Originally published: 30 May 2019
Author: Julia Armfield
Published by: Picador Books
Genre: Short stories
Length: 208 pages
Reading dates: 12-15 November 2019
The Young Writer of the Year award is a £5000 prize that can be given to any writer under the age of 35 of fiction, non-fiction or poetry. The winner will be announced on 5th December and I am lucky enough to have been invited to the ceremony in London and I can’t wait!
The Shortlist this year are:
- The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus
- Salt Slow by Julia Armfield
- Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler
- Testament by Kim Sherwood
I wanted to try and read at least 2 of the books before the ceremony. I do think it must be quite tricky to judge fiction (including poetry and short stories) against non fiction and I don’t envy the judges their job!
Salt Slow by Julia Armfield is the first one I chose to read. The cover is just beautiful (which I have to admit influenced my decision) and I rarely read short stories so I thought this would make a change!
In her brilliantly inventive and haunting debut collection of stories, Julia Armfield explores bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of her characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession, love and revenge. Teenagers develop ungodly appetites, a city becomes insomniac overnight, and bodies are diligently picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sleepy sea-side towns are invaded and transformed, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to its inhabitants. Blurring the mythic and the gothic with the everyday, salt slow considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new entirely.
These stories are quite short and there are 9 stories in all. I’m struggling a little with how to review a collection of short stories so I think I will just tell you a little about the ones I enjoyed the most!
Mantis is about a teenage girl with problem skin, she sheds it constantly. Her mother puts it down to a difficult puberty, her grandmother apparently went through the same thing. On the week of her 15th birthday she starts to loose her teeth and at a party, things take a sinister turn.
I also really enjoyed The Great Awake which looks at a city when suddenly almost everyone becomes an insomniac. People’s Sleep steps out of their bodies and becomes a kind of ghost like figure, living with their owner. They seem to have their own personalities and can be mischievious and people have to adjust to never going to sleep.
Other stories look at what it takes to find the perfect man, another looks at a teenage girl who lives with her dad, her stepmother and a half sister who is actually a wolf, in another a man turns to stone and in another a woman’s girlfriend returns from the grave.
These stories are all unusual but brilliantly imaginative with a slant towards the darker side, and are all about women. There were a couple I didn’t enjoy quite so much but overall, this is a strong collection of stories and I would love to see what this author does next!
About the author:
Julia Armfield lives and works in London. She is a fiction writer and occasional playwright with a Masters in Victorian Art and Literature from Royal Holloway University. Her work has been published in Lighthouse, Analog Magazine, Neon Magazine and The Stockholm Review. She was commended in the Moth Short Story Prize 2017, longlisted for the Deborah Rogers Prize 2018 and is the winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018.