About the author
SJ Norman is an artist, writer and curator. Their career has so far spanned seventeen years and has embraced a diversity of disciplines, including solo and ensemble performance, installation, sculpture, text, video and sound. Their work has been commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney, Performance Space New York, Venice International Performance Art Week, and the National Gallery of Australia, to name a few. They are the recipient of numerous awards for contemporary art, including a Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship and an Australia Council Fellowship. Their writing has won or placed in numerous prizes, including the Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award, the Peter Blazey Award, the Judith Wright Prize and the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. In 2019, they established Knowledge of Wounds, a global gathering of queer First Nations artists, which they co-curate with Joseph M Pierce. Permafrost is their first book.
About the book
This brilliant collection of short fiction explores the shifting spaces of desire, loss and longing. Inverting and queering the gothic and romantic traditions, each story represents a different take on the concept of a haunting or the haunted. Though it ranges across themes and locations – from small-town Australia to Hokkaido to rural England – Permafrost is united by the power of the narratorial voice, with its auto-fictional resonances, dark wit and swagger.
Whether recounting the confusion of a child trying to decipher their father and stepmother’s new relationship, the surrealness of an after-hours tour of Auschwitz, or a journey to wintry Japan to reconnect with a former lover, Permafrost unsettles, transports and impresses in equal measure.
SJ Norman’s narrators are lonely, anonymous figures. Norman’s prose has a rhythm that captures their narrators’ sense of solitude and wry humour, not to mention – as in the poetic, circuitous rhythms that open ‘Unspeakable.’ – travel’s meditative repetitions. The product of a unique, and uniquely original, voice, the stories in Permafrost move at a lateral angle, with an undercurrent of erotic unease, evoking places and experiences in an impressionistic, dreamlike manner. Each builds an atmosphere that stays with the reader. Norman has a real talent for creating a sense of disquiet – as in one of the collection’s highlights, ‘Playback.’ – that is both eerie and restless, and not often found today in fiction.
Permafrost recalls the haunted atmosphere of traditional uncanny stories and gothic narratives, not to mention the politically charged autofiction and dreamscapes of authors like Tove Ditlevsen and Anna Kavan. What makes Norman’s achievement so successful is that their narrative manoeuvres occur without any particularly lurid or explicit affect; in stories like ‘Stepmother.’, the narrator’s anxiety is both absolutely ordinary – the passage from childhood to pubescence – and yet entirely nightmarish, too.
“…seven eerily affecting stories that traverse and update gothic and romantic literary traditions, incorporating horror, queer, and folk elements to hair-raising effect.” – Paul DalgarnoI, Australian Book Review
“In each story, bodies and places expand and collapse, borders disintegrate and new environments carry the promise of liberation.” – Jessie Tu, The Sydney Morning Herald
“The stories end abruptly, severed almost too soon, but leave a deep, permanent imprint on the reader.” – Bec Kavanagh, Books + Publishing
Read an interview with SJ Norman by Yves Rees via Archer Magazine
Listen to SJ Norman discuss Permafrost on ABC Radio’s AWAYE! with Rubi Bremer
Read ‘Shelf Reflection: SJ Norman’ via Kill Your Darlings