The inland sea A novel

Madeleine Watts

Book - 2021

"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. The work itself becomes monotonous. And yet the stress of listening to far-off disasters seeps into her personal life, and she begins drinking heavily, sleeping with strangers, having an affair with an ex-lover. Interwoven with the woman's self-destructive unrav...eling is the story of how, 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. With a life unraveling and the gradual worsening of the climate crisis, this book is charged with unflinching insight into our age of anxiety. At a time when wildfires have swept an entire continent, it asks what refuge and comfort looks like in a constant state of emergency"--From book cover flap.

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Subjects
Genres
Psychological fiction
Social problem fiction
Ecofiction
Published
New York : Catapult 2021.
Edition
[US edition]
Language
English
Item Description
"First published in Great Britain in 2020 by One, an imprint of Pushkin Press"--Title page verso.
Physical Description
260 pages ; 21 cm
ISBN
9781646220175
164622017X
Main Author
Madeleine Watts (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

This is a coming-of-age novel fit for the crippling uncertainty of twenty-first-century young adulthood. Our unnamed narrator lives in Sydney, has just graduated with a degree in Australian literature, and works as an emergency dispatch operator to pay rent. She scoffs at any concern that the job might be taking an emotional toll. Habitually self-destructive, she drinks herself to sleep, pursues lots of unprotected sex, and has yet to work through the emotional fallout of a year-ago abortion. All of her personal strife is set against the struggles she's inherited from her family and the earth: an abusive father, a burning planet, rising seas. The narrator is a descendant of an early Australian explorer who believed there to be an expansive body of water at the center of the dry Australian continent. Watts uses this connection throughout the story to convey the narrator's hope and skepticism that a fruitful and contented life is possible. The powerful metaphors, relatable negotiation for a satisfying livelihood, and ethereal setting make Watts' debut a can't-miss. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Australian-born, New York-based Watts launches a debut novel that's an eyecatcher in both premise and language, which is rough-and-tough, visceral, and absorbing. Postcollege, a young writer works part-time as an emergency dispatch operator in Sydney, and though she's just redirecting calls, she finds herself deeply affected by the tragedies she's touching, walking home ready to punch out rampaging men even as wildfires ravage the continent. Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Australian writer Watts punctuates her eloquent debut with deep-seated anxiety about climate change. For the most part, the story follows a young woman's downward spiral after she graduates from college and faces a bleak future. The unnamed protagonist finds work as an operator at a call center connecting those in need to appropriate organizations. The rote job turns daunting when calls suddenly pour in, saturating her in horrific reports of floods, fires, and violence. Meanwhile, her personal life remains chaotic as she continues her relationship with an emotionally abusive ex, and indulges in heavy drinking along with nightly hookups, of which she observes, "I wanted to be undone. I wasn't interested in protecting myself." Snapshots of her childhood reveal an angry father and her parents' messy divorce, and the journal entries of real-life 19th-century explorer John Oxley, the narrator's great-great-great-grandfather, find their way into the story. Oxley's search for Australia's inland sea is mirrored in the narrator's bleak outlook on the future ("The sea need only rise a few meters for... the rock and sand and red gibber plains to become submerged once more"). While the narrative moves haphazardly, the prose is consistently rich and loaded with imagery. Watts's bold, unconventional outing makes for a distinctive entry into the climate fiction genre. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Jan.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"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. The work itself becomes monotonous. And yet the stress of listening to far-off disasters seeps into her personal life, and she begins drinking heavily, sleeping with strangers, having an affair with an ex-lover. Interwoven with the woman's self-destructive unraveling is the story of how, 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. With a life unraveling and the gradual worsening of the climate crisis, this book is charged with unflinching insight into our age of anxiety. At a time when wildfires have sweptan entire continent, it asks what refuge and comfort looks like in a constant state of emergency"--From book cover flap.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An Australian 911 operator struggles with increasingly blurred lines between the emergencies she dispatches and her personal life before discovering how the work of a British explorer ancestor shaped her life two centuries later. Original. A first novel.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

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.