“It’s Fine by Me” by Per Petterson – From School to Factory in Norway

“It’s Fine by Me” by Per Petterson  (1992) –  199 pages

 I was halfway through “It’s Fine by Me” and still wavering, still considering quitting the book.  But I stuck with this short novel until the end and I am happy that I did.  

This is an early work by the Norwegian novelist Per Petterson who of course wrote the hugely successful novel “Out Stealing Horses” in 2003. It is the fifth novel by Petterson to be translated into English.  I thought “Out Stealing Horses” was excellent (nearly everyone did), but had not read any of his other novels until this one. 

“It’s Fine by Me” is about a young Norwegian working class teen who lives with his mother.  His father, a violent drunk, has moved out of the house but still hangs around the town    There have been a lot of novels about sensitive young guys brought up in broken abusive homes; I liked that here the young guy, Audun, is no sensitive shrinking violet but is a tough guy willing to fight for himself.  There’s a lot of fighting in this book as you would expect among the young men living in a poorer neighborhood. 

The first sections of the novel switch between scenes from when Audun is 13 and scenes from when he is 18.  At times I couldn’t figure out which sections were which, so the novel just seemed disjointed to me.  Although some of the individual situations were stark and interesting, I couldn’t figure out where Petterson was heading with the entire story.  That is when I wavered at continuing the book. 

However halfway through “It’s Fine by Me”, everything fell into place for me.  This is not a conventional story with a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion; this is a character study of a tough young guy who lives in a rough Norwegian working class neighborhood.  It is about his transition from going to high school to working in a printing factory.  I especially liked the scenes of the straight-from-high-school Audun starting to work on the factory floor, fitting in with the older workers and dealing with his bosses.

One of the strengths of  “It’s Fine by Me” is that you don’t get the sense that the main protagonist Audun is just the author at a young age.  That occurs too many times in novels.  Here Audun stands on his own feet.  No one makes excuses for him.  He is not a particularly good person; he is not a particularly bad person.   He’s a tough guy living in a rough neighborhood who survives at least to the end of the novel.  It rings true, and that is the best thing.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by acommonreaderuk on October 31, 2012 at 9:23 PM

    Funnily enough I’ve got this on order from the library at the moment. I didn’t realise that it dates back to 1992 although its the latest translation into English. I’ve read two other books by PP before and thought they were pretty good. Its a bit of a surprise in reading PP to realise that not all Norwegians are those liberal, caring Scandinavians but can be as bad as the rest of us!

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  2. Hi Tom,

    Somehow it seems the more world literature I read, it more seems to me that every place has the full range of types of people. There are huge differences between these types, but since each place has many of these same types, places far distant from each other can be quite similar.
    I was originally going to write about the dangers of reading the back catalog of a writer who has had a major world bestseller like Petterson, but it turned out this novel was pretty good.

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  3. Posted by kimbofo on November 11, 2012 at 9:01 PM

    Glad you persevered with this one, Tony. I’ve read all of Petterson’s novels to be translated into English (5 at last count) and this one is his earliest and hence most disjointed work. But as a character study of a young man growing up in tough circumstances it is very good. Most of his novels rehash this theme in various ways — particularly the difficult relationship between children and their parents.

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    • Hi Kim,
      I had forgotten everything about “Out Stealing Horses” by the time I read “It’s Fine By Me”, so I do not have your good insight into Petterson’s work. He must be an author you admire in that you’ve kept up with all his work. Petterson seems to be a literary writer as opposed to such Scandinavian genre writers as Steig Larson and Henning Mankell. I do enjoy Mankell’s Wallander works when performed by Kenneth Branaugh.

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