'How simple this novel is. How subtle. How strong. How unlike any other. It is unique. It is unforgettable. It is extraordinary.' It would be hard to imagine higher praise than Doris Lessing's, writing thirty years after the publication in 1963 of Tarjei Vesaas' The Ice Palace (Is-Slottet). I think it is a remarkable book and Lessing's review gives a clear account of why it is so memorable and moving. The Norwegian winter landscape is integral to the plot, which Lessing partly summarises as follows: 'One little girl, the orphan Unn, has a secret, something terrible - we never know what it is - which she promises to tell her new friend Siss; but instead, the very day after the promise, she is impelled to explore the caves of a frozen waterfall, further and deeper into the shining heart of the ice ... There she dies. The whole community searches for her, and some even clamber over the surface of the frozen fall, but it is only her friend Siss who catches a glimpse of her, like an apparition inside the ice palace, looking out through the ice wall. In the spring the frozen river melts, and all is swept away in the floods, the secret too.'
The Ice Palace was recently turned into a ballet with music by Terje Isungset, whose ice music I described here in an earlier post. A film adaptation was made in 1987, which someone has loaded in sections onto YouTube - the clip above shows Unn walking into the frozen waterfall. I'll close here with a brief quotation from this moment in the novel, translated in 1966 by Elizabeth Rokkan. 'There was a ravine with steep sides; the sun would perhaps reach into it later, but now it was an ice-cold shadow. Unn looked down into an enchanted world of small pinnacles, gables, frosted domes, soft curves and confused tracery. All of it was ice, and the water spurted between, building it up continually. Branches of the waterfall had been diverted and rushed into new channels, creating new forms. Everything shone. The sun had not yet come, but it shone ice-blue and green of itself, and deathly cold.'