Author: S J Norman
Genre: Short story anthology
Published: September 2021
October is definitely the month for all things haunted and spooky so S J Norman’s amazing debut will definitely set the mood for a very festive month. S J Norman’s short story collection Permafrost was published by University of Queensland Press in late September, just in time for Halloween. So if you are a fan of all things haunted then keep reading!
Permafrost is very different from what I expected. Usually when I pick up a short story collection from an Australian author, I expect to read about growing up in the suburbs or the beach or the bush. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself transported around the world through Norman’s writing. The settings of the stories differ greatly from each other—I would be reading a story set in Japan one moment, then England, and Poland the next. Norman takes the reader across the globe into beautiful descript worlds and introduces us to all sorts of characters—some real and some teetering the line of whimsical. Each story brings a new cast alive ranging from odd shop owners, old lovers, tour guides, stepmothers, or shapeshifters. If you love reading narratives with interesting and complex characters then this is the book for you.
One of my favourite stories from the collection was ‘Whitehart’ which captured an unnerving atmosphere as I fell deeper and deeper into the plot. I don’t want to give much away but it’s set in England at a local pub/hotel with a derelict orchard, and the protagonist comes across a lone stag amongst the trees and is stung by nettles—not the best start to their holiday. Something that is a continuous champion throughout each story is Norman’s brilliant writing style:
“I went back to my muesli and continued eating. My palate was still haunted by the stink of rot. I could taste it in every mouthful.”
Norman’s writing brings the reader deep within the story and leaves them feeling unnerved long beyond the last page.
Norman brings in a gothic, haunted, and folk-tale atmosphere to each story that creeps up on you slowly and surely. Sometimes I would find myself so deeply pulled into the narrative and characters that I would forget that something unsettling and surprising is waiting for me on the next page. Reading Permafrost feels entertaining in its ability to capture one’s attention and still surprise the reader story after story. Not one of the stories felt like a plot had been reused or the ending could be easily guessed. Rather, each story stands confidently on its own. If you are a lover of spooky stories or a short fiction anthology fanatic I recommend reading Permafrost for the ultimate Halloween treat.