Risk of suicide is elevated among queer people; according to a Stonewall survey of LGBT people in the UK, 42% felt life was not worth living at some point in the last year. But queerness can be a salvation. Permafrost shows this beautifully. We feel both the unbearableness of life and how, in the midst of that, words and sex – and specifically sex between women – make the narrator feel the embodied joy of being alive.
The novel is sustained chiefly by the intensity of the narrator’s observations, which are tender, caustic and strange — frequently all at once. “The world is full of unscrupulous people certified in first aid,” she complains, in Julia Sanches’s zesty, free-flowing translation. “It should be possible to rent corners for dying in peace, without interference or self-activated oxygen tanks dropping down on you at the very last moment.” Permafrost is at its most captivating when it concentrates on women’s bodies, desire and sex, the sensations and emotions of which the narrator documents with clarity and verve.