‘The Great Awake’ by Julia Armfield

The most unheimlich you can get, really. The new Angela Carter, I told a friend. Far better, she replied. I read it in 2018 after it won The White Review short story prize and wished immediately—in a way you do when you come across a great piece of writing—that I had first struck upon this lush idea of an insomniac plague of dissociative, wraith-like creatures. I doubt, all the same, that there is anyone else who could have written this story with the kind of imaginative gusto that is Julia Armfield’s rare gift. It works through echoes and resonances, revealing, through what Armfield calls in an interview “a wolf on the dining table”, the many wolves we have on each our dining tables, lurking in our rooms. For a few days after reading the story I got into a habit of imagining what good my sleep, were it to step off my body “like a passenger from a carriage”, would be up to at cafes, libraries, lecture halls, by my bed at night. One day, I swear, I think I even saw it—sitting on my desk, marking exam papers.

First published in The White Review in April 2018, and available to read here; collected in Salt Slow, Picador, 2020

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