a novel

Taylah Brown is happy. She is. She has graduated university and she is in love and Sydney is a wonderful city to be in love in – all sunshine and blue water everywhere. It’s 2014 and the future is paved out in front her, a heat shimmer of possibility. Haircuts. Concerts. Holidays. Birthdays. Getting engaged, being engaged, going to brunch to show off the ring. More birthdays, a promotion, finding the right white dress. Getting married, going on her honeymoon, buying a house, having a child, getting a dog, going to the gym, moving house, camping at beach, weekends spent baking in the kitchen. New haircuts, new jobs, more birthdays, more birthdays… Choice-laden, picturesque, this is the good life. Isn’t it?

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Into the Sea is a novel that questions what it means to live “the Australian way of life”. The story follows Taylah Brown through the year 2014. Real national and international events play out while she tries to figure out who she is and what she wants and who she might be.

Grounded in ethnographic research, this book is an experiment in sociological imagination. A simultaneously global and local frame sees contemporary cultural tensions play out through the panoramic dimensions of relationships and life events. This novel will appeal to all interested in contemporary fiction, and particularly those interested in the promises and fictions of our dominant cultural narratives.

Published in Brill’s award-winning Social Fictions Series, Into the Sea will make a lively addition to undergraduate and graduate courses across social science and literature. Written with and for introductory sociology curricula in particular, this novel creatively engages canonical disciplinary themes and, at its heart, considers what Mills calls the promise and cultural meaning of sociology.

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Praise for the novel

“You have to be an extraordinary writer in order bring to life what is remarkable in the ordinary. In this beautifully crafted work of sociological fiction Ash Watson does just this, linking the most intimate of local details in Australian everyday life to the big issues of global history and society.”

Les Back, Goldsmiths, University of London

“A beautifully written pause-and-think novel that invites you to ponder on lives lived in and through the complexities of the present. Watson limns her characters in vivid technicolour showing how the push and pull of historical circumstances play through lives lived in seemingly ordinary registers. Will change how you think about the local and global forces that shape you.”

Nick Prior, University of Edinburgh

“An apparently simple but actually profound odyssey, not just into the heart of modern Australia, but also into the living core of what we like to call modernity.”

David Inglis, University of Helsinki

“With a whip-smart irony that is equal parts chilling and hilarious, Ash Watson has written a deeply affecting and keenly observed sociological novel set in the bubble of middling white Australia, post 9/11. We follow Taylah, a young school teacher who is unsure if she wants the glossy ‘next episodes’ of marriage and children but is firmly pursuing this social script nonetheless, even across the waking nightmare of the IKEA showroom. But this is a coming-of-age story that – refreshingly – never delivers us an easy ending of individual epiphany. Instead, Watson reveals the slithers of space in Taylah’s everyday life and relationships where visages of consumerist distraction, social/media spectacle, lazy nationalism, and the simmering fear of terror, give way to ennui and insights that quickly slip away again. Slicing through the moments where personal troubles and social problems collide, Into the Sea urges us to reflect on the ways that neoliberalism mediates our intimate lives and deflects our attention away from the things that really matter to us.”

Ashley Barnwell, University of Melbourne

“This novel brings to life everyday aspects of an ‘ordinary’ slice of Australian life. The sights, smells, sounds, taste and feel of the worlds experienced by the characters are artfully evoked. The patois of Australian speech, the mundane activities and rituals that structure the characters’ lives, the weather, the food they eat and the homes, streets and landscapes through which they move are all detailed in language that makes you feel that you are there. Readers will be drawn into the narrative, and along the way, catch vivid glimpses into Australian culture.”

Deborah Lupton, University of New South Wales, Sydney

“This engrossing work is a powerful reflection on the lives we lead and their relationship to collective memory. It unites sociological observation and narrative form with a distinctive and exciting voice.”

Mark Carrigan, University of Cambridge

Into the Sea wonderfully animates the cultural sociology of everyday life, offering as it does a deeply moving and provocative series of insights as to how seemingly ordinary human beings maintain grace under pressure as they live out their lives against the backdrop of a perfect storm continually serving up moments of risk, pleasure, challenge and uncertainty. Watson’s characters and story are based in contemporary Australia, but her exquisitely honed writing depicts a compelling sociological story that can be universally appreciated.”

— Andy Bennett, Griffith University

“Watson offers up a fine example of the sociological imagination creatively rendered; connecting for the reader the personal troubles of Taylah, Caleb, Brett and co. to the public issues of our time. Into the Sea is a reminder that our individual experiences are part of something much bigger, that we are not simply spectators of the events – small and momentous – that punctuate everyday life. Watson’s highly evocative writing quickly draws the reader into the mango memories, sunburnt childhoods and hot chook lunches of the book’s characters. But underneath is always a darker undercurrent, as the characters struggle with and against the good, bad, change of neoliberal agendas and the social conditions of late modernity. A must read!”

Sarah Baker, Griffith University