Inland by Téa Obreht
Many readers will remember Téa Obreht’s impressive debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife, which won the Orange Prize back in 2011. Inland is the author’s sophomore outing and Obreht once again displays a remarkable talent for blending folklore and reality. Set within the wild and drought-stricken ranges of the American frontier, this is a myth-soaked historical epic that is certain to dazzle readers anew.
The story moves between two characters who playfully subvert two traditional Western narratives: an outlaw being relentlessly pursued by the law, and a plucky frontierswoman determined to defend her family and home. Yet, Lurie – a Bosnian immigrant with a camel as his trusty steed – is no Butch Cassidy and while Nora has plenty of pluck and grit, she is far from being defined exclusively by these traits; her richly nuanced inner life reveals secret desires and fears. The world that these characters inhabit is at once original and familiar, and wholly believable. It is a place marked by awe-inspiring natural wonder and needy spirits. Both our main characters speak to the dead: Lurie is haunted by an array of ghosts, while Nora has an ongoing conversation with her dead daughter whose ghostly presence has aged alongside her.
In crafting this novel, Obreht has drawn inspiration from a little-known piece of American history. Lurie first meets his camel when crossing paths with the Camel Corps, a failed experiment by the U.S. Army to import camels for military purposes back in the 1850s and a fascinating story. The relationship that develops between man and animal is beautifully and imaginatively wrought by Obreht who always thrills on a line level. A couple of scenes in this novel stopped my heart; Inland is an evocative and immersive read.