August 1, 2013

The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas (Review)

Title: The Ice Palace
Author: Tarjei Vesaas
First published: 1963
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Ice Palace, the eighth book from The Fiction of Relationship course, is supposed to be a modern masterpiece full of symbolic and philosophical value, but even the lectures haven't helped me see it this way. It would have been 1 star if not for the beautiful imagery of the ice palace itself, a marvelous nature wonder, constructed by water and frost under the waterfall. Everything else was... well, weird and rather useless.

Let me just describe you the plot to show you what I mean. Two eleven-year-old girls, Siss and Unn, first meet when Unn comes to school after arriving to Siss's small village to live with her aunt following her mother's death. They don't communicate much until they decide they want to be friends and Unn invited Siss to her house. They lock up, get naked together (!!), look at some photos and try to make a conversation. Unn mentions some secret she wants to tell Unn, but doesn't. Siss leaves. The next day instead of going to school Unn goes to the ice palace that has grown under the waterfall some distance down the river. She gets inside, gets lost, takes off her overcoat (!!) and freezes to death inside. This is only the first quarter of the book. The rest of it Siss is trying to deal with her grief by not communicating with anyone, and by the end of the book she manages to get back to normal. Ah, yes, we never know what Unn's secret was. Anything from normal pubertal body changes to rape and pregnancy.

Now, I was all "WTF is going on??" while reading the novel. Girls don't get naked together during their first conversation, children don't grieve for a year over someone they have talked to only once, and what kind of dumb-ass you must be to go somewhere you are not sure you can get out from, taking off your overcoat on the way in a decent Norwegian winter?? Prof. Weinstein talked a lot about the underlying ideas, urge for deep relationships, the multi-layer symbolism of ice palace, etc., but however easily I'm usually convinced that there is meaning even in the most unlikely places, I still can't abide this novel.

In my book:
The Ice Palace is a weird and unappealing book. Beautiful and intricate language might have saved the situation, but alas, there was nothing of the sort about it.

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