A young white forehead boring into the darkness.
–Tarjei Vesaas [trans. Elizabeth Rokker] - The Ice Palace
Siss is on her way through the dark evening to meet Unn. They have been going to school together ever since Unn came to live with her Auntie, but this is the first time they will really have met, conversed, gotten to know one another. They are both eleven. They look alike, but personality-wise they are very different. Siss is the popular girl at school. The leader of the group. Unn has always held herself apart. She has a secret. She will tell Unn what it is, but not tonight.
But Siss is never to learn that secret, she leaves Unn’s house in a rush, overpowered by emotion and not really understanding what is happening. And the following day Unn is embaressed, she doesn’t want to see Siss quite yet so she plays truant and goes to explore a frozen waterfall where winter has created an ice palace. She will never return from there.
This really is one of those novels that you need some guidance with. On a quick surface read it seems not much of a story. Two girls who meet, have a connection, but one goes missing and this has a life-altering effect on the other. And yet life continues on, pretty much unchanged, apart from those directly impacted by Unn’s disappearance.
It is beautifully told. I kept reading because it was a beautiful piece of fiction. That horrible word, lyrical, might be used. And it is deceptively simple. Because it isn’t *just* about a missing child. It is about childhood itself. About when everything was new and exciting. But you were also isolated and alone because your parents might try but they never really understood anything. How could they!?
And of course it is a novel about how the world just continues on. Personal tragedy has no impact on winter. The world is larger than humanity.
Or at least that’s how I am reading it at the moment. There is plenty more I hope the lectures I’m about to watch pick up on; light and dark, secrets, promises, death, and so much more.
I’m not sure I ever will reread this one, but it is a book I feel would certainly reward a second, third and possibly more, readings.