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Eva Baltasar: Permagel (Permafrost)

Apparently, Eva Baltasar was advised by her therapist to write about her life. She startled writing about her life and then decided to embellish it with some fanciful aspects. This is the result – a novel but also a confession, an outpouring, an apologia. She has five issues she raises. The first is reading – she is a keen reader and reads lots of books in this novel. The second is (lesbian) sex. She enjoys her sex and gives us a graphic, blow-by-blow account of her sexual activities. She rarely falls in love. She is suicidal. More than once she considers suicide and we see her preparing to kill herself. Fortunately, she does not go all the way. Fourthly, there is her body. She has an uneasy relationship with her body. Medication, medication, and medication but also she often has problems which, given her mental health issues, tend to take on a greater urgency. Finally, there is her family. Of course, as a teenager and also later, she has issues with her mother, but she is a good sister to Cristina and a good aunt to Cristina’s children.

Our unnamed heroine/narrator is a Catalan lesbian. As she is based on our author, I shall call her Eva. She has a sister, Cristina who, early in the book, gives birth to her second child. She herself, however, seems to lead a somewhat haphazard life. She does a five year art history degree. Her aunt had had a small flat near the university. Then the aunt, who is also a lesbian, marries a man and she and her husband go to live in a house, leaving our heroine the flat. This saved me a three-hour daily commute, time I instead spent reading and meeting other lesbians.

She sub-lets the rooms in her flat and lives off the money. Her time is spent reading, lots of lesbian sex and bemoaning her body. Month after month, I was plagued by a layer of lead that settled in my kidneys, by the growing need to move in fits like an insane person, by the roaring return of that familiar diarrhoea, and by the enormous elephant foot that pressed down on my uterus over and over with irrevocable resolve. However, reading, particularly biographies, comforted her. She finished her degree after five years and then wondered what to do with the rest of her life. Ideally, she wanted to continue her previous life – reading, sex and bemoaning her body.

However, the aunt wants the flat back to sell it. Someone suggested she become an au pair so she is off to Cardrona in Scotland. She does not like it. Despite what movies would have you believe, small towns are boring. It’s just about impossible to meet anyone interesting. Moreover, it rains all the time. However, her employer is a single mother with a son and daughter. They are at school so she can read, which she does. A massive history of art is followed by philosophy books. She soon gets fed up and heads back home.

Her life continues. First it is writing articles and then she is off to Brussels (I’d chosen Brussels because a city whose symbol is a little boy pissing was a city I knew I would like.) to teach Spanish to a lesbian entrepreneur. The lesbian entrepreneur proposes but Eva turns her down. Sex is her thing, not love.

It is not only during her waking hours that she has an active and colourful life. My subconscious seems only to want to travel and to fuck and I spend nights in hotel rooms, camping tents, caravans, cars, and stagecoaches. Never on planes. I have a lot of sex with strangers, and, funnily, these women and I are impressively in tune throughout.

When talking to her sister, who asks her what sex with a woman is like, the analogy she uses is Jackson Pollock. Clear, simple manipulation of raw material! However, this analogy could apply to her whole life. Her life is somewhat like Pollock’s all-over painting. Wikipedia describes Pollock’s technique as he covered the entire canvas and used the force of his whole body to paint, often in a frenetic dancing style and Eva lives her life somewhat like that.

She claims it is not all sex. I think a lot about sex, but I also think about heights, train tracks, Gillette razors, Swiss Army knives, and kitchen knives; about barbiturates, pools, and bathtubs; about acid, psychopaths, armed robbers, flags, and red traffic lights. I think about highways, wrong ways, high bridges, falling flowerpots, rabid dogs, and rattlesnakes Everything is something dramatic, dangerous, often thrilling. I am a rebellious daughter—against everyone, even myself. She tries to protect herself, as we all do to a certain degree, by putting up the permafrost layer to protect herself but then she plunges into life, no holds barred, physical and mental, excess and exaggeration. She lives life to the limit – when she is not reading – and her excesses and outpourings, whatever we may think of them, make for a fascinating account of a life less ordinary.

First published by Club Editor in 2018
First published in English by And Other Stories in 2021
Translated by Julia Sanches