book reviews by Althea

Review: Ice

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Ice by Anna Kavan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This month’s post-apocalyptic book club selection!

I actually read the 1974 paperback, but that cover is so bad that I just don’t want to stare at it in my book list all year! (…) That edition also features an introduction by Brian Aldiss, who is responsible for convincing Kavan to allow him to market her book as a science fiction title. It’s kind of… not, however.

Also, I really wished that the introduction had been positioned as an afterword. It contains autobiographical information and interpretations of the work that I felt really colored my experience of the piece; and I would have much preferred to read them later.

The book is a strange one. It’s extremely Symbolist, where everything feels like it’s an indirect metaphor for something else. The title is apt – the writing comes at a scenario from different angles, showing us a scene as if viewed through an ice crystal, where everything looks different depending on what facet you’re viewing it through.

On one level, the book is a feminist cry, showing a woman who is pursued and oppressed, never simply let alone, by the relentless men around her. On another level (I thought, the most significant one), I read the entire thing as a metaphor for one person’s internal landscape, and the feeling of being caught by relentless depression. It could also be interpreted as being about the experience of being incarcerated in a mental hospital.

The narrator of the book is a man in a war-torn, increasingly apocalyptic country. But the main character is the unnamed ‘girl,’ a frail, pale figure. Identity is uncertain. Is there one girl, or many different, similar women? There are three men in the book – the girl’s husband, the narrator (who describes himself as the husband’s rival) and the Warden. The narrator is also described as schizophrenic, and all three men may really be the same. The girl seems weak and pathetic, but it is uncertain if this is fact, or if it is how she is viewed. Love is also obsession, is also war, as military force is juxtaposed with romantic impulses. The threat of violence, of crushing suffocation, is omnipresent. Always, the ice is closing in.

I cannot say that I loved this book, but it is certainly a fascinating, complex and worthwhile read.

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