should probably read more fiction in translation - as it is my repetoire is shamefully low. There is a whole world out there (obviously) and I'm probably missing some real treats. Especially, it seems, in the world of Scandanavian writing - there seems to be something beguiling in that icy landscape that brings a cool charm to its literature, or least, to the Scandanavian literature that I have read.
It's certainly the case with The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas, which tells the story of two children, Siss and Unn, and their brief but intense friendship forged at school in Norway. Unn has something she wants to tell Siss when the latter visits her at the house she lives in with her aunt, but Siss - realising something monumental is likely to be said - takes fright and runs home. The next day, Unn wants to avoid school and Siss, so takes a solitary trip to The Ice Palace, where she is later meant to be going on a school trip. Unn never returns. The bulk of the novel follows Siss as she tried to assimilate the knowledge that Unn is dead, and struggles to come to terms with it.
The language is this book's real strength, with simply stunning evocations of the snow-covered landscape, and of the cold that seems to exist between the characters themselves, and between the characters and the memory of Unn:
'We're upset about this,' said her father.
'Yes. We were happy today. We thought you'd got over it at last,' said her mother. 'We thought things were going to be just as they used to be.'
Got over it, they said.
They cut right through and drew out the truth about what she was expected to do: get over it. It was easy to say, but how could that happen as long as the vision was dancing before her eyes? She realized she had lied to little purpose; they could not be taken in. But at any rate she could keep her mouth shut. She would willingly have pleased them in some way at that moment, but could not lie to do so - and how else could she do so?
And the ice itself! The ice is inescapable in The Ice Palace and just as much of a character as any human in those pages. Literally for some, of course. The landscape is just layers and layers of snow and ice. The world for the villagers is almost exclusively black and white, with green and blue hues and the sun (occasionally) shines through the ice. Literally and figuratively. The say that this novel is bleak would be an understatement, though not in a gritty, depressing way. It is, though, claustrophobic in all that ice and repressed emotion, and a couple of times I just had to put the book down for a bit of a breather, and go and feel the radiators to check they were still on.
I agree with the other reviews when they say that this book is extraordinary. It is extrordinary, and even now, weeks after I finished it, I still find my mind wandering back to it, shivering slightly. But did I enjoy it? A rollicking read it isn't, but the writing itself is something quite special.