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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Anna Kavan

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To purchase Ice

Title: Ice
Author: Anna Kavan
Genre: Novel
Written: 1967
Length: 195 pages
Availability: Ice - US
Ice - UK
Ice - Canada
Neige - France
Eis - Deutschland
Ghiaccio - Italia
Hielo - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)

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Our Assessment:

A- : impressive, in all respects, and unsettling

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 21/11/2011 Hannah Freeman
Le Monde . 20/11/2021 François Angelier
The Independent . 4/6/1993 Doris Lessing
Sunday Times . 3/9/1967 Julian Symons
The Times . 11/8/1967 Sarah Curtis
The Times . 11/11/2017 James Marriott
Die Zeit . 2/6/2020 Samuel Hamen

  From the Reviews:
  • "It's not many pages into the book that we realise that this isn't a story about characters negotiating a war-torn country, but rather about the narrator fighting his paranoid, panic-stricken mind as it threatens to overcome him. This isn't a plot spoiler; in fact, it's almost impossible to give a spoiler to this book. Its meaning shifts with each reading. (...) That's my seasonal read. It's not heartwarming, it doesn't have a single picturesque landscape or sleigh bell in it. It's strange, unsettling and harsh, but that's why it's ideal." - Hannah Freeman, The Guardian

  • "However we class the book, there is nothing else like it. (...) But this Ice is not psychological ice, or metaphysical ice, here the loneliness of childhood has been magicked into a physical reality as hallucinatory as the Ancient Mariner's." - Doris Lessing, The Independent

  • "The book's scenes are sometimes deliberately, sometimes perhaps involuntarily disconnected, as Miss Kavan relates the break-up of the world to the disintegration of the personality. Ice is hardly a satisfactory novel, but many of the distressing images and the scenes of destruction have a curious disordered power and beauty." - Julian Symons, Sunday Times

  • "Anna Kavan has an outstanding gift for evoking an atmosphere. Ice is one of the most terrifying postulations of the end of the world that I have come across (.....) It is melodramatic, but panic and the cold fill every page." - Sarah Curtis, The Times

  • "Innerhalb kürzester Zeit stellt sich beim Lesen der Eindruck einer merkwürdig detaillierten Irrealität ein: Man erfährt sehr viel und durchschaut sehr wenig. (...) Als Allegorie auch und gerade jener Gegenwart, in der er nun auf Deutsch erschienen ist, ist der Roman wie ein Gespenst, dessen Gestalt sich nicht endgültig fassen lässt. (...) Das Buch hat uns etwas zu sagen, ohne das jemals vorgehabt zu haben." - Samuel Hamen, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ice opens with its nameless narrator on his way to visit a woman he had once been involved with and her husband. He has recently returned to his homeland, "to investigate rumors of a mysterious impending emergency in this part of the world", yet while disaster seems to loom ever-larger all around, he finds himself unable to stop obsessing over this woman. Repeatedly in the novel, he will go to some extremes -- in a world that then continues to become ever more extreme, as the 'emergency' turns out to be global, rather than just local in scale -- to find her, a seeking wanderer in a world where everything is tending to collapse.
       Already on this first trip, he travels into an area where: "disaster had obliterated the villages and wrecked the farms". It is unseasonably cold, and it snows; as readers may have expected from the title, ice plays a prominent role in the novel, as environmental catastrophe -- whether a nuclear winter or otherwise -- is inexorably spreading. As he sums up at one point: "Something had gone wrong with the weather". The ice keeps coming, creeping steadily, eventually:

Without haste or pause, it was steadily moving nearer, entering and flattening cities, filling craters from which boiling lava 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.
       The disaster expands as the story progresses, and its icy manifestation figures until the end, where the narrator, still rushing on, acknowledges: "I knew there was no escape from the ice".
       While involved in some secretive but important work along the way, the narrator never loses sight of that other objective, the woman he can not put out of his mind. Much as, professionally, he seems involved with the (futile) attempt to save the world, so also he repeatedly seeks to, essentially, save the girl, as he can't escape his obsession over her fate and being:
I had not escaped the past. My thoughts kept wandering back to the girl; incredible that I should have wished to forget her. Such a forgetting would have been monstrous, impossible. She was like a part of me, I could not live without her.
       He always refers to -- and often describes -- her as a girl, even: "a child, immature, a glass girl" and: "a desperate child". He describes his first impressions and dealings with her, years earlier, recognizing already how damaged she was:
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.
       Already then, he notes: "I treated her like a glass girl; at times she seemed hardly real". She remains elusive for much of the story, as well. Early on, the narrator finds her attached to a warden, who now governs over the ruined land; this place he finds himself -- and her -- in is a dreamlike, icy other-world -- a sense compounded by the narrator's hallucinations, as he also records his vivid (and often dark and tortured) visions, which seem no less (or more) real than the collapsing world around him.
       The narrator also considers (an of course impossible) retreat from this world and what is happening to it, imagining that he could:
go to the Indris; to make that tropical island my home, and the lemurs themselves my life work. I would devote the rest of my time to studying them, writing their history, recording their strange songs.
       Indris/lemurs are found in Madagascar, and he can dream of escaping to this island. Except, of course, that there is no escape from what is happening.
       Kavan intentionally remains vague about the nature of the disaster that has occurred; basically leaving it at: "no one knew what had actually happened". What is made clear is how ultimately completely devastating it will be.
       Ice is all marvelous icy atmosphere. Even as so much remains vague, Kavan is excellent in evoking place and feeling -- and the torments of its characters. Much can be read into the work -- not least Kavan's heroin-addiction --, but regardless of interpretation it impresses greatly on that basic level, a powerful tale that shakes the reader.
       An impressive piece of writing, and a disturbing and compelling work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 November 2022

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Ice: Reviews: Anna Kavan: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       English author Anna Kavan lived 1901 to 1968.

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© 2022 the complete review

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