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The Ice Palace (Peter Owen Modern Classics)…

The Ice Palace (Peter Owen Modern Classics) (original 1963; edition 2002)

by Tarjei Vesaas (Author)

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5623127,823 (4.08)83
A new edition of what is commonly seen as the legendary Norwegian writer's masterpiece, this story tells the tale of Siss and Unn, two friends who have only spent one evening in each other's company. But so profound is this evening between them that when Unn inexplicably disappears, Siss's world is shattered. Siss's struggle with her fidelity to the memory of her friend and Unn's fatal exploration of the strange, terrifyingly beautiful frozen waterfall that is the Ice Palace are described in prose of a lyrical economy that ranks among the most memorable achievements of modern literature.… (more)
Title:The Ice Palace (Peter Owen Modern Classics)
Authors:Tarjei Vesaas (Author)
Info:Peter Owen Ltd (2002), 176 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:to-read, norwegian, to-buy

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The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas (1963)


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English (25)  Norwegian (3)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (31)
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Fractals, creepy, glacial, brilliant. ( )
  boredgames | Aug 16, 2019 |
This Norwegian novel, written in 1963, is a timeless, intense, beautiful little gem about friendship, obsession, and the call of the ice. I couldn't put it down. When I rate a book I start by assuming it will be 5 stars and then mark it down as it goes along, but all the way through this I kept thinking, "oh, wow, this really is a perfect little book". It's how I felt after reading "The Color Purple" years ago.

Two eleven-year old girls meet at their rural school and are immediately attracted towards friendship. Unn, who has recently moved here after her mother's death and been taken in by an elderly aunt, finally makes a move and invites Siss to visit her at home. Something Unn wants to reveal to Siss, but doesn't say out loud that first evening, scares Siss into leaving fairly quickly, but each girl plans that the next visit will bring them closer. Instead, Unn disappears after she leaves for school the next day.

The reader is quickly shown what has happened to her, but the townspeople struggle to find her in the cold and ice for days. For Siss, Unn's disappearance is a sea change. She can't let go of the immediate attachment she felt or accept that Unn may be dead, and she separates herself from her social group, among whom she had long been leader, in a promise she believes will see Unn return. The tensions of how much Siss and the town will discover about Unn's fate, and of whether Siss will be able to move on emotionally, provides the power of the book, along with the description of what has actually happened to Unn, which is an amazing chapter on it's own.

Highly, highly recommended. ( )
  auntmarge64 | Feb 5, 2019 |
Siss is eleven years old and the most popular girl in her school. An only child, she is also the center of her parents' attention. One day her feelings toward everyone around her change when a new girl named Unn joins Siss' class at school. A lonely girl by nature, Unn is ignored by everyone in the class, except Siss. The girls decide to meet at Unn's house after school on one darkening autumn evening and commence on an electric friendship. Unn reveals to Siss that her mother died of an illness six months earlier and that even at eleven years old she does not know who her father is. Coping with these feelings swirling inside of her, Unn has yet to openly discuss her station in life with anyone, that is except for Siss. Despite being the leader of everyone at school, Siss is at heart lonely as well. It seems divinely ordained that the two girls have been brought together, and now they share a deep secret that not even Unn's Aunt or Siss' parents are privileged to know. Together, the girls appear to be on the cusp of navigating through their teenage years without much angst. This powerful friendship ends before it has a chance to begin. The next morning, Unn decides to navigate an ice palace on her way to school. In Norway, ice is as thick as stone and little is capable of penetrating through it. It is inside of this ice palace structure unspoiled by nature that Unn is able to meditate on her feelings about her mother, her father, her new friendship with Siss, and her inherent loneliness. Almost by design, Unn falls through the ice and drowns. Siss' new friendship is not meant to be and, through a despondent winter, she grieves in her solitude. In addition to the ice structure, Siss has erected an almost impenetrable barrier around herself that not even her parents are able to crack. Coping with her own survivors' guilt while being on the cusp of adolescence, Siss is unable to strike a balance between preserving Unn's memory and moving on with her own life. Vesaas has created a harrowing story through his exquisite prose and use of an ice palace as both a character and a metaphor for Siss' boundaries in sharing her feelings with others. I read the English version translated by Elizabeth Rokkan and she has done a magical job in preserving the prose in translation. Versaas' novella is an ode to his native country of Norway and much of the land that has been unspoiled by development. In addition to the ice palace that is both sparkling yet deadly, Versaas describes native birds and plants who sound like a woodwind section to an orchestra. The sounds of the Norwegian countryside enhance the beauty of this novel that is otherwise harrowing and borders on the metaphysical thoughts of an adolescent girl.
  Cultural_Attache | Jul 30, 2018 |
A wonderfully cathartic read for anyone who, like me, has been forced to sit through Frozen one too many times. Like a bleak Scandi rewrite, this also features a lonely girl who makes her way to a magical palace of ice in the wilderness, except that here, instead of belting out a jaunty power-ballad, she succumbs satisfyingly to hypothermia. What's that, Elsa? Oh, the cold does bother you, after all? Well, maybe you should have thought of that before you stripped down to a minidress and started harmonising.

Anyway, the two girls herein, Anna and Els—er, I mean Siss and Unn—are not sisters, but rather friends in a remote community in rural Norway. In fact they have only just met, but in Vesaas's crystalline, delicate prose their relationship is charged from the very first with intense unspoken meaning. Siss can feel Unn's gaze on her in the schoolroom as a ‘sweet tingling in her body’; when they go to Unn's house, Unn locks the door and makes them both undress. There is something sexual about their relationship, but it is the ununderstood sexuality of one of Freud's case studies – for the girls are only eleven years old. Unn has a terrible secret, one which (she thinks) means she will not go to heaven.

The ice palace of the title is a natural structure that has built up around a half-frozen waterfall in the woods outside the village. The passages describing Unn's exploration of this eerie place are among the most extraordinary and poetic in the book – indeed the poetry so weighs on the prose that eventually one chapter is completely overtaken:

As we stand the snow falls thicker.
Your sleeve turns white.
My sleeve turns white.
They move between us like
snow-covered bridges.

Tarjei Vesaas is sometimes described as a modernist, but at moments in this novel – which is as stark and bare as a tree in midwinter – he seems more like a symbolist. Small elements of the natural world are freighted with enormous coded significance, and much is left unsaid: we never find out what Unn's great secret was, nor is the girls' mutual attraction ever really explained. Yet the prose itself is appealingly clear and straightforward, an effect that must have been heightened in the original by the fact that Vesaas wrote, unusually, in Nynorsk, instead of the traditional literary dialect of Bokmål. The contemporary English translation from Elizabeth Rokkan reads entirely naturally, I thought, and gives you a very clear idea of why Vesaas is considered such a giant of Norwegian letters.

Unn never comes back from her trip to the ice palace, and for Siss it becomes a symbol of the danger and awe of the frightening natural world – a symbol to which she knows she must eventually journey herself. What follows is by turns mysterious and touching, as Vesaas finds his own way to explain – ironically – how to ‘let it go’, but this time completely unburdened by clichés, heavy-handedness, or musical snowmen. ( )
4 vote Widsith | May 15, 2018 |
This is one of the short works covered in A Day's Read, which I reviewed recently. It's a strange book with an awful lot to unpack. On the surface it's the story of two eleven-year-old girls, Siss and Unn, who live in Sweden, and are struck by the lightning bolt of... I'm not even sure what, but something that creates a bond that changes their lives.

There are themes of the kind of girl-crushes that pre-adolescent girls get on each other, a whiff of sexuality, though never explicit, but ultimately we're reading about doppelgangers. Siss and Unn recognize themselves as virtual twins, but while one is a seemingly well-adjusted child, the other is clearly troubled. There is a suggestion that there has been an event in Unn's life that has wounded her, and at one point she asks Siss, "Did you see anything on me?" as if whatever happened has left some kind of mark. We never know what her story is, even Siss never knows. In the end, I think this is about a choice we all make at some point in our lives, to give in to the things that weigh us down, or to rise above them. It's about facing the darkness in us, assimilating it into our lives and becoming whole.

It's beautifully written and translated, and one of the oddest things I've read in ages. A short read, yes, but it took me a long time to make my way through it because it made me sad and anxious, and because the prose sometimes felt elusive. Still, it's worth the time, I think. ( )
  Tracy_Rowan | Mar 20, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vesaas, Tarjeiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Donachie, KayeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nunn, JamesCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rokkan, ElizabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schmidt-Henkel, HinrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A young, white forehead boring through the darkness. An eleven-year-old girl. Siss.
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