Book Review: The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas (1963)

The Ice PalaceThe Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When a few dotted lines can cuff my heart into a promise and bind my palms over it in sombre armory, keep me lain in its pristine shadows for hours and yet freeze the time in crystalline imagery, I beam at the prospect: the prospect of living in that promise; that promise which lights up with the chandeliers of frosty realizations hanging from the ceiling of dreams and a sea of incomplete chances freezing my being.

A life is made of promises; some made to self, some to others. And like a diffident fuel, it comes into play when life derails to reserve. Aren’t all the promises tested at the brink of uncertainty? Aren’t all the promises repainted at the threshold of patience? Aren’t all the promises questioned at the gates of survival?

What do Siss* and Unn**, all of eleven, seal during their first (and only) conversation, on a chilly evening within the warm confines of a small wooden room, occasionally interfered by murmuring winter winds and distracting snowflakes? An unspoken promise: a promise that outgrows their initial inhibitions in school, their hushed blossoming of mutual admiration, their trepid steps towards each other, their solitary evening of joint reflections, their singular moment of shocking adolescence, their crimson welcome of next day sun, their sub-consciously chosen divergent paths, their uninitiated severance of hearts and their union over terminated breath.

A life being led under the cold sky of a lost one may occasionally ruffle up with the day breeze of sunny developments but the night brings it back into the icy fold; the ice, after all, is indicative of pain, without which there is no happiness. Kites suspended from bruised threads alone, can extend a supportive landing to another, without feeling intimidated. One grows more in pain than in joy. One lives more in absence than in presence. One sings more in dreams than in reality.

Vesaas might have viewed life as gossamer of renewed promises but never without one; much like the Ice Palace that stood subdued in summer, embracing dissolution but tirelessly raising its head again in winter without exception. Vesaas must have experienced the tingling calmness that a battered palm transfers upon touching a healthy skin; much like how a tumultuous, windy evening of tight-lipped conversation can be the analgesic for months of revitalizing discoveries. Vesaas must have witnessed a beautiful painting becoming priceless with a careless but feisty stroke of brush; much like the reinstating zephyr of souls, that with or without their presence, turn daily life, aromatic.

I have been engulfed in the ephemeral presence of few people who never returned; but their touch stands frozen in my heart. No infernos of absence and no flames of silence can melt away their existence. But they do melt; melt within the searching glow of my fogged eyes. And seep a little more into me; filling the reservoirs with more potency to keep the promise. Yes, the promise.

Ice Castle


In Norse,
*Siss is an abbreviation for Sissel, which is translated as “without sight”.
**Unn is translated as “the one who is loved” yet it can be read as the prefix un-loved as in abandoned.

Note: This Article throws an interesting angle of ‘metaphysical detective fiction’ to this novel and sets some cells to work.

View all my reviews

[Image courtesy  thefatneilmemorialgroup.wikia.com ]

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