Publication Date: 20th February 2020
I was approached by Duncan Lewis from Nordisk books recently to see if I wanted to read and review Inlands by Alan willows I was also sent a collection of all the titles I was interested in and I read and reviewed Zero by Gene Cornelia Pedersen here.
Nordisk specialise in publishing translated fiction from Nordic countries, Inlands by Elin Willows is set in Sweden.
The story is told in the first person narrative of a young woman who originates from Stockholm and relocates to her boyfriends hometown which is a small village in the far north of Sweden. Even before she arrives she knows that their relationship is over and he does too. There is no huge falling out, there are no recriminations it is just a quiet ending to a relationship.
This then leaves our protagonist (who remains nameless throughout) with a dilemma, Should she stay in her boyfriend’s hometown and try and make a life for herself or should she return home? She decides (and it is a fairly easy decision to be fair) to stay in the village and carve out a life for herself there, despite no longer having her boyfriend by her side.
She manages to rent a couple of rooms in a shared house and gets herself a job in the village grocery store. She tentatively makes friendships with other staff members from the store and divides her time between working shifts at the store, socialising with other members of staff at a local hotel on a Saturday night or just spending time isolated by herself in her room with the TV her constant companion.
Her friends sometimes find it difficult to comprehend why she has chosen to stay when she had a life of her own in a bustling busy city. The residents of the small village are often the ones who are trying to escape village life and head towards a more exciting life in the city and they find it difficult to wrap their heads around the fact that she would choose to stay.
What I enjoyed about our nameless protagonist was the fact that in my opinion she was somewhat of an unreliable narrator. Or maybe that is the wrong phrase to use? What I mean is with her words she portrays a distinct feeling of being justified in her decision to remain however sometimes her behaviour jars against her words and she seems terribly lonely￼ despite having formed some friendships. She is often on her own, she struggles to sleep and she really doesn’t manage to eat well. She often has minor illnesses, colds, nosebleeds, and feeling generally rundown and tired.
As I was reading this book I couldn’t quite decide whether her decision to stay was the best thing for her as I felt she was a little unsure herself despite betraying feelings to the contrary. I also enjoyed the fact that she did not dwell too much on her last relationship as I feel this could have potentially drawn away the focus of the narrative which I feel were the themes of belonging, freedom and loneliness.
Her boyfriend is always referred to as ‘him’ and we never discover his name. She does make mention of him sporadically throughout the book but never in a hugely melancholic way. She seems to deal with the breakup of the relationship in a very mature manner even though deep down we know she is hurting.￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼
￼This book is particularly insular and as it is told in the first person perspective we often find ourselves trapped inside the main characters head. If you are looking for a book jampacked with plot this is not the book for you, if like me you enjoy a brilliant character study in which you can see somebody change and develop, not always for the better, then you will most likely love this book. If you like living somebody’s life through the minutiae of their every day then you will more than likely enjoy this aspect of this book as we quite often get told what she is eating how much or how little she has slept and what seemingly minor tasks she has had to perform during her working day￼. I understand that this may not be for everybody but I do particularly enjoy books that delve into tiny aspects of people’s everyday lives.
This book also has a huge sense of place the landscape and the changing seasons are depicted perfectly. The timeline appeared to me to be non-linear as the character quite often refers to the fact that she has been in the village for a year and yet some of the vignettes of narrative seem to swing between the seasons. The bleak and extremely cold and dark winters and the perpetual sunlight of the summer.￼￼￼
I throughly enjoyed this book and Elin Willow’s sparse prose. If you you’re after an introspective look into someone’s life I would heartily recommend it. I don’t read nearly enough translated fiction and I really should.
Thank you as always to the publisher and Duncan for my review copy.
See you soon
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx