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Ice (Peter Owen Modern Classic) Paperback – 7 Aug 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Peter Owen; New edition edition (7 Aug. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0720612683
  • ISBN-13: 978-0720612684
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.3 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 216,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By BookWorm TOP 500 REVIEWER on 30 Dec. 2007
Format: Paperback
'Ice' is a wonderfully strange and surreal book. It is set in an apocalyptic time, where some sort of ice age is descending upon the Earth and war rages throughout the world. No time is wasted with explanations, everything is carefully vague and non-specific. Even the characters remain unnamed.

Completely free of all the usual conventions, reading 'Ice' is rather liberating. There is no need to worry about the plot, about characterisation, about realism. Things just are as they are, and you read in the moment, enjoying the writing as it stands without thinking about what comes before and after. And the writing is good enough to enjoy for its own sake.

Some readers may wish to find allegories or deeper meaning in the story, but I preferred not to. Certainly there would be material for discussion in the book, although Kavan is so carefully vague, avoiding any sort of explanations, that almost any interpretation could be validly argued. I liked the fact that I didn't feel as though I needed to understand or find an underlying 'message' in the work.

Sometimes 'Ice' is confusing, with dream-like sequences that occur without any warning or explanation, and it is often impossible to know if the action being described is 'real time' or has moved seamlessly into fantasy, dream, prophecy or flashback. It can be disconcerting but it works surprisingly well once you accept that it is a feature of the book.

As long as you are prepared for its strangeness, I think 'Ice' is an excellent book to read. Expect to be confused and occasionally lose the thread. Don't expect to find explanations, a set plot, or realistic events. Once you understand the ground rules of 'Ice' (i.e. there are no rules) you can sit back and enjoy the ride.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Mar. 2002
Format: Paperback
Forget plot, forget character, geography, politics, motivation, development.
This is a lengthy dream sequence - characters come and go, everything is fluid. The nature of the catastrophe becomes irrelevant - is this about holocaust? Gender? Opiates? Ecology?
Strangely reminds me of Murukami
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Richard Fahey on 6 Feb. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a novel of speculative/slipstream fiction,that towers over lesser,abysmal novels like "The Handmaid's Tale" and others of the same poor quality,like the awesome white structures that form and loom majestically high over the glacial,new landscapes within the pages of "Ice".Anybody who has read this,will hopefully avoid or at least read with disdain,the other pieces of rubble I mentioned.It is worthy of the best of the more unusual works to be found in mainstream or general literature,that includes dystopian or magic realism fiction.It is the kind of book admired and mimicked by authors of the gems to be found in generic sf and also it seems,vice versa.It is indeed a novel of many parts and stands unique and uncategorizable.

In basic plot structure and scenario,it is a drama concerning a new ice age,an ecological disaster apparently due to unnatural or man-made forces,and forms the background to a very intense novel.Overall though,there is no particular explanation for the catastrophe,and seems unimportant,but strangely captivating as images of nightmarish scenery.Against this particularly fascinating threat though,is the unfolding chronicle of human flawedness and weird obsession,concerning the otherwise sanguine "Narrator",who is fondly interested in Madagascan Lemurs and their haunting "songs",but is unfortunately offset by his insane quest for a frail and vulnerable,but beautiful and pale girl with silver hair,who he pursues with relentless and uncaring madness.
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0 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Edward Matthews on 14 April 2010
Format: Paperback
Despite some brilliant writing, the hallucinatory episodes, wafer thin characterisation (even after admitting that this is part of the 'point'), and quite ridiculous 'plot' make this novel influential rather than good. The militarised society parts seem anachronistic and if this had been written by a man, would be unread as mindlessly sexist.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 10 reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Love among future ruins 4 July 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I first encountered Anna Kavan's name in *A Reader's Guide to Twentieth Century Authors*. The bio on her life interested me in her writing. The salient points are (1) she underwent psychiatric treatment for suicide, (2) changed her name to that of a character in one of her novels, and (3) was an heroin addict for half her life. What kind of fiction, I wondered, would such a person write?
*Ice* answers the question nicely. The entry on Kavan describes it as "an impressive foray into the world of science fiction". The novel depicts a man's quest for an enigmatic woman in an apocalyptic world. Civilization is being reduced to basic elements by the encroachment of a new ice age. The heat of human emotions takes place against this looming backdrop.
It is the last novel in the second half of Kavan's literary career and is generally considered the best of that period. Although classified as science fiction, the book does not incorporate the usual futuristic gadgetry or extra-terrestrials encountered in that genre. The classification is a loose one. Just as Orwell's *1984* is more than a dystopian story and Jame's "Turn of the Screw" is more than a ghost story, so is *Ice* more than science fiction. The prose is lean, vivid; Kafkaesque in its elastic shift from realism to the bizarre.
The only flaw I find in the book lies with the publisher, not the author. Peter Dutton did not include an introduction which would have rounded out the reader's perception of the author's humanity. A finished piece of art - say, the Parthenon, van Gogh's "Sun Flowers", Kavan's *Ice* - comes to the viewer in seamless, silent perfection. Nothing of the labor and torment which begets art is revealed. To an extent, appreciation of Anna Kavan's unique artistry is stifled by the lack of a profile.
Several sites exist on the internet that provide information on the novel's author. One has several photographs of Kavan. The novel, of course, is the best introduction to this fascina! ting writer. If you like *Ice* advertises other works of hers. I have another on special order. For me she is an author worth reading.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Revelations from a supreme visionary 10 Dec. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
How can one not discuss Anna Kavan first when discussing her work?Ice was last published novel in her lifetime, and also her masterpiece.The plot is quite simply, two men pursue a women who they constantly victimise, against a background of universal annihilation and destruction.However the book defies description, so surrealistic is the prose and so profound is the metaphor.Anna Kavan was a heroin addict for over thirty years, and had suffered two mental breakdowns which resulted in her being institutionalized. However she was a consummate artist who re-invented herself successfully as a avant garde writer (now sadly neglected). Ice is her crowning achievemnt,read it.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Ice by Anna Kavan 15 Jun. 2000
By A. G. Plumb - Published on
Format: Paperback
When I first read 'Ice' (from Brian Aldiss' published recommendation) I enjoyed it but didn't think it was great. It seemed to me to be about Kavan's struggle with drugs - a struggle she couldn't win. But this was a bit remote for me since I have never taken drugs. Some years later I read another Kavan novel - 'The Eagle's Nest'. This is a hot novel in comparison to the coldness of 'Ice' and, perhaps, more akin to my own personality. Anyway, it encouraged me to read 'Ice' again and now I saw it as so much stronger because it's (to me anyway) not about a futile struggle against drug addiction but something much more cosmic - the futile struggle that we all embark on against death.
I have read more Kavan since then - 'A Scarcity of Love' is great. 'Let Me Alone' is something else again. Will I ever dare reread it?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
a neglected master 21 Nov. 2013
By mika ming - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was originally classified as science fiction, but it hardly seems so today when rapid ecological decline is a fact, and democratic institutions have turned sinister and controlling. The novel is complex and open to interpretation. I find it to be almost unbearably brutal with themes of male dominance expressed in the need to control and destroy. The brutality is slightly tempered by symbolic passages that are often of great beauty. Anna Kavan is a master of English prose and this book requires close reading. She was a great favorite of Doris Lessing who championed her work and argued that Kavan was a writer of importance and had much to offer contemporary readers. She deserves more readers. You should be one of them.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Kavan's post-apocalyptical Ballard-esque nightmare 2 Feb. 2015
By Mithridates VI of Pontus - Published on
“Despairingly she looked all around. She was completely encircled by the tremendous ice walls, which were made fluid by explosions of blinding light, so that they moved and changed with a continuous liquid motion, advancing in torrents of ice, avalanches as bid as oceans, flooding everywhere over the doomed world” (37)

Anna Kavan’s masterful post-apocalyptical novel Ice (1967) parallels the death throws of a relationship with the disintegration of the world. As the unnamed narrator (N) and the girl (G) traverse an indistinct, interchangeable, world transformed by glacial encroachment, only the same movements are possible: flight, pursuit, flight, pursuit… Repetition reinforces the profoundly unnerving feel of both physical and mental imprisonment: as movements are predicted, trauma is repeated.

Kavan described her own writings as “‘nocturnal, where dreams and reality merge” (Booth, 69). In the prologue to her earlier novel Sleep Has His House (1947) she describes the reason for this self-description: “Because of my fear that the daytime world would become real, I had to establish reality in another place” (quoted Booth, 78). Kavan’s fiction is highly autobiographical and informed by her experiences in asylums, heroin addiction (she died the year after Ice was published), and psychiatric treatment (and friendship) with various proponents of existential psychology.

It is hard not to see similarities with her contemporary J. G. Ballard (especially the fraught apocalyptical landscapes of The Crystal World and The Drowned World), who was a fan of her work (Booth, 70). Francis Booth, in Amongst Those Left: The British Experimental Novel 1940-1980, points out that both Ballard’s early post-apocalyptical novels and Ice operate in ruined worlds both psychological and physical (70).

Kavan was an literary author who operated outside of SF conventions. The novels published after she took the name Anna Kavan—from one of her earlier pseudo-autobiographical characters—were highly experimental in nature. It should be pointed out that Kavan did not intend to write science fiction despite the fact that Brian Aldiss voted it the best SF novel of 1967 (Booth, 97). According to Booth, most likely she had not read any of her SF contemporaries—also, many of the tropes that appear in Ice had appeared in her writing for decades (Booth, 97).

Highly recommended for fans of literary SF in the vein of early J. G. Ballard and the more radical experiments of Brian Aldiss.

Brief Plot Summary Analysis

N (the unnamed narrator) is sent back to his homeland “to investigate the rumors of a mysterious impending emergency in this part of the world” (17). Of course, the government would not disclose the facts but he had been privately informed about a steep “rise in radioactive pollution, pointing to the explosion of a nuclear device” (38). Whatever the exact nature of the disaster, Kavan is uninterested in laying out lengthy scientific discussions of manmade ecological transformation, a “vast ice-mass” is created that creeps unchecked across the landscape (38). This metaphorical agent of destruction mirrors the psychological state of the characters.

N claims that “reality had always been something of an unknown quantity to me.” Places which he once remembered are not “becoming “increasingly unconvincing and indistinct” (17). This “general disorder” is a pervasive quality (17). He soon gives up his aims to investigate the impending emergency and instead seeks an unnamed “girl” (G) whom at one point he had intended to marry.

For N, G is an object to possess: “I treated her like a glass girl; at times she hardly seemed real” (19). N’s psychological state is often disturbing. His hallucinations/dreams, which N claims are caused by drugs prescribed to combat his insomnia and headaches (2), visualize her crushed by ice, suffering, screaming: “I watched the ice climb higher, covering knees and thighs, saw her mouth open, a black hole in a white face, heard her thin, agonized scream” (18). And, N feels no pity for her but rather feels an “an indescribable pleasure from seeing her suffer” (18).

The countless occasions N hallucinates of her destruction, her erosion, her fragmentation, her brittle limbs cracking like ice, are repetitive, the symptoms of N’s deep trauma, of atavistic desires to possess and control. She too is scared by her experiences.

“Her face wore its victim’s look, which was of course psychological, the result of injuries she had received in childhood; I saw it was the faintest possible hint of bruising on the extremely delicate, fine, white skin in the region of eyes and mouth. It was madly attractive to me in a certain kind of way […] At the moment, in what I took for an optical delusion, the black interior of the house prolonged itself into a black arm and hand, which shot out and grasped her so violently that her shocked white faces cracked to pieces and she tumbled into the dark” (28).

N is caught between two opposite forces. The first, possessing G who flees from all meaningful connections, almost resigned to the destruction of the world. The second, his study of “an almost extinct race of singing lemurs known as Indris, living in the forest trees of a remote tropical island.” He is transported away from the destruction of the world by their melodious voices: “I began speaking to them, forgetting myself in the fascination of the subject” (21). N is drawn to them. G is repulsed by them: “To me, the extraordinary jungle music was lovely, mysterious magical. To her it was a sort of torture” (25). He wishes to return to the land of the singing lemurs and laments his inability to separate himself from his visions of possession: “She prevented me, holding me back with thin arms” (101).

After G flees from her husband, N runs after her possessed by horrific images of her death and destruction: “She escaped from the forest at length only to see the fjord waiting for her. An evil effluence rose from the water, something primitive, savage, demanding victims, hungry for a human sacrifice” (71).

Flight, pursuit, flight, capture, escape, pursuit, flight. As if caught up in some post-apocalyptical performance of Ravel’s La valse (1919-20), a macabre dance of death, N and G possessed by primordial forces move across a imprecise allegorical landscape at the end of the world where powers shift and mutate and realign and decay.

As the destructive dance continues, fragmentation occurs: N cannot separate himself from the captors who hold G “I fought to retain my own identity, but all my efforts failed to keep up apart. I continually found I was not myself, but him. At one moment I actually seemed to be wearing his clothes” (131). But they are both trapped in this pattern. The visions of Indris and the melodious lemurs are but memories crushed too by the end.

Final Thoughts

Filled with unsettling yet gorgeous images, Ice (1967) is a triumph of 60s experimental literature with post-apocalyptical undertones. N’s visions of G’s destruction unnerve and cut deep. The dreamlike repetition, the interchangeability of the landscapes, N’s hallucinations and obsessions, are like some second skin you cannot shed. A melodious rumination on destruction…

“Day by day the ice was creeping over the curve of the earth, unimpeded by seas or mountains. Without haste or pause, it was steadily moving nearer, entering and flattening cities, filling craters from which boiling laval poured. There was no way of stopping the icy giant battalions, marching in relentless order across the world, crushing, obliterating, destroying everything in their path” (131).
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