The Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts

‘The open wilderness of adulthood stretched ahead like so much wasteland.’

Two hundred years ago, British explorer John Oxley travelled west in Australia looking for an inland sea. He never found it, but myth of an inland sea led others to explore, and some to their deaths.

Now, in the present, John Oxley’s great-great-great granddaughter is drifting. She works as an emergency dispatch operator in Sydney answering and directing triple zero calls. In the wider Australian world, disaster follows disaster: heat, flood, tremor, and wildfire. In her world, she drifts between self-destructive behaviours. She (we don’t learn her name) might feel safe in the water, but her world is increasingly unstable.

‘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 each the lifebuoys.’

She treats her anxiety by self-medicating with alcohol, by risky encounters, by seeking detachment. If the world is dying, what hope do people have? What will the future look like? Will her happiness be as elusive as the inland sea?

The novel finishes, with our young narrator preparing to flee from Australia. Will she find what she needs?

What an uncomfortable, thought-provoking read this is. I am left wondering …

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



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