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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. Drifting after her final year in college, a young writer begins working part-time as an emergency dispa 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. 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.


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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. Drifting after her final year in college, a young writer begins working part-time as an emergency dispa 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. 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.

30 review for The Inland Sea

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)

    Incredibly clever premise behind this book that grabbed my attention immediately - a narrative connecting a colonial explorer, John Oxley, who imagined an inland sea within Australia, and a contemporary coming-of-age narrative from the perspective of his great-great-great-great granddaughter. What I enjoyed most were the way place was written (sensory and visceral and brimming with beauty in the finest details), and the musings on climate change that I felt most connected the two narratives - th Incredibly clever premise behind this book that grabbed my attention immediately - a narrative connecting a colonial explorer, John Oxley, who imagined an inland sea within Australia, and a contemporary coming-of-age narrative from the perspective of his great-great-great-great granddaughter. What I enjoyed most were the way place was written (sensory and visceral and brimming with beauty in the finest details), and the musings on climate change that I felt most connected the two narratives - there’s a quote I love about Oxley not being wrong per se about the inland sea that he was never able to find, just that he was too late to see it in the thousands of years before his time when the landscape of the country was different, and too early to see the early effects of climate change and how that was changing the land too. I wish there been more connecting the narratives as I often felt I was left reaching for more in those moments (the scenes with water snakes, for example). I really enjoyed the complexity written into the protagonist - her literal perspective as an emergency dispatcher was one that worked particularly well in exploring some key thematic reflections (feminine fear, existentialist thinking, for example) and I really enjoyed the way dialogue with her colleagues was written, it had a really organic flow without even needing a littering of punctuation. I did find some of her trajectory and plot (no spoilers, but around her “health” and flippancy about her own wellbeing particularly) written on a way that didn’t tether my empathy as a reader with her. I think if there’s been a stronger connection with Oxley’s narrative it may have worked a little better and purposefully for me. Still a book I’d highly recommend and a writer I’m very excited to read more from. It’s also (oddly 😂) made me want to read more Patrick White (I read A Fringe of Leaves in my undergrad studies, and after reading a LitHub piece by Watts on her admiration for his work, I definitely need to read more by him when I can find it here in the US!)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    A bleak book about a young woman's life slowly falling apart as climate-driven disasters loom. There's a desperation to this book that resonated with me - the struggle to find meaning when the future looks so bleak and the temptation to push beyond boundaries to try to feel something. There's a grubbiness to the city and to the characters' lives that reminded me of Andrew McGahan's Praise, with the added desperation of climate-induced societal breakdown. There were times where it felt maybe *too A bleak book about a young woman's life slowly falling apart as climate-driven disasters loom. There's a desperation to this book that resonated with me - the struggle to find meaning when the future looks so bleak and the temptation to push beyond boundaries to try to feel something. There's a grubbiness to the city and to the characters' lives that reminded me of Andrew McGahan's Praise, with the added desperation of climate-induced societal breakdown. There were times where it felt maybe *too* autobiographical and I'm not sure the Oxley inland sea sections really worked, but it's an impressively assured debut.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    “Emergency police fire, or ambulance?” The young female narrator of this debut novel lives in Sydney and works for Australia’s emergency call service. Over her phone headset she gets appalling glimpses into people’s worst moments: a woman cowers from her abusive partner; a teen watches his body-boarding friend being attacked by a shark. Although she strives for detachment, her job can’t fail to add to her anxiety – already soaring due to the country’s flooding and bush fires. Against that backdro “Emergency police fire, or ambulance?” The young female narrator of this debut novel lives in Sydney and works for Australia’s emergency call service. Over her phone headset she gets appalling glimpses into people’s worst moments: a woman cowers from her abusive partner; a teen watches his body-boarding friend being attacked by a shark. Although she strives for detachment, her job can’t fail to add to her anxiety – already soaring due to the country’s flooding and bush fires. Against that backdrop of natural disasters, a series of minor personal catastrophes play out. The narrator is obsessed with a rape/murder case that’s dominating the television news, and narrowly escapes sexual assault herself. She drinks to excess, keeps hooking up with her ex-boyfriend, Lachlan, even after he gets a new girlfriend, and seems to think abortion and the morning after pill are suitable methods of birth control. Irresponsible to the point of self-sabotage, she’s planning a move to London but in the meantime is drifting through life, resigned to the fact that there is no unassailable shelter and no surefire way to avoid risk. The title comes from the quest of John Oxley (presented here as the narrator’s ancestor), who in 1817 searched for a water body in the Australian interior. Quotations from his journals and discussions of the work of Patrick White, the subject of Lachlan’s PhD thesis, speak to the search for an Australian identity. But the inland sea is also the individual psyche, contradictory and ultimately unknowable. Like a more melancholy version of Jenny Offill’s Weather or a more cosmic autofiction than Yara Rodrigues Fowler’s Stubborn Archivist, this is a timely, quietly forceful story of how women cope with concrete and existential threats. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    2021 Reading Women Challenge #19: Cover designed by a woman. (Jaya Miceli - she is amazing and has definitely designed books you’ve seen and probably some books you’ve read too - and probably her cover helped make you want to read it.) (I only loved this book on the outside, unfortunately.)

  5. 4 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    “The open wilderness of adulthood stretched ahead like so much wasteland,” states the unnamed narrator, a recent university graduate in Sydney and aspiring writer, on page one. Every page seems to have a motif, metaphor, or parallel in this eco-climate-fiction bildungsroman. This red-haired, ironic, vulnerable, and reckless young protagonist spends the searing heat-wave summer of 2013 answering calls at a distress dispatch center, answering, “Emergency police, fire, or ambulance,” making sure to “The open wilderness of adulthood stretched ahead like so much wasteland,” states the unnamed narrator, a recent university graduate in Sydney and aspiring writer, on page one. Every page seems to have a motif, metaphor, or parallel in this eco-climate-fiction bildungsroman. This red-haired, ironic, vulnerable, and reckless young protagonist spends the searing heat-wave summer of 2013 answering calls at a distress dispatch center, answering, “Emergency police, fire, or ambulance,” making sure to keep her voice neutral and impersonal. She’s the thrice-great granddaughter of John Oxley, an explorer from the 1800s who spent much of his life searching for the mythical inland sea of Australia (millions of years too late—as it had dried up that long ago). That mythical inland sea is now a dry, hot red centre. The protagonist indulges in blackout drinking, unprotected sex, and hazardous hook ups with an ex- whom she fictionally named Lachlan, like the sea that Oxley traveled. Oxley and his ilk, who “believed in the warm, wet center opening its legs out there is the heart of the dead, dry country,” is a perfect parallel of the male violence to the land during 19th century exploration, and the predatory male that is often accepted now, by women who “ask for it,” as the narrator hears a co-worker spew. There’s a lot of symmetry in this novel that ties the narrator’s body to bodies of land and water. Bodies hot, planet ringed with fire. And everyone/thing defies their parameters. As she saves up to leave Australia for California, a place she chose “because it is nothing to do with me,” she engages in evermore self-destructive behavior as she recollects key events of her childhood—her father’s drug-addiction, his abuse of her mother, her mother’s heavy drinking, land destruction in the fires of '94, and the protagonist’s current precarious but regulated relationship with her mother now. Although the climate disasters of 2013 are heady, I was swept away with how Watts drew the portrait of her main character—so intimate and also simultaneously veiled and apart, especially dispossessed of herself. She knew that she was reckless—the bruises on her body from sex, chunks of hair loss from stress, and her emotional state from being with her ex, and yet she tries to treat it all as endurable. Lachlan is an insufferable, indecisive young man, who sleeps beneath a poster of Patrick White. He is also a struggling writer, and holds her back emotionally, as she allows it. Simultaneously restrained and yet lacking boundaries in this endless summer of emergencies, “Emergency police, fire, or ambulance.” You could write a thesis on this novel, heavy with allusions and paradox, but teeming on every page, I feel, with the narrator’s search for safety in the danger, a strong line not to cross. “My mother could not give me a self-contained narrative. ...In a narrative there would be a clear ending. The scene would fade to black, the curtain would come down, the paragraph would break. ...But our lives contain no line breaks...real life is just sheer bloody continuity.” “The excruciating thing is that time carries on and you love them anyway.” Watts brilliantly closes in on the theme of bodies and boundaries, both personal and earthly, and the accelerating crisis in both. Male predators, casual misogyny, penetration. We’ve ravaged the land, and climate crisis is raging with disasters; the young woman is calling out soundlessly for help as she watches this unfold. The heat climbs and fires jump their containments. No boundaries, no safety. Hair on fire. A phenomenal novel I could read again and again and get something new out of it every time. I barely touched the surface here.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette (Again)

    The future is coming, and it doesn't look good. This author has some impressive writing chops, so it was worth reading the book just for that. But the plot doesn't really go anywhere. Basically, we have an unnamed narrator, a young Australian woman, who is concerned about the looming consequences of climate change. Apparently she has decided to drown her worries in drunkenness and promiscuity. She pretty much screws any guy who's interested. She has a job as a Triple Zero operator (like 911 in A The future is coming, and it doesn't look good. This author has some impressive writing chops, so it was worth reading the book just for that. But the plot doesn't really go anywhere. Basically, we have an unnamed narrator, a young Australian woman, who is concerned about the looming consequences of climate change. Apparently she has decided to drown her worries in drunkenness and promiscuity. She pretty much screws any guy who's interested. She has a job as a Triple Zero operator (like 911 in America), which causes her even more anxiety, resulting in even more drinking and random sex. And chlamydia. And morning-after pills. And a decision to make a drastic change in her life, which I hope will shake her out of her malaise and make her reconsider risky behaviors.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kate Cuthbert

    The writing in this novel is exquisite and I very much look forward to seeing what Madeleine Watts does next, but this languid story of a young woman coming apart over a hot Sydney summer didn't work for me. The two central metaphors: the expedition for the inland sea and the escalating climate crisis were not realised in any meaningful way, which set the core narrative adrift. I also found the central tension uneven. As a result, while I can recognise the technical skill with which this novel i The writing in this novel is exquisite and I very much look forward to seeing what Madeleine Watts does next, but this languid story of a young woman coming apart over a hot Sydney summer didn't work for me. The two central metaphors: the expedition for the inland sea and the escalating climate crisis were not realised in any meaningful way, which set the core narrative adrift. I also found the central tension uneven. As a result, while I can recognise the technical skill with which this novel is written, I never connected with the story.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

    What a wild novel. I'm not sure that it succeeds perfectly at everything it attempts to do but it attempts so much. The climate change and gendered violence connection was, at times, a bit reductive and more could have been done (e.g. anything) to confront the recurrent Eurocentric view of the environment throughout the novel. But at the end of the day, it's given me a lot to think about and I have just not been able to get this book off my mind. Absolutely electric writing and I'll be looking t What a wild novel. I'm not sure that it succeeds perfectly at everything it attempts to do but it attempts so much. The climate change and gendered violence connection was, at times, a bit reductive and more could have been done (e.g. anything) to confront the recurrent Eurocentric view of the environment throughout the novel. But at the end of the day, it's given me a lot to think about and I have just not been able to get this book off my mind. Absolutely electric writing and I'll be looking to pick up whatever Watts puts out next.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lel Budge

    Set in Australia, the narrator has just finished university and gets a job in an emergency dispatch call centre. Where she has drifted along in her safe little world, she starts to feel there is danger around every corner. She meets an ex, Lachlan and wonders what if? What could be? This is a tale of love, loss, loneliness and the daily fear of things beyond our control. It is a beautifully written, almost poetic tale of a young woman and her coming of age, her realisation that the world is slowl Set in Australia, the narrator has just finished university and gets a job in an emergency dispatch call centre. Where she has drifted along in her safe little world, she starts to feel there is danger around every corner. She meets an ex, Lachlan and wonders what if? What could be? This is a tale of love, loss, loneliness and the daily fear of things beyond our control. It is a beautifully written, almost poetic tale of a young woman and her coming of age, her realisation that the world is slowly falling apart. From climate change, Bush fires, personal drama and an overall feeling of disquiet. I found this to be a gentle read, dreamy but with this feeling of unease too. Brilliant, thought provoking, slightly melancholy and really gently captivating. Thank you to Poppy Stimpson at Pushkin Press for the opportunity to read The Inland Sea for free. This is my honest and unbiased review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    THE INLAND SEA by Madeleine Watts is an absorbing debut novel! We follow a young Australian woman as she navigates her life after college and a pseudo break up while working at an emergency call centre. Throughout the book the anxiety intensifies as we learn about her past, her ongoing life choices and the climate change that affects everything. The writing took a bit to get used to as there are no quotation marks used for the dialogue but I liked the symmetry in the way her life unfolded to the THE INLAND SEA by Madeleine Watts is an absorbing debut novel! We follow a young Australian woman as she navigates her life after college and a pseudo break up while working at an emergency call centre. Throughout the book the anxiety intensifies as we learn about her past, her ongoing life choices and the climate change that affects everything. The writing took a bit to get used to as there are no quotation marks used for the dialogue but I liked the symmetry in the way her life unfolded to the weather disasters to her work. Watts is a talented writer to make me care about this character even though I didn’t agree with her choices. It was interesting to read about life in Australia and I would definitely read Watt’s next book! . Thank you to Catapult for this review copy!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carlos

    I have never have read a book so sharp, with words so pointy that hurt all over your skin, crawling inside you. Madeleine has written a fine description of a woman in turmoil, with a fire raging inside her and nowhere in sight is a bucket of water to extinguish it. I would love to read more fine voices from down under if they are as focused and clear as the voice that is driving this narrative. Good read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cass Moriarty

    The Inland Sea (One / Pushkin Press 2020), the debut novel by Madeleine Watts, is not at all what I expected. From the blurb, I was prepared for an historical story about explorer John Oxley travailing the wilderness of central Australia in the 19th century, searching for water and the myth of the inland sea, but rather than this being the central tenet of the story, it is only a touchstone for the main narrative which is set in the present day and concerns Oxley’s great-great-great-granddaughte The Inland Sea (One / Pushkin Press 2020), the debut novel by Madeleine Watts, is not at all what I expected. From the blurb, I was prepared for an historical story about explorer John Oxley travailing the wilderness of central Australia in the 19th century, searching for water and the myth of the inland sea, but rather than this being the central tenet of the story, it is only a touchstone for the main narrative which is set in the present day and concerns Oxley’s great-great-great-granddaughter and her search for meaning in a 20-something coming of age story. While Watts does refer back periodically to the historical aspect, it is a way of saying something profound about humanity’s search for that which eludes us, and our frequent optimism that there is something ‘out there’ if only we could find it. This book reminded me very much of Ronnie Scott’s recent novel The Adversary, and if you enjoyed that, you will almost certainly like The Inland Sea. The language is beautiful – literary, languid prose that meanders along from time to time, and from place to place, stepping lightly over the structure of plot and concentrating more on the stream of consciousness revelations of the characters. In fact, in terms of plot, not much happens – the book is more about connections, thought and ruminations. There is one particularly beautiful page that stood out for me – page 123. It begins: ‘Certain promises are made to us as children. Only in adulthood does it begin to dawn on us that many of those promises cannot be kept.’ It continues until the final paragraph: ‘But our lives contain no line breaks. Our experiences are so frequently unbearable to us because real life is just sheer bloody continuity. The excruciating thing is not to have witnessed the person you love commit, upon your person or another’s, an unforgiveable act. The excruciating thing is that time carries on and you love them anyway.’ I found this whole section quite profound. The protagonist works as a call centre operator for triple zero, and the ongoing daily drama of emergencies remains the backdrop to her own life of self-destructive behaviours, drinking too much, sleeping with strangers and continuing an on again / off again affair with a man she knows is not good for her. The novel also charts her sexuality and problems with contraception (or the result of its lack) – another area of her life that seems to spin beyond her control. The ties between the triple zero emergencies and the increasing fires, floods and violence of nature that seem to be escalating are also explored. There is a section towards the end that focuses on climate change and environmental disaster and it felt somewhat tacked on, almost as if the author decided to include that aspect as an afterthought; I could see what she was doing but don’t feel that it quite worked. But despite that, this novel is eloquent and contemplative, at times dreamlike and at other times full of frank and unflinching questioning. It is a novel about yearning and longing, both for what we imagine might be out there and for what we think we might want. The thirst of the early explorers is replicated in the thirst of the contemporary characters for all the seemingly unattainable desires in their lives. It is a study of character and, like The Adversary, of the many small details that make up a life; the myriad decisions, thoughts and behaviours that map out our path.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    "The Inland Sea" by Madeleine Watts is the story of a young woman who is in crisis, against the backdrop of a planet that is also in crisis due to climate change. Though the writing was exquisite, there really wasn't much of a plot and I had a difficult time figuring out the point of it all. I really wanted to love this book because of the top-notch writing, but much of the story felt random and disconnected to me. I think others will absolutely love this book, but because I prefer more of a plo "The Inland Sea" by Madeleine Watts is the story of a young woman who is in crisis, against the backdrop of a planet that is also in crisis due to climate change. Though the writing was exquisite, there really wasn't much of a plot and I had a difficult time figuring out the point of it all. I really wanted to love this book because of the top-notch writing, but much of the story felt random and disconnected to me. I think others will absolutely love this book, but because I prefer more of a plot, it just wasn't for me.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Unsettling. The main character was not relatable to me at first, but as the story progressed that changed. The lines blurred between reality and fiction as well as history and future. To be honest I wasn't expecting so much depth to this book. I guess it snuck up on me. Keep thinking about Oxley and his theories as well as the suggestion that he was both too late and too early. Aren't we all? My copy was provided by NetGalley for review. Unsettling. The main character was not relatable to me at first, but as the story progressed that changed. The lines blurred between reality and fiction as well as history and future. To be honest I wasn't expecting so much depth to this book. I guess it snuck up on me. Keep thinking about Oxley and his theories as well as the suggestion that he was both too late and too early. Aren't we all? My copy was provided by NetGalley for review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Susie Anderson

    i read in this the kind of intimate honesty about place that is only possible from a distance. while it's one of the best aspects of this book, perhaps it was demonstrated through fashionable and thus cold prose that occasionally got me offside. there is no real warmth or redemption in this book, and i liked it. i read in this the kind of intimate honesty about place that is only possible from a distance. while it's one of the best aspects of this book, perhaps it was demonstrated through fashionable and thus cold prose that occasionally got me offside. there is no real warmth or redemption in this book, and i liked it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Athene Alleck

    I really wanted to love this book. The descriptions of Sydney were brilliant- like old photos ... but the story was lost, the pain sharp but confusing, and the references to the inland sea & history & climate change felt random.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chookychook

    This could of been a interesting book about Australia - it's history, climate, natural disasters, the treatment of women. I loathed Lachlan and felt repulsed about the narrators self obsession & narcissism. Rebel without a cause. This could of been a interesting book about Australia - it's history, climate, natural disasters, the treatment of women. I loathed Lachlan and felt repulsed about the narrators self obsession & narcissism. Rebel without a cause.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Char Furniss

    A very clever book. Some really lovely writing. Not one for people who need a really meaty plot, it was lacking in this respect. Some really important issues that were linked together in a very interesting way.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Miina Saarna

    A beautiful book!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    I have spent remarkably little time reading books over Christmas, thanks to a sudden addiction to The Untamed (a Chinese TV series about beautiful wizards). This was the last book I finished before that kicked in and it didn't quite live up to my hopes. I am always eager for climate change fiction and the blurb of 'The Inland Sea' was very appealing. However, it implied that the narrative would parallel John Oxley (a 19th century explorer who hypothesised the inland sea of the title) with his gr I have spent remarkably little time reading books over Christmas, thanks to a sudden addiction to The Untamed (a Chinese TV series about beautiful wizards). This was the last book I finished before that kicked in and it didn't quite live up to my hopes. I am always eager for climate change fiction and the blurb of 'The Inland Sea' was very appealing. However, it implied that the narrative would parallel John Oxley (a 19th century explorer who hypothesised the inland sea of the title) with his great-great-great granddaughter (an emergency dispatch operator). This was not the case, John Oxley is hardly mentioned and the plot is entirely set in a pre-pandemic now. It is rather like a female version of Solar and The Lamentations of Zeno - both novels that purport to be about climate change but are really centre on an individual's unfortunate life choices. The protagonist of 'The Inland Sea' is highly self-destructive, constantly drinking heavily and having unprotected sex. Her job gives her insight into the destructiveness of increasingly extreme weather; these parts of the book were vivid and compelling. Her disastrous personal life, seemingly linked to childhood trauma, was simply depressing. As a reader I reacted much like her close female friends: The frustrating thing from Maeve's perspective was that interventions from one's friends on behalf of morality, or goodness, or our well-being, matter so very little. I know now as I did then that it was incredibly fucking stupid to be sleeping with him again. And I know that our friends have little sympathy when we stick our hand in the fire again, when they've nursed us through the burns the first time around. Because why? It's never easy to say, because I want it, and have that be enough. I could have explained that I knew I wouldn't last, indeed, I didn't expect it to. I didn't expect it would end well, or that we wouldn't hurt one another. It was simply that I didn't care. Re-reading that, maybe her love life is supposed to be an extended metaphor for climate change? If so, in this metaphor heterosexuality is capitalism. Perhaps I was reading the whole thing too literally. It seemed to invite that with visceral details, though. I did appreciate the writing, despite expecting more of a parallel between history and present. I wish Watts had done more with the fascinating concept that gives the novel its title: And so Sturt proposed an expedition into the interior. Twenty-seven years after Oxley's journey, Sturt, filled with conviction, led an expedition into the desert along with a twenty-five-foot whaleboat and two ex-sailors to man it. The wastes got barren and the rivers petered out into salt plains, but Sturt was ever hopeful. Space was made for conquering. The desert had to be other than empty. The river must flow backwards for a reason. And so his men died. On balance, I found 'The Inland Sea' interesting but don't think it succeeds as a climate change novel. I much preferred Weather by Jenny Offill, which is quite similar in style but more insightful.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    "The open wilderness of adulthood stretched ahead like so much wasteland." This novel really got me. I'm a similar age to the protagonist, am a writer (of sorts) like her, have had similar experiences with men, and I live in Sydney. I was geared to enjoy this before I even started and I very much did. Though it took some commitment for me to really get into, Watts absolutely nails the slow-burning dread of facing a future that's likely to be severely compromised if not destroyed by climate change "The open wilderness of adulthood stretched ahead like so much wasteland." This novel really got me. I'm a similar age to the protagonist, am a writer (of sorts) like her, have had similar experiences with men, and I live in Sydney. I was geared to enjoy this before I even started and I very much did. Though it took some commitment for me to really get into, Watts absolutely nails the slow-burning dread of facing a future that's likely to be severely compromised if not destroyed by climate change - which is something I think about every fucking day. Her detailed vision of Sydney after a two-degree spike in temperatures toward the end left me reeling and wide-eyed, and I felt like maybe it was the crux of the book. Because truly, how are we meant to grapple with the future and navigate our relationships with any sense of long-term stability? The Inland Sea goes some of the way to show how one young woman might, drawing historical parallels between her own yearning and need for something more and her colonial ancestor's doomed venture into the heart of Australia to find a mythical sea that would give the fraught colonial project a more noble purpose. "It made sense that there would be an inland sea. It adhered to fundamental theories of balance. Men like Oxley and Maslen assumed that the land was proportional. When it was at least understood that there was no Eden, no inland sea, that westward the course of Empire would never make its way, and that the island continent did not align with any prevailing theory of reason, then it was felt, if not made a point of law, that the land was just as wild as the kind of woman who's asking for it." There's a lot of commentary within about English settlement in Australia being manifestly cancerous, deeply exploitative, and doomed too. I've read a bit about intergenerational trauma in Indigenous Australians, so it was interesting to read of the murky flip side: how the female ancestor of John Oxley might still be burdened with his legacy of unquenchable and actually fatal thirst for meaning. And of course she would be - Australia is as 'untameable' now as it was then. To live here is still to live on stolen, hurting land. The parallels between then and now that Watts makes throughout the novel are really compelling and alarming, and take on a feminist existential edge that hit many, many nerves for me. "A look of doubt came across my mother's face. It was all there in her expression. The knowledge that a person can become lost in their life, how you might swim in the waters and reach for the lifebuoys but never be rescued, might drown out there in the dark ocean of your choices." Other notes of appreciation: The protagonist is a bit of an asshole, but an honest one (On having an affair with an ex-lover who's cheating on his new girlfriend with her: "It's never easy to say, because I want it, and have that be enough."). I feel I grew to understand her actions well and could sort of imagine being her friend, actually. Also, Watts' ability to evoke Sydney's different localities was really well done, though I can imagine the frequent references to specific streets and places might be a bit grating to somebody who wasn't already familiar with them. That aside, her skill in description is rich and lush and deeply evocative. I enjoyed this book so much and will be revisiting it later.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Freya Robinson-Balchin

    This book was not what I thought it was going to be. As someone who loves books by Deborah Levy and Sally Rooney, even I found this way too slow and the narrator far too self-centred. There were too many themes that the author included and failed to coherently connect any of them properly to the narrative. Also felt it was in poor taste to the bring up colonialist explorers with almost zero reference to the aboriginal people of Australia and their way of life then and how that is now. It was a p This book was not what I thought it was going to be. As someone who loves books by Deborah Levy and Sally Rooney, even I found this way too slow and the narrator far too self-centred. There were too many themes that the author included and failed to coherently connect any of them properly to the narrative. Also felt it was in poor taste to the bring up colonialist explorers with almost zero reference to the aboriginal people of Australia and their way of life then and how that is now. It was a painfully middle-class, white-centric narrative. The whole book fell flat for me, and just felt disappointing.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rose Gray

    This book unapologetically holds the mirror of destruction up to our selfish civilisations faces. “Emergency police, fire or ambulance?” Whilst following the mundane life of a seemingly troubled emergency call operator, you cannot help sympathise (especially as a female) to the normalised evils women face in everyday society. As the temperatures rise and cities flood, the narrator is trying to stay afloat whilst longing to drown. An honest, pityingly sad story of climate change and self destructio This book unapologetically holds the mirror of destruction up to our selfish civilisations faces. “Emergency police, fire or ambulance?” Whilst following the mundane life of a seemingly troubled emergency call operator, you cannot help sympathise (especially as a female) to the normalised evils women face in everyday society. As the temperatures rise and cities flood, the narrator is trying to stay afloat whilst longing to drown. An honest, pityingly sad story of climate change and self destruction.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Fern Timpson

    Just wasn't really my thing. As others have said there isn't much plot, which isn't a bad thing in principle, and the book was the right length considering that (not too long). It also had ideas and themes that sound good individually (themes of climate change and her heritage as the descendant of a great explorer) but I personally thought the trying-to-link-them-together was forced and disjointed at times. Just wasn't really my thing. As others have said there isn't much plot, which isn't a bad thing in principle, and the book was the right length considering that (not too long). It also had ideas and themes that sound good individually (themes of climate change and her heritage as the descendant of a great explorer) but I personally thought the trying-to-link-them-together was forced and disjointed at times.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shannon A

    The moments are uncomfortable & raw contrast to the beautiful imagery in this novel; as an explorer looks for a body of water the protagonist attempts to find safety and peace with her own body by recklessly living her life. One of the most brilliantly woven novels I’ve read in a long time.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rosie Hunt

    A moody, contemplative novel. Some breathtaking writing, weaving the impact of climate change into a young woman’s very personal story.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lauren (Cook's Books)

    The Australian tourism board should have suppressed this book

  28. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    A beautiful book about “coming of age in a dying world”

  29. 5 out of 5

    Maddie Woda

    So excited for this book to come out! Such a fascinating, fresh take on climate fiction.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Noelle

    If this is set in Australia, she wouldn't be a 911 Operator. That number doesn't exist here. Odd. If this is set in Australia, she wouldn't be a 911 Operator. That number doesn't exist here. Odd.

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