Permafrost by Eva Baltasar, translated by Julia Sanches
Categories: Literary Fiction, Translated from Catalan
First Publication Date: 6. April 2021
I received an advance copy via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Permafrost’s no-bullshit lesbian narrator is an uninhibited lover, a no-hope employee, and a some-time suicidal student of her own dislocated self. As she tries to break out of the roles set for her by a controlling, overprotective mother, a relentlessly positive sister, and a society which imposes a gut-wrenching pressure to conform, she contemplates the so-called will to live when that life is given, rather than chosen. Attempting to bridge the gap between the perennially frozen reaches of her outer shell and the tender core of her being, watching her relationships with family fracture and her many lovers come and go, the protagonist’s reservations about staying alive become ever more pressing.
This is a book that surprised me positively! I struggled with the beginning until I could quite “get” what the narrator’s voice was supposed to be like – it started off reminding me so much of Clarice Lispector’s style that I feared it would not work for me, but thankfully it did! There is something acidic and sharp but also beautiful and melodic in the way this book is written that reminded me a bit of Melissa Broder’s style. There’s a quiet and poetic quality to this novel that I appreciated, it makes the story easy to immerse into – the author normally writes poetry and I thought it was pretty clear from her writing style. It would have been tiring to read a 400-page book like this, but the 130 pages were a pleasure to get through.
Permafrost is translated from Catalan and has won a few prizes, which are so well-deserved. I don’t think this will work for everyone, the writing style may come off self-absorbed, the main character is not exactly nice and lies a lot, plus she romanticizes suicide and self-harm. It’s not a dense, difficult read but this can definitely be triggering for some readers. I found the ending a bit trivial but nonetheless satisfying. I am deeply impressed by this debut novel and look forward to reading more from Eva Baltasar!
Trigger warnings: suicidal thoughts, suicide idealization, romanticizing of mental illness, self-harm