The Inland Sea: A woman’s search for sanity in a teetering world

Review: Madeleine Watts’s gripping debut sets mental decline against ecological disaster

Madeleine Watts writes brilliantly on identity and the female body

Madeleine Watts writes brilliantly on identity and the female body

“Sydney was threatened by total isolation, all the roads closed, cut off on all sides by the flames, when ash rained down and the sun turned red and we lived under orange skies.” Real and present dangers permeate Madeleine Watts’s debut The Inland Sea. It is a highly topical novel – the quote above refers to the Sydney fires of 1994 but resonates with current woes – that cleverly juxtaposes ecological disaster past, present and impending with the personal crisis of the narrator.

It is hard to say who is more in trouble, the planet at large or our unnamed narrator, a literature student and aspiring writer who chooses to put her postgrad studies on hold: “My supervisor hummed, and conceded, when I pointed out how neurotically inarticulate and exhausted I had become, that it might be best to wait a year.” Looking back on this period from some not-too-distant future point, the voice is self-aware, reflective, intelligent: “This was a time in my life when it was difficult to stop drinking once I’d started … part of me believed that if I went on and on, past the point where my legs lost their coordination, when the syllables of words crumbled in my mouth, and my thoughts escaped the prison of coherence, then I would come out on the other side of the black-out into a new world. Maybe not better than the one I’d left, but new, and just for me.”

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