Translated from the Swedish by Duncan J. Lewis
I have such a deep interest in all things Scandinavian, and try to ensure that I read as many Scandi books as I can get my hands on. I was intrigued by Elin Willows’ Inlands as soon as I spotted its striking pastel cover, and ended up ordering myself a copy online. The novel was first published in Sweden in 2018, and translated into English by Duncan J. Lewis in 2019. The lovely edition which I read was published by Nordisk Books, a relatively new, and immensely exciting, publishing house, which was founded in 2016.
Inlands centres on a young, unnamed woman, who moves from bustling Stockholm to Sweden’s ‘inlands’, to a small village in the far north to live where her boyfriend comes from. Of her choice, she comments: ‘In both places, there’s equal surprise. Not over the fact that I want to live with him, but that I’m the one moving to him. Everyone wonders why we don’t do it the other way around. Why he doesn’t move to me. The people I’m moving away from don’t know where I’m going. No one has been here. Where I’m moving to, they’re also surprised. Why am I leaving that which I’m leaving, for this?’
Her boyfriend, also unnamed, drives down to Stockholm to pick her up, but as soon as they arrive in the north of the country, both are aware that their relationship has irrevocably ended. Rather than return to the place which she knows so well, she makes the decision to stay, reasoning that her plan was to live in the village anyway. She quickly finds a job in a large grocery store, and even after she has been there for a year or two, is constantly aware – and is made aware – that she is an outsider. Regardless, she finds a kind of peace in the area, something which was missing from her city life: ‘I stay in the village. There’s no anxiety here. No one I need to be anxious about. I’ve got myself. I avoid a lot of emotions by being here.’
There are mundane moments throughout, many of which revolve around the narrator’s work and home life. She does not do that much; she spends whole stretches of days indoors, eating poorly, and wearing jogging bottoms. Willows has balanced this with real poignancy though; for instance, when she tells us: ‘I see the Northern Lights for the first time one evening when I’ve just started to get used to the loneliness.’
Inlands is incredibly readable, and its translation has been expertly handled. The novel is comprised of short chapters, and a relatively fragmented narrative, something which I very much enjoy in contemporary fiction. It will not be for everyone, but I loved the way in which the story slotted together over time.
The narrator’s voice is expansive, earnest, and sometimes raw. Inlands is a character study, essentially, which displays the innermost thoughts and impacts of a changed, and changing, life, when our narrator is transplanted by a city to a very quiet new place a thousand kilometres away. I admired the way in which Willows discusses, at points throughout, the dislocation of self which her protagonist feels: ‘The world seems so disconnected from my life now. My two lives, completely separated, connected only by the fact that I live in both of them. I think about my old life in a large city as a vacuum that I can still go into, but when I’m there, my current life becomes strange and unreachable.’ There is so much to consider here, and I felt almost bereft when I reached the end of this beautifully melancholy book; it was one which I did not want to put down, and was so absorbed by.