Book Review: The Inland See by K.J. Orr


This short story is set in a remote part of Russia.  It tells the tale of two brothers and their journey across a frozen lake.  It is a tender story of bravery, togetherness and brotherly love.

I loved this story from the outset.  The gorgeous opening paragraph is a lovely precursor to the use of language throughout.  “On the far side the lake is divided from the hills by a slash of soft pink that arrived with the dawn.” The shoreline is described as “Icy contortions, banks of frozen rubble”.

As you might imagine of a story set in deepest Russia, the weather is an important element.  The weather adds to the sense of isolation and the smallness of these two plucky boys. “they are lung punched, speechless for now with the cold”

The boys battle the elements in an attempt to prove themselves to their father and each other. The weather changes, and so do the boys. They begin as small bickering brothers on an adventure, “Swinging his legs open and shut like windscreen wipers on the ice”.   They regularly try to out do each other.  “He curls his mittens into imperfect binoculars……I’m not scared he says”

As the story develops, the weather closes in and they feel fear.  Then the sense of brotherly love and protection is strong, and moving.  “Hold on to me” “He tugs the balaclava over his face and pulls him in” says so much about the closeness and dependence the brothers have upon one another. “He cannot feel his arm holding his brother.  His lashes are thick with snow now and he blinks to see, to reassure himself that he still has him”

Throughout there is a strong sense of place and space “Drenched in light and water, suspended with no above and no below”.  The delicacy of the writing is as fine and intricate as the ice patterns upon the lake with lovely  imagery “filmy air cascading in gossamer curtains”.

There is so much in this compact story.  The language and imagery is so beautiful that a single reading isn’t enough to get the best from it.  As winter gathers hold and we think about the possibility of ice and snow I would say read ‘The Inland Sea’ once and then read it again.

This beautiful little book is published in a special limited edition by Daunt Books.

Image via changing-pages

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