The Orange Prize-winning author of The Tiger's Wife returns with a tale set in the drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, where two extraordinary lives collide—Nora, an unflinching frontierswoman, and Lurie, a man haunted by lost souls who want something from him.
It’s a voyage of hilarious and harrowing adventures, told in the irresistible voice of a restless, superstitious man determined to live right but tormented by his past. At times, it feels as though Obreht has managed to track down Huck Finn years after he lit out for the Territory and found him riding a camel. She has such a perfectly tuned ear for the simple poetry of Lurie’s vision ... On the day we meet her, Nora has run out of water—a calamity that Obreht conveys with such visceral realism that each copy of Inland should come with its own canteen ... The unsettling haze between fact and fantasy in Inland is not just a literary effect of Obreht’s gorgeous prose; it’s an uncanny representation of the indeterminate nature of life in this place of brutal geography ... Sip slowly, make it last.
Magic realism served Obreht well in her fable about Yugoslavia’s baroque divisions, and it’s no less effective in shaping this alternative foundation myth about the American west. On the face of it the book begins conventionally enough ... The twist lies in Obreht’s affinity for unusual transformations ... Exquisitely panoramic as it is, Lurie’s account of his travels forms only one strand of the novel. It’s interwoven with the tale of a single day in the life of Nora, a frontierswoman ... Obreht builds a narrative that is every bit as compelling as Lurie's and just as full of revelations. Their parallel journeys into Arizona’s inhospitable interior...probe the cost of survival and the human yearning to belong. On every page gorgeously tinted images conjure the otherworldliness of this desert existence ... It’s the west, but not as we know it. Nora and Lurie are set on a collision course: will they meet? Obreht’s narrative skill here is part of the magic of Inland, which succeeds spectacularly at reinventing a well-worn genre and its tropes. There are no stereotypes in this western, only ferociously adroit writing that honours the true strangeness of reality in its search for the meaning of home.
These two extraordinary characters navigate the dangers of the frontier, driven at times by literal thirst and haunted by a more intangible want ... Obreht is at her most captivating when she reveals Nora’s innermost thoughts, especially those she hesitates to acknowledge on the edges of her consciousness ... As it should be, the landscape of the West itself is a character, thrillingly rendered ... Here, Obreht’s simple but rich prose captures and luxuriates in the West’s beauty and sudden menace. Remarkable in a novel with such a sprawling cast, Obreht also has a poetic touch for writing intricate and precise character descriptions ... There are a few places in the novel where readers might struggle to pinpoint the present moment of the story. Perhaps this is because in the toggling back and forth between Lurie’s and Nora’s perspectives, there are quite a few characters with complex circumstances to keep track of. Or it could be because a good chunk of Nora’s predicament is revealed slowly, through flashbacks ... In Obreht’s hands, this is an era that overflows with what the dead want, and with wants that lead to death. Her two central characters may not be who we have been conditioned to think of when we conjure the old American West, but they too are America.