Tarjei Vesaas is considered one of the greatest writers in Europe, and when you read a novel like The Ice Palace, which Doris Lessing calls "unforgettable" and "extraordinary," then you begin to understand why.
There is an icy chill that penetrates the language - set amidst the stark frozen winter of Norway, Vesaas' prose is poetry - a haunting evocation of the frozen landscape, both outside and within us. Two young girls, Siss (the narrator), and Unn meet one evening. An unspoken bond pulls them together, and the shared burden of secrets creates an awkward evening, one from which Siss runs away from. A hurt Unn skips school the next day, and instead goes to explore the fantastic Ice Palace - a sheer mass of icy caverns formed near a waterfall. Unn is never to be seen again but Siss is bound by the memory of her friend, and recreates in herself the loneliness that she thinks Unn went through.
But really The Ice Palace is not about the plot, or the story, or something as mundane as that. The book is a sensual delight, an exploration of the haunting meaning behind words, the poetry in ice, snow and winter, and a psychological study of an 11-year-old's commitment to friendship and memory. I finished the book late in the night, and Vesaas' haunting prose created an atmosphere of suspense, and dread - so much so that it was a while before I found myself calm enough to sleep! Vesaas' themes are universal - death, guilt, acute loneliness, and isolation - all predominantly modernist themes. The Ice Palace combines all four, and provides us with a cold, haunting, and vivid insight to cherish for lifetimes to come. As Peter Owens, the publishers exhort - read it. Marvelous.
Update: Thanks to Peter Owens for sending the latest version of this masterpiece with a new cover, available at Peter Owens.