote from the book but I'd much rather I intrigued you enough to make you go off and read the entire book for yourself.

I was thinking about this transforming of the mundane into something significant, and I thought about experimenting with it.  So I wrote something.  I called it Out Getting Paint for want of a better title, and I've pasted it below.  Enjoy!

Out Getting Paint 

The hardware store is one of those old-fashioned kinds: a small shop with narrow aisles and everything squeezed in. Every available space taken up. Rows upon rows of drill bits are arranged in ascending order of size. On one wall, locks and latches gleam dully in the morning light. Beach umbrellas are heaped against one another. There are tubes of glue. Pots of putty. Brightly-coloured plastic buckets hanging from the ceiling. The wooden edge of a barbeque juts painfully into my hip as I attempt to get past. I turn down an aisle, bump into another customer and we slip by one another wordlessly, with downcast eyes, as if we were in church and it was wrong to talk. The feeling of reverence in a hardware store is tangible.

I stand for a long time and look at paint. That’s what I’m here for after all. Not simple things like nails and a hammer. Paint. Which is a mystery to me. There are some things in life I do not trust and paint is one of them.
The assistant, a man who looks as if he should be heaving sides of pork in an abattoir, hands me a flimsy leaflet containing colours and names. Ironstone Cloud, Thelma Bay, Mushroom Idyll. I could be reading a poem. I study the colours. Try to find something that approximates what I want while the big man tells me what he knows of paint, how it’s fickle and never quite what it seems, and I wonder whether he’s talking about paint or somebody I once loved. Then he leaves me to make a choice.

In the end, and it takes me some time, I choose something called Blue Fog. I stand and wait. I wait and I watch him while he adds the pigment and the tin is jammed into a vice and churned for some time and with some violence and I begin to understand paint a little.
I carry the tin out to the car with both hands, like a prize, and pass a tradesman and filled with the flutter of hope I smile at him, and he smiles back but I think it is because I am a woman carrying a paint tin. When I reach home I go out to the back deck and place the tin on the table on old newspaper sheets and using a screwdriver for leverage I remove the lid. I peer into the depths. The colour seems richer and heavier than what I wanted, and I start to feel foolish.  Using a thin dry stick I give it a stir and it is the texture of thick custard, surprisingly resistant but also smooth and slick and aloof in a way that custard can never be. I pour off a quantity into a well-washed dog food can and replace the lid, pressing it down with a firm hand and giving it a whack with the screwdriver’s handle and denting the metal with some satisfaction on my part.
            The paint brush is one made from camel hair with the density of a thousand hairs per square inch. I run the top of my hand over its bristles and it feels good. Trustworthy. The ladder to the roof leans against the wall. The sky is dark blue and a tuft of sheep’s wool scuds across its surface. All that remains is for me to return to the house to have a long drink of water, letting it run straight from the tap into my mouth, and find my hat and my sunglasses, and then I place the paint on the top rung and brush in hand I mount the ladder.           


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