This account of a young woman begins as a New Adult story, in college, but as the rest of the year unfolds, college is left behind due to the effect of a relationship on the narrator. While she doesn’t give her name, the troubled young woman is descended from a British expedition leader who hoped to find THE INLAND SEA in Australia’s red heart.
Like John Oxley, the explorer of the past, our narrator calls to mind bodies of water, failed expeditions and the ever-hotter desert. She works in Sydney where her life keeps just ticking over, along with friends such as Clemmie, but stress increases due to being an emergency dispatch operator. While in Sydney the dangers are from car accidents and random men, the wider countryside alarms also sound in her ears. Fire, smoke, bushfire, the continent is alight.
The return of Lachlan, her college boyfriend, is fraught with pain. And he’s seeing another girl, Cara. Self-centred and greedy, giving himself worldly airs, he doesn’t have a problem with an affair. The drinking and non-constructive relationships of this young woman could be blamed on her parents’ difficult marriage and separation. But young people today have the resources to grow beyond such upbringing and be their own persons. This lady is consciously an anti-heroine, making bad decisions despite good advice not once or twice but many times. We are left to conclude that her life mirrors the climate crisis she sees building, in which thousand-year storms lash the country three years apart, and the omnicidal massive fires occur despite the denial of the coal-diggers and groundwater-frackers.
Readers who enjoy women’s fiction and don’t mind strong language will certainly find THE INLAND SEA an interesting read. Symbolism of sea snakes and water bodies mixes with the practicalities of suburban rental homes, grounding us firmly in the present. Because this is the present, and we are all living through the bad choices of our generation. Author Madeleine Watts has previously contributed short stories to Australian fiction anthologies. She grew up in Sydney but now works in New York, and has gained a Masters in creative writing from Columbia University.
In this "eloquent debut," a young Australian woman unable to find her footing in the world begins to break down when the emergencies she hears working as a 911 operator and the troubles within her own life gradually blur together, forcing her to grapple with how the past has shaped her present (Publishers Weekly).
Drifting after her final year in college, a young writer begins working part-time as an emergency dispatch operator in Sydney. Over the course of an eight-hour shift, she is dropped into hundreds of crises, hearing only pieces of each. Callers report car accidents and violent spouses and homes caught up in flame.
The work becomes monotonous: answer, transfer, repeat. And yet the stress of listening to far-off disasters seeps into her personal life, and she begins walking home with keys in hand, ready to fight off men disappointed by what they find in neighboring bars. During her free time, she gets black-out drunk, hooks up with strangers, and navigates an affair with an ex-lover whose girlfriend is in their circle of friends.
Two centuries earlier, her great-great-great-great-grandfather-the British explorer John Oxley-traversed the wilderness of Australia in search of water. Oxley never found the inland sea, but the myth was taken up by other men, and over the years, search parties walked out into the desert, dying as they tried to find it.
Interweaving a woman's self-destructive unraveling with the gradual worsening of the climate crisis, The Inland Sea is charged with unflinching insight into our age of anxiety. At a time when wildfires have swept an entire continent, this novel asks what refuge and comfort looks like in a constant state of emergency.