Time and again, this writer was reminded of Willy Vlautin's beautiful, tender novel Lean On Pete, whilst reading this tale of another young teenager at the mercy of dysfunctional beginnings. Young Audun is trying to make a go of a new life in the city, living with mother and sister in a tower block flat, the family having moved in from the countryside. He has an early morning paper round, moves on to work in a printing plant, and he gets into fights easily.

He is haunted too by memories of his violent, drunkard father - dad flits in and out of the story in flashback scenes, but is mostly absent. Mother, meanwhile tries to hold it together, mad about opera and the Swedish tenor Jussi Björling, while Audun is into Jimi Hendrix who has recently died.

Audun's kid brother Egil also haunts the novel, ever since the day he drove a Volvo into the river and drowned, in his mid-teens. As well as scenes of violence, there are profoundly tender ones like the occasion when Audun tightly hugs his friend after dealing with a young thug who attacked his friend's father. He also leaves home and tries to live for a few days in three cardboard boxes, near the railway station.

First published in 1992, and now translated by Don Bartlett, this novel precedes later successes from Petterson such as his IMPAC-winning Out Stealing Horses. Less ambitious though it may be in its concerns and scope, It's Fine By Me somehow seems the better, more convincing novel to this reviewer. A small (199-page) masterpiece.

Paddy Kehoe