Permafrost (S J Norman, UQP)
Permafrost is a decadent, artistic delight, full of sensory pleasure for the reader. S J Norman, a visual and performance artist who won the inaugural Kill Your Darlings Manuscript Award with this collection, makes a spectacular debut with these haunting, visceral scenes. Norman evokes art, myth and fairytale in their descriptions of the female body and depictions of female-ness in the stories, echoing writers such as Carmen Maria Machado, whose work has similar contemporary gothic qualities. The layering of rich, heady images results in stories that are full-bodied without being busy. Norman retains a directness in the way they approach their characters that makes immersion in the stories a simple task, although the images cling to the skin long after you leave them. A deep sense of unease runs beneath each of the seven pieces. They aren’t quite horror stories, but there’s a disturbance of safety and reality that creates an eerie tension which lingers. Norman explores themes of isolation and connection, taking the reader from Sydney to Japan to Germany, delighting in wild places and extreme weather. The stories end abruptly, severed almost too soon, but leave a deep, permanent imprint on the reader.
Bec Kavanagh is a Melbourne writer and academic and the schools programmer at the Wheeler Centre.