One hundred twenty million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, a massive body of water called the Eromanga Sea bisected the continent of Australia. This sea was a panacea in the minds of Australia's early nation-builders, who saw it as the key to the agricultural success of their nascent empire, and a dark portent for their descendants, now contending with the consequences of a stripped environment. In Madeleine Watts's debut novel, The Inland Sea, a descendant of explorer John Oxley deals with a messy post-college life in Sydney while the latent effects of his colonial gaze unfold around her.
The unnamed narrator of The Inland Sea starts an ill-suited job at the telecom company where all of Australia's emergency calls are dispatched. She works odd hours, receiving only fragments of emergencies through her headset before transferring them to the proper channels. But it soon becomes clear that the car accidents, fires, freak storms, overdoses and inscrutable howls that fill her days leave a potent hangover. The novel is moody, progressing like a low-level fever as the narrator engages in the standard debauchery that defines the unmoored post-college years of many young adults. At the center of her unhealthy behavior is Lachlan, an ex-boyfriend she begins to sleep with again. The topography of the narrator's interpersonal life resembles that of Australia: "Lachlan," the narrator tells us, is not actually his real name. She named him after the river that once caused her grandfather John Oxley so much grief.
With The Inland Sea, Watts has produced a model of autofiction in the age of climate disaster, a genre sure to dominate the coming era. --Emma Levy, freelance writer