The Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts
Published March 5th 2020 by ONE
In the early 19th century, British explorer John Oxley traversed the then-unknown wilderness of central Australia in search of water. Oxley never found it, but the myth of ‘the inland sea’ was taken up by other men, and over the years search parties walked out into the desert, dying as they tried to find it.
Two centuries later, Oxley’s great-great-great granddaughter is reeling from her own self-destructive obsessions – drinking heavily, sleeping with strangers, wandering Sydney’s streets at night, and navigating an affair with an ex-lover. She works as an emergency-dispatch operator, tracking the violence, floods and fires that bloom and rage across Australia during an increasingly unstable year. Reckless and adrift, she prepares to leave.
The Inland Sea is a fierce and beautiful novel about coming of age in a dying world.
Trigger warnings: abusive relationships, cheating, sexual harassment and assault, mentions of murder, car accidents and bushfires, abortion.
The Inland Sea feels like such a difficult book to talk about, but I also feel like it deserves a full-length review, so here goes nothing.
I suppose the reason it feels like such a difficult book to talk about is that it feels incredibly personal. I feel like I’ve really seen into the narrator’s soul and at times that was kind of confronting. There were times when I wanted to put the book down because everything feels so raw and real. It was really Watts’ writing that kept me going.
With it being such a personal story, it means also a lot of really tough and triggering moments in here. I felt almost like I was watching a friend live through this—I could tell where it was heading but there was nothing I could do to stop it. I have to admit that at times the narrator stressed me out because I just wanted to scream at her to do something, to look after herself. Most of the time I could understand why the narrator was doing what she was, even if I didn’t agree with her actions, but there were also a few moments that really tested my empathy for her. I wouldn’t say that she’s a bad narrator by any means, but I wouldn’t call her a likable one either.
I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to hear more about John Oxley—the narrator’s great-great-great grandfather, who was an explorer looking for this ‘inland sea’ in central Australia. From the summary I was kind of expecting a dual perspective, rather than just a few passages here and there. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the book more with that or not, but I think it could’ve made a very interesting narrative and added even more depth to the female narrator.
All in all, while this is certainly not an easy book, it’s definitely worth a read.