Armfield’s fictions are set on...thinner surfaces, unstable places where boundaries – between humans and animals, wakefulness and sleep, land and sea – are prone to weaken or disappear. Grounded in the everyday, the stories borrow from myth and Gothic literature, their familiarity upended by elements of the uncanny and macabre. Bodies are sites of transformation; they can metamorphose, turn to stone or rise from the dead with tendons exposed and skin coming away from the bone ... Armfield...pays as much attention to her sentences as she does to her plots, shifting or consolidating meaning with the use of a single word. Her writing is impeccably honed, full of juxtapositions and qualifications that help to create a creeping sense of unease ... Tapping into the darkness of the contemporary world, she brings to mind other young British writers like Sophie Mackintosh but her fantasies have a precision and surreality of their own ... Women have animal as well as human natures here; they can be difficult and vengeful and across the collection the male body count is high ... a bold and timely collection that skews unpalatable truths in order to see them afresh.
The first question you ask of all these stories is, what’s happening here? The answer is a kind of tender cruelty, and often a transformation, hardly noticeable to begin with, then helter-skelter. Clues are subtly underplayed, hidden off-topic, allowed to accumulate; by the time they seem less throwaway it’s too late to ignore them ... if one of the delights of Armfield’s method is the richness of her allusions, her gleeful repurposing of myth and folktale, another is the liveliness of the symbols themselves, which are always evolving with the narrative: they reverse, combine, dance about in the corner of the eye...Violence teases you from under the skin, then pours out into the story. Nothing remains as you first thought, and you’re never quite sure of your ground. Armfield, meanwhile, enjoys herself as the sly oracle, pretending to hide your fortune in a riddle but really telling it simply and outright. You’re nodding your head in agreement and not getting the joke ... What makes this collection so exciting? It’s the way the salty, unsentimental underpinning of mythology combines itself with clinical contemporary observation ... although Armfield is full of tenderness for her characters, she never apologises on their behalf; she’s fantastical, but never less than realistic. It’s the satisfying lean towards the macabre and the metamorphic, balanced by wickedly clever prose and a sense of humour that seems to loom up like a character in itself, having been lying in wait in a corner all along. It’s the way that every paragraph balances itself perfectly between the visceral and the cool.
In Salt Slow...English author Julia Armfield, fresh from winning the 2018 White Review short story competition, gives the clearest demonstration of how much more interesting a good book of stories can be compared to a novel ... Armfield’s debut introduces a significant new voice in contemporary writing; original and challenging, and concerned as much with the spare, poetic metres of her style as with her wider themes of femininity and the body. There’s a lightness of touch to these stories that demonstrates a confidence in and a clear understanding of her material. Even though they’re rooted in physicality and the material world, each story seems as strange and troubling as a dream; illogical and inevitable, and all the more powerful for that.
This is an artfully confected collection...like a string quartet with an idea put forward, twisted around, brought back and set as variations of itself. It reminded me of Felipe Alfau’s Locos in terms of how disparate stories can be knitted and strangled together...That may sound rather portentous, but it is a hugely enjoyable, if unsettling, book ... There is a poise here among the gothic horrors. But there are certainly horrors ... the key thing I would say to readers is that it is absolutely beautifully written ... The prose is just a delight, wrong-footing the reader at every turn. The adjectives clash against the verbs, the names are sometimes wryly funny until the unexpected happens ... There is a smart-ass raised eye-brow in this, but with a deep emotional ache at its heart. Say the smart thing because you cannot bear to say the truth of a gruesome universe. In this respect, Armfield resembles Kelly Link, whose stories also intercut pop-culture and the preternatural, often to devastating emotional effect, or the work of Robert Shearman, who charms you along with wit until the stiletto hits ... horror for the Instagram generation ... There is a melancholy sense in reading such a wonderful collection of short stories and finding them so subtle, intelligent and imaginative. When I put the book down I wondered: will her first novel be as good?
Aside from reworking old genre tropes, a recurring theme in the collection is Armfield’s less-than-positive attitude to relationships between men and women ... The stories that resonated with me the most were those where the speculative or off-kilter element is as much a metaphor as it is an integral aspect of the plot ... While I wasn’t always convinced by Armfield’s use of the fantastic (even in stories I enjoyed, such as 'Granite'), her distinctive, elegant prose articulates the anxieties of living in a mostly heteronormative society. I’m sure it’s no accident that the one supportive relationship in the collection (not involving a wolf) is between two women. I’m also sure it’s no accident that as a cis-gendered male, I found reading these stories, at times, to be an unsettling experience. Salt Slow is a strong debut, only reinforcing that we are in a golden age of female-led and female-centric collections with a genre flavour.
Social and cultural anxieties, often drawn from psychoanalysis – such as the figure of the sexually predatory adolescent female as threateningly feral, requiring 'mummification … a guard against temptation'; or fears surrounding reproduction and evolution in a world riven by climate catastrophe –are given physical form ... Physical transformation and strange textures also imbue Armfield’s prose ... Armfield’s techniques are on the whole effective (at times chilling, often carnivalesque, regularly funny), and bring to mind those used by Angela Carter in The Bloody Chamber or Samantha Hunt’s dripping prose in The Dark Dark. ... [questions] whether we can adapt as a species to survive, or whether we will be mutated by our environment, culture, or technology into something altogether different.
Julia Armfield’s new collection salt slow is innovative and often vengeful, reaching forward into a landscape that is futuristic yet almost close enough to touch ... While they sometimes draw upon legends and folklore, Armfield’s stories are not just fragments of her imagination – they are born of a far-reaching scrutiny of modern life. What is keeping my friends up at night? What is the first thought they have when they awake? What do young people most fear? What do old people most fear? And then – how can I manifest these fears into stories, riddled with all the anxieties of a 21st-century metropolis, and make them get underneath my readers’ skin? ... salt slow takes hold of the jittering uncertainty of modern life and picks apart its meaning. However uncomfortable our world becomes, it seems to say, there is comfort in envisaging one ever more terrifying.
Strange things happen in Julia Armfield’s debut collection of stories ... These tales draw thrilling vigour from Armfield’s conscientiously vivid approach to their dialled-up reality ... Often the creepy goings-on act as a magical-realist delivery mechanism for avenging male exploitation of women’s bodies, although we can’t always tell for sure ... But the book’s punchlines, while striking, can feel superficial, as in the denouement of 'Mantis', in which a girl turns the tables on the boy attempting to coerce her into sex at a party ... The best stories retain emotional texture when treating this recurring theme of adolescent trials ... The trouble is, it feels like weirdness piled on weirdness. For all the shivers and shudders, Armfield’s habit of using everyday turning points as a diving board to plunge into the uncanny can look like a way to wriggle out of eyeballing its depths. Still, on this showing, she’s a writer whose next move you wouldn’t want to miss.
... both provocative and thrilling ... Armfield’s collection is exemplary as she pushes the limits of reality into beautifully eerie and unsettling worlds. She blends elements of horror, science fiction, mythology, and feminism in a way that is sure to shock and amaze readers of short fiction.
In Armfield’s unsettling, uncanny, and utterly delightful debut, wolves, mythological monsters, and seemingly ordinary girls and women abound ... Armfield occasionally deploys startling, stunning turns of phrase ... Razor-sharp, stylish, and imaginative, Armfield’s collection is a dazzling introduction to a talented writer.
Between man-eating insects, a fashionably dressed sister-wolf, and a hypnotic feminist girl band, Armfield leaves no supernatural stone unturned in this dazzling debut ... Writing with an elegant and often poetic style, British author Armfield conjures nine uncanny worlds in her first short story collection. And while her tales are notable for their concepts, they don't lack in substance, either. Behind each of her stories lie undercurrents of loss, metamorphosis, and the ever shifting nature of human relationships. The horror of her work comes not only from the eerie occurrences on each page, but also in the relatability of her characters and the connections a reader can draw between their situations and the absurdity of everyday life ... While a story or two ends abruptly or doesn’t delve quite as deeply as the most spectacular in the collection, each piece is filled with magic, insight, and a rare level of creativity that mark Armfield as a fresh new voice of magical realism. Artistic and perceptive, Armfield’s debut explores the ebbs and flows of human connection in lives touched by the bizarre.