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As soon as I got permission to get on with my own, I made a methodical search of the ship, but without finding a trace of the person I wanted. Finally I gave up in despair and went out on deck. Too tired and disheartened to push through the crowds of people milling about there, I stood by the rail, overcome by a sudden urge to abandon the whole affair. I had never really had a valid reason for supposing the girl would be on this ship. Suddenly it seemed neither sensible, nor even sane, to continue search based solely on vague surmise; particularly as my attitude to its object was so undefined.

When I considered that imperative need I felt for her, as for a missing part of myself, it appeared less like love than an inexplicable aberration, the sign of some character flaw I ought to eradicate, instead of letting it dominate me. At this moment a big black-backed gull sailed past, almost brushing my cheek with its wing tip, as if on purpose to draw my attention and eyes after it up to the boat deck.

At once I saw her there, looking away from me, where no one had been before; and everything I had just been thinking was swept out of my head by a wave of excitement, my old craving for her returned. I was convinced it was she without even seeing her face; no other girl in the world had such dazzling hair, or was so thin that her fragility could be seen through a thick gray coat.

I simply had to reach her, it was all I could think of. I had hardly any time, in a moment the boat would be sailing. Visitors were leaving already, forming a strong cross current I had to fight. My one idea was to get to the boat deck before it was too late.

In my anxiety, I must have pushed people aside. Hostile remarks were made, a fist shaken.

I tried to explain my urgency to those who obstructed me, but they would not listen. Three tough looking young men linked arms and aggressively barred my way, their expressions threatening.

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I had not meant to offend, hardly knew what I was doing. I was thinking only of her. The gangway will be raised in exactly two minutes. An immediate rush followed. It was quite impossible to resist the human flood surging toward the gangway. I was caught up in the stampede, dragged along with it, off the boat, and on to the quay. The ship had already moved away from the shore and was gathering speed every second, already divided from me by a strip of water too wide to jump.

In desperation, I shouted and waved my arms, trying to attract her attention.

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It was hopeless. A whole sea of arms waved all around me, innumerable voices were shouting unintelligibly. I saw her turn to speak to somebody who had just joined her, at the same time pulling a hood over her head, so that her hair was hidden. Immediate doubts invaded me, and increased as I watched her. After all, perhaps she was not the right girl; she seemed too self-possessed. But I was not certain. The boat was now beginning the turn that would bring it round facing the mouth of the harbor, leaving behind it a curving track of smoother water, like the swath left by a scythe.

I stood staring after it, although cold had driven the passengers off the decks and there was no more hope of recognition.


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I dimly remembered what I had been thinking just before I caught sight of her, but only as one might recall an incident from a dream. Once again the urgency of the search had reclaimed me; I was totally absorbed in that obsessional need, as for a lost, essential portion of my own being. Everything else in the world seemed immaterial. I was lost, it was already dusk, I had been driving for hours and was practically out of petrol. The idea of being stranded on these lonely hills in the dark appalled me, so I was glad to see a signpost, and coast down to a garage.

When I opened a window to speak to the attendant, the air outside was so cold that I turned up my collar. We learn that the narrator and this girl were seeing each other in earlier days, although for a brief period. I had been infatuated with her at one time, had intended to marry her. Ironically, my aim then had been to shield her from the callousness of the world, which her timidity and fragility seemed to invite.

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She was over-sensitive, highly-strung, afraid of people and life; her personality had been damaged by a sadistic mother who kept her in a permanent state of frightened subjection. Her prominent bones seemed brittle, the protruding wrist-bones had a particular fascination for me. I treated her like a glass girl; at times she hardly seemed real.


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  • We then learn that she suddenly ditches the narrator and marries another man. The narrator goes to meet the couple at their home, and sees that she remains in a state of terror and submission in the marriage as well. Later the husband tells the narrator that the girl has escaped, and from then onwards, the narrator decides to make his quest for finding the girl his sole purpose, above anything else. This is also where the novel begins to take on a dream like quality, and as a reader you are strangely compelled to go along with the flow rather than try to make any sense of it. Throughout the book, the sequence keeps on repeating…the narrator boards a ship, he reaches a town where he sees the girl only to lose her again.

    Peter Owen Modern Classic: Ice by Anna Kavan (2006, Paperback)

    For instance, in the initial pages, the narrator reaches an unnamed town and gathers that it is governed by the Warden, a powerful and brutal man. He knows that the girl is with him and makes a request to see her, but his efforts prove futile. He wants to find her at all cost, even when during some moments of rationality, he acknowledges that he needs to abandon this desperate need to go after her.

    Ice then is a tale of male obsession and desire, also giving us an uncomfortable glimpse into female objectification. Ice also has streaks of science fiction elements running through it. The world Kavan has painted is cold, bleak and desolate; gradually being crushed by ice. It is a world on the brink of an apocalypse. She was completely encircled by the tremendous ice-walls, which were made fluid by explosions of blinding light, so that they moved and changed with a continuous liquid motion, advancing in torrents of ice, avalanches as big as oceans, flooding everywhere over the doomed world.

    Wherever she looked, she saw the same fearful encirclement, soaring battlements of ice, an overhanging ring of frigid, fiery colossal waves about to collapse upon her. Day by day the ice was creeping over the curve of the earth, unimpeded by seas or mountains. Without haste or pause, it was steadily moving nearer, entering and flattening cities, filling craters from which boiling lava had poured.

    There was no way of stopping the icy giant battalions, marching in relentless order across the world, crushing, obliterating, destroying everything in their path. One such section to me was quite hypnotic. It was when on learning about the ice catastrophe, the Warden flees his country and forces the girl to go with him.

    The Ice Palace (Peter Owen Modern Classics)

    It was incomprehensible to her, this extraordinary flight that went on and on. The forest went on forever, the silence went on and on. The snow stopped, but the cold went on and even increased, as if some icy exudation from the black trees congealed beneath them. Hour after hour passed before a little reluctant daylight filtered down through the roof of branches, revealing nothing but gloomy masses of firs, dead and living trees tangled together, a dead bird often caught in the branches, as if the tree had caught it deliberately.

    Kavan was married twice and once her second marriage ended, she suffered a series of nervous breakdowns for which she was confined to a clinic in Switzerland. Kavan also suffered bouts of mental illness and was addicted to heroin for a considerable period. In a sense, there are influences of this in her novels.

    Ice (Peter Owen Modern Classic) - AbeBooks - Anna Kavan:

    The hallucinatory effect of Ice probably corresponds to the unreal, surreal world that exists for a drug addict. Given that Ice refuses to follow conventional norms of fiction or storytelling, it is challenging to define it. But if you are willing to accept its arbitrariness, and its strangeness, then the experience of reading it is as exhilarating as any whiff of joint. Reality had always been something of an unknown quantity to me.

    At times this could be disturbing. Norway is a country of gorgeous scenery. When I visited it a couple of years ago, I was stunned by the beauty of its fjords and the charm of its small towns. It was also where I was treated to a fabulous display of the Northern Lights! But besides nature, Norway also has a strong literary heritage as I am beginning to discover.

    Two months in and I have already savoured the novels of two Norwegian authors. The Ice Palace is a haunting tale of two year old girls Siss and Unn.


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    • Siss thought about many things as she walked, bundled up against the frost. She was on her way to Unn, a girl she scarcely knew, for the first time; on her way to something unfamiliar, which was why it was exciting.