Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Happy 2018

I'm starting 2018 with a short review of one of the 61 books I read in 2017.

'The Ice Palace' by Tarjei Vesaas was sent to me by Penguin Books - a strange and remarkable book.   From the cover, a girl - I think it is Unn, one of the schoolgirls in the book - stares with lifeless eyes, halfway between colourless and blue-violet.  Her skin and hair are both too pale, too perfect, and then there's the white something adhering to her face and hair.  Is is white lilac blossom or snow?  Why doesn't she sweep it away?  Perhaps because she can't.
 

The text itself reminded me of Scandinavian Art House film. The village, of course, is isolated.  It has to be.  The house of the main character, Unn, lies apart from the rest, and in order to get there, Siss, the other character, has to travel through woodland.  Both Unn and Siss are enigmatic, Unn more than Siss.  Siss has been born and brought up in the village, whereas Unn comes from elsewhere, and her past remains a mystery, a little of it told in disconnected fragments. Unn and Siss, like the other characters in the book, talk in half-formed sentences loaded with subtext.  Then there's the Ice Palace.    It was formed when a nearby waterfall froze - and sounded so intriguing I was desperate to see it for myself. Like any palace, it has entrances and rooms, one connecting with the next.  This bewitching place entices its prey inwards and then imprisons her...  Probably.

The rest of the book dealt with the aftermath of this visit to the Ice Palace.  The people of the village search and find nothing.  They move on and the event is remembered in empty chairs and things unsaid.  Meanwhile, the ice compacts, cracks and is so mesmerisingly described that the chilliest room seems warm in comparison.  Then, sometime during the last third, the narrative becomes more urgent.  The thaw begins - and yet nothing is revealed. Something is resolved, but it's not clear exactly what it is. But as in the best Scandi Noir, it is not this that matters.  Maybe to understand it all would be somehow missing the point. Mood is everything.

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