THE INLAND SEA (forthcoming from Pushkin Press, March 5 2020)
“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 he never ceased to believe it was out there. 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, his great-great-great-great granddaughter (and our narrator) spends a final year in Sydney reeling from her own self-destructive obsessions. She’s working part-time as an emergency dispatch operator, drinking heavily, sleeping with strangers, wandering Sydney’s streets late at night, and navigating an affair with an ex-lover. Reckless and adrift, she prepares to leave.
Written with down-to-earth lucidity and ethereal breeziness, this is an unforgettable debut about coming of age in a world that seems increasingly hostile. Watts explores feminine fear, apathy and danger, building to a tightly controlled bushfire of ecological and personal crisis.”
“A tricky marvel: melancholy and bright, ingenious and gentle, an emergency inside of an idyll. Watts is an exceptional talent.” - Rivka Galchen, author of 'Little Labours'
“A sparking portrayal of dangerous thirst and unreachable interiors.” - Josephine Rowe, author of ‘Here Until August’
“The Inland Sea is completely absorbing and sometimes disquieting, as much a search for the self as an imagined body of water in the middle of the desert. I savored this novel, reading it slowly over a couple of weeks, its airy and restless voice always in my head almost like a narcotic, but I could have read it in one night. Madeleine Watts is a startlingly good writer who holds nothing back.” - Amina Cain, author of ‘Indelicacy’
“Madeleine Watts has delivered us the kind of messy, adrift female narrator we so rarely get to see: a restless young woman gazing towards adulthood from the perch she’s built on booze, risky sex, and all the trappings of the sweaty, clawing space of post-college listlessness. Reading this book felt like stepping inside her skin, and I kept living there for days after I reached the end. The Inland Sea announces a voice and mind as brazen and bright as the Australian sun that radiates off every page of this novel” - Kristen Radtke, author of ‘Imagine Wanting Only This’
“Brilliant and breathtaking … gives a precise glimpse into a world and a woman coming undone. I want everyone to read this provocative, perfect book.” - Jeannie Vanasco, author of ‘The Glass Eye’
Red (The White Review) March 2016
"It was the first week of 1976 and she had just turned 17. The day school let out her parents packed the car with suitcases, a plastic tree, a big box of tinsel and a smaller box of gifts, and they drove the family north. It was too hot in the new house in Strathfield, they said. Better to have Christmas by the beach. Which was her mother’s way of insinuating that Christmas lunch that year would not be roast pork and gravy but a supermarket ham and potato salad crunchy with sand."
"He set the camera up by the wall in the space he used as his studio. It was one of the many rooms in the too-big house he didn’t need. It was mostly empty – the wallpaper left to peel away from the walls, the plaster to crack and the dust left undusted. In the light that came in elongated grids through the barred windows I watched him move around the room beneath me, holding up the light meter to gauge the exposures."
"My mother had a house in the Blue Mountains, has a house up there still. I went up to there after I did the Bad Thing to myself. I knew the house would be empty that week, and I knew under which pot plant the spare key was hidden. I was meant to be in classes, so I emailed my professors with unclear stories. A sick grandmother, I told one. Appendicitis, I told another. I borrowed my housemate’s car and drove out along the highway the two hours from the city, the radio on, yellow lights slipping by. Far beyond the road flames vaulted up into the night from the chemical plant at Silverwater where the poison turns fresh air to fire. It was almost beautiful. In the dark."