Sunday Story Society: “Drifting House”

On the table today, we have Krys Lee‘s story “Drifting House”, which you can read on the Granta website here.

It’s the title story of Lee’s debut collection, which has been reviewed in various places, including: The Daily Beast (by Anna Clark); Sul Romanzo (by Monica Raffaele Addamo) The Short Review (by Elaine Chew); Korea Joongang Daily (by Bart Schaneman); Pop Culture Nerd (by Thuy Dinh); The Guardian (by Kamila Shamsie); The Telegraph (by Andrew Marszal); The Financial Times (by Sung J. Woo); NPR Books (by Heller McAlpin); The San Francisco Chronicle (by Marie Myung-Ok Lee); Editorial Eyes; Of Books and Reading; The Brunette Bibliophile.

And here are a couple of interviews with the author, at The Rumpus and The Economist.

Conversation Starters

A couple of questions you might like to consider:

What do you think of Lee’s use of landscape in the story? Is this more than just a physical journey for the brothers?

How well does the structure of “Drifting House” work for you?

Next time: on 14 October, we’ll be discussing “Isobel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring” by M. John Harrison. See the full schedule.


  1. This is definitely the saddest story of the Sunday Story Society so far! So many moving, sad moments.

    I admire Lee’s economical yet vividly descriptive prose. There are some beautiful images. I thought the ambiguity of the ending, and the ambiguity of the ghost of Gukhwa were expertly handled. I was also impressed by the way the bonds of love vs. reality (of deprivation; of the killing) are drawn in the boys’ family. Lee’s writing feels attentive and subtle. It’s also polished and controlled, i.e. she doesn’t appear to me to be doing anything new with language or the form. That’s OK for many when a story is as satisfying and well rendered as this one.

    I’ve also listened to her BBC NSSA short-listed story, The Goose Father, this month and I think that’s from the Drifting House collection too. I get the impression she often uses this controlled poetic voice to portray the lives of her characters. The moment in The Goose Father when the older man first sees his new lodger, where Lee seems to manage to foreshadow everything in the story in a few words, appears typical of her skill.

    Re: Conversation Starters

    Landscape: Not sure what my response is on this one, except that she’s made the environment as harsh as possible by setting it in winter. We learn that this is necessary for the journey so they can cross the frozen river. Whether this extends into symbolism i.e. you need to be frozen/hostile to survive I’m not sure, what else do you mean by this? I also note that they are unwittingly following in their mother’s footsteps in more ways than one. We are told they are travelling on the same trail she happened to take: ‘the brothers moved without knowledge in the path their mother had embarked on a month ago’. This is also a good example of Lee’s control of narration and POV.

    Structure: The journey, one of the oldest structures, of course! Except Lee drains it of the humour and high adventure often associated with it and seems to foreshadow a blankness, of the characters being beyond hope despite their concrete goal and even when they glimpse the Chinese city. Interested to hear what else there is to be said about the structure.

    Every time I re-read this story or think more about it, I find more to admire and like.

    Look forward to hearing others’ thoughts.

  2. Comprehensive comments, Eva, Thank you. I can’t think of anything to add which is just as well as I’m struggling timewise just to keep up with the reading, never mind analysing.

    One day, when life calms down a bit, David, I’ll start to contribute properly. But for now, this wins my vote for best story so far and I’ve added the Lee’s collection to my to-be-got-hold-of-asap wishlist.

  3. Thanks, Lizzy! I know what you mean about lack of time, it’s such a struggle to fit things in sometimes. I look forward to your contributions in future when you get the chance. Really tempted to add Lee’s collection to my wishlist as well!

  4. Sorry I’m late! Wow, this was a harrowing but beautiful story. I find that when describing the indescribable, like starving and being abandoned by your parents and killing your own sister, the soft, poetic voice works really well. The events themselves are so harsh that they seem to need that contrast, like a covering of snow, to make them bearable and also in a way more powerful. If the language was trying to exaggerate or call attention to the harshness, it wouldn’t work at all.

    I agree with Eva’s points on landscape – it seems to add to the feeling of being frozen, desperate, bleak. The journey reminds me a bit of the journey in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – one undertaken based on vague rumours, containing little hope and considerable danger, its only virtue being that it’s better than staying behind.

    Hadn’t come across this writer or collection before, so thanks for introducing me to it, David! Certainly one to look out for.

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