The Ice Palace, Tarjei Vesaas, William Morrow & Co, 1963, 176 pp (originally published in Norway, translated from the Norwegian by Elizabeth Rokkan)
I learned of this exquisite novel from John Self's blog Asylum. John Self is a reviewer for The Guardian but he reads many more books than he gets to review, hence the blog.
Tarjei Vesaas, the author of the novel, was an acclaimed Norwegian poet and novelist (1897-1970) who came within a hair's breath of winning the Nobel Prize, but didn't, in 1964. A serendipitous moment occurred this week when I saw on Lithub that it was the anniversary of his death.
This novel is the story of two eleven-year-old girls who meet at school. Siss has lived in her town all of her life and is the one at school who other kids consider their leader. Unn is the new girl, recently taken in by her aunt after her single mom has died.
The two girls spend an afternoon in Unn's room, getting to know each other. The connection is intense with an underlying sensual throb. Unn tells Siss she has a secret she had never told anyone. She doesn't tell it to Siss either but does say she is not sure she will go to heaven. You feel this is the beginning of a deep friendship.
Within 48 hours Unn has vanished in an ice storm, so the rest of the story relates how Siss deals with the fallout of that.
My little plot summary sounds like a YA novel you might pick up in contemporary times but it is nothing like that. It is mysterious, psychological though not heavy handedly so, and so beautifully written. I kept finding myself holding my breath as I read.
I can't tell you more because anything else I say would be a spoiler, but if you love amazing writing and decide to read The Ice Palace, all will be revealed in a short time. I read the book in one evening. Even if you have a bad memory, you will remember what it is like to be eleven years old.
(The Ice Palace is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)