My enormous thanks to Matt Hutchinson at Penguin Random House for sending me copy of The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas, translated by Elizabeth Rokkan, in return for an honest review.
The Ice Palace will be released as a Penguin Modern Classic in e-book and paperback on 25th January 2018 and is available for pre-order here.
The beautiful cover of The Ice Palace was designed by Hsiao-Ron Cheng.
The Ice Palace
‘She was close to the edge now: the ice laid its hand upon her’
The schoolchildren call it the Ice Palace: a frozen waterfall in the Norwegian fjords transformed into a fantastic structure of translucent walls, sparkling towers and secret chambers. It fascinates two young girls, lonely Unn and lively Siss, who strike up an intense friendship. When Unn decides to explore the Ice Palace alone and doesn’t return, Siss must try to cope with the loss of her friend without succumbing to a frozen world of her own making.
My Review of The Ice Palace
When newcomer Unn strikes up a sudden and intense friendship with Siss, there will be terrible consequences.
I haven’t a clue how I’m going to review The Ice Palace because I’m not sure I fully understood it. I couldn’t decide if it was a straightforward narrative, an allegory of life and death, or innocence and evil, the spiritual and the corporeal, or a combination of those elements and much more besides. I found it totally enigmatic. Whatever the intention of the writer, Tarjei Vesaas, and despite my perplexed bewilderment what I do know is that reading The Ice Palace is moving, intense and completely spellbinding. My inability to comprehend it all seemed to mirror Siss’s problems of understanding so that I almost felt myself becoming her as I read.
The construction of this novella is so clever. Firstly, other than titles like Mother, Father and Aunite, only Unn and Siss are actually named, giving them supreme importance. I have no idea if the snakelike hissing sibilance of Siss’s name was deliberate to instill an undercurrent of evil to the narrative, but her emotional and physical isolation seemed to me to fit her name and to represent the loss of innocence found between these pages as she, Unn and the boy with the boot explore their symbolic burgeoning sexuality too.
The book is divided into three sections, making me think of the holy trinity and lending the experience of reading The Ice Palace a spiritual and almost religious experience – and I am the least religious person I know! I could feel the link between the real ice that captures Unn and the emotional ice in Siss’s heart almost physically.
The language is beautiful and poetic. I found myself reading slowly to savour every word and I thought The Ice Palace was intense, captivating and magical. I loved the terrifying power of nature presented through fabulous use of the senses as we hear the cracking ice, feel its threatening cold and see its myriad colours, so that reading The Ice Palace is a completely immersive experience.
I feel awful that I cannot convey adequately what sort of book The Ice Palace is, but I can say this: I feel moved and changed by it. Read it.
About Tarjei Vesaas
Tarjei Vesaas died at the age of 72 in the same small village where he was born: Vinje in Telemark, an isolated mountainous district of southern Norway. He wrote more than twenty-five novels and was nominated thirty times for the Nobel Prize.