An eerie and dreamy in one moment only to become very blunt and down-to-earth in another. Madeleine Watts wields the language firmly in her debut novel. It is a tale of crisis, despair, being lost, but also finding one’s way in a world that doesn’t offer much consolation. Personal and climate crises constantly intertwine in this story and amplify one another.
Yet another one from my book boxes. Finally, after tough selection I am down to only one subscription box I decided to stick to: Books That Matter. I found that they surprise me the most and bring me the most joy, by pushing me out of my reading comfort zone.
We never find out our narrator’s name, but we know she is a young woman just out of university. She lives in Australia and is a descendant of John Oxley, a 19th-century British explorer who traversed the continent in the futile search of the inland sea. Not able to deal with her past traumas and difficult breakup our narrator works as an emergency operator. A job that only seems to exacerbate her struggle. For many hours each day she is exposed to other people’s tragedies and crises, while not being able to even deal with her own. As the fires rage in Australia, she gets more and more distraught calls, which bring back the memories of the childhood flight from a fire.
Her life is becoming very restricted, as she works, drinks and parties with mostly strangers and then cures her hangovers. It’s a life that feels suffocating and aimless, and that’s something she cannot deal with, but cannot stop either. This vicious circle of apathy and self-harm. As we spend time with her, especially when she’s walking through the nights or sitting in her room we get to know her backstory, which, as traumatic as it is, isn’t unusual.
Thankfully, finally, something snaps, and she makes a decision. We’ll never find out whether it’ll be a good one, but the fact that she’s decided something is already a relief.
Throughout the book, we also learn about her ancestor’s search for the inland sea, which as futile as it was wasn’t entirely crazy. I have to admit, I had no idea about the Great Artesian Basin, so that was an interesting learning. And as Watts mentions at some point Oxley was not wrong about there being an inland sea, he was just in the wrong time.
I enjoyed the language of the book a lot, and it’s dystopian dreaminess, but it is similar to several other books in the subject of lost and drifting protagonist who is unable to deal with their life. Just to name one example: Skin by E.M. Reapy.
Not a book that shook my world, but a good read, and I did learn a thing or two from it.
Here are some other reviews, to give you more points of view:
Selected quotes form The Inland Sea
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska