We recently caught up with bestselling Catalan author Eva Baltasar to talk about her novel Permafrost (trans. Julia Sanches), a bold exploration of lesbian sexuality and suicide, which will be published by And Other Stories in April 2021. If you can’t wait until then to read it, subscribe to And Other Stories by 10th August to receive your copy in November 2020.
Suicide tends to be a taboo subject, but in Permafrost you include a lot of humour in the frustrated suicide scenes. Do you think it’s important to use humour to break taboos like suicide and death?
Yes, I think it’s important to use humour as long as we are not attacking or ridiculing anybody, but as a way of reminding us that life can be quite easy, and that we are the ones who try to catch it, control it and subdue it to please our own serious and ridiculous egos. I don’t believe in taboo subjects, even less so in literature. I believe in the power of humour to neutralise those areas of darkness full of fear and insecurity that we label ‘taboo’. Humour diffuses, encourages relaxation. And we need to be relaxed to explore and bring some light to those areas of darkness.
Do you think it’s important that this novel has a lesbian protagonist but that the story isn’t about coming out as a lesbian?
Of course. I see myself as a product of an age in a specific historical and geographical context, in the sense that I’ve been able to write a novel with a lesbian protagonist without that being the theme of the novel. I create characters who are women and lesbians because I am a woman and a lesbian, and I look for characters who act as a mirror of myself. If I have been able to live my sexuality freely and naturally all the time, what sense would there be in me making it problematic in a novel? For me it’s much more important to focus on other aspects of my existence, for example the discomfort of living in a society that is by turns invasive, alienating, castrating. The interesting thing about my protagonists is not that they are lesbians, it’s that they move in the limits of society, they live with discomfort, they have a critical eye, and that is something that any reader can identify with, whatever their gender or sexual orientation in life is.
The protagonist doesn’t feel attached to life or to anybody. Do you think a lot of people identify with that experience?
Maybe. And it’s something I like to reflect on because I think that attachments, any attachments, limit us, whether they are things or people. But I also think that we have come to this world to share, and we can’t share without loving. Love isn’t the attachment. The attachment is fear, so it is the opposite of love. It doesn’t worry me that there are people with very little attachment to life or to others. It worries me that there are people who find it difficult to love life or others. I think that there are people like that, which is a very telling symptom of our era and our society.
As a poet, would you say that writing Permafrost was a very different process to writing a poem?
I don’t think I moved away from poetry when I wrote Permafrost, or Boulder, or, right now, Mamut, because I’ve never stopped treating language poetically. It’s what I spend most of my time doing, and what I enjoy most… finding the rhythm, the musicality, those images that can say a lot in very few words. That is the job of poets – to love language, to dance with it – and it’s something that can be done when writing prose.
Eva Baltasar interviewed by Emma Warhurst, July 2020.
Subscribe to And Other Stories by 10th August to receive Permafrost in November 2020.