Book review: The Ice Palace, Tarjei Vesaas

Book cover - The Ice PalaceThis is a strange, beautiful novel. It concerns two young girls, Siss and Unn, who have developed an intense, inexplicable bond. Unn wants to confess something to Siss, but Siss loses her nerve and runs away. Rejected, Unn can’t face seeing Siss at school the next day, so plays truant and goes to explore the “ice palace” – a structure formed by the freezing waterfall. Unn never returns.

There is little further action in the book after this point. The focus is not on narrative progression, but on Siss’ confused feelings of guilt and loyalty to her friend. The prose is utterly beautiful throughout. The description of Unn’s fatal exploration of the ice palace is among the most haunting pieces of writing I have ever read. I don’t think I’ve ever read any other Norwegian fiction, so this may be a sweeping generalisation on my part, but it seemed to me that a novel like this could only have come out of a place like Norway. It is impossible to imagine this novel being written while the author basked in bright sunshine. The cold and the endless dark are as central to the book as Siss and Unn themselves.

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