This is an unusual novel and not for everyone. A short (184 p) and intensely strange book by Nobel candidate Vesaas. Like nothing else I've ever read, I can't exactly say I enjoyed it, but I will never forget it, and as I read it I became increasingly aware of its literary 'credentials.' This would make a prime candidate as a set text for students, with its deceptively simple writing and short sentences containing a wealth of hidden meanings to be drawn out.
The main character, Siss, is an 11-year old schoolgirl in 1960s Norway. Siss is eleven years old and the most popular girl in her school. An only child, she is also the center of her parents' attention.
One day her feelings toward everyone around her change when a new girl named Unn joins Siss' class at school. A lonely girl by nature, Unn is ignored by everyone in the class, except Siss. The girls decide to meet at Unn's house after school on one darkening autumn evening and start on an electric friendship. Unn reveals to Siss that her mother died of an illness six months earlier and that even at eleven years old she does not know who her father is. And there is indeed something in Unn's background - "the other" - but neither Siss nor the reader ever finds out what. Murder? Child abuse? Unn has come to live with her quiet, distant aunt since her mother died of an illness. Her father is absent, though she has a photo of him. Unn can't talk easily, the conversation is stilted ... and just as it seems to be going somewhere, Siss makes a hasty retreat home....
Coping with these feelings swirling inside of her, Unn has yet to openly discuss her station in life with anyone, that is except for Siss. Despite being the leader of everyone at school, Siss is at heart lonely as well. It seems divinely ordained that the two girls have been brought together, and now they share a deep secret that not even Unn's Aunt or Siss' parents are privileged to know. Together, the girls appear to be on the cusp of navigating through their teenage years without much angst.
This powerful friendship ends before it has a chance to begin. The next morning, Unn decides to navigate an ice palace on her way to school. In Norway, ice is as thick as stone and little is capable of penetrating through it. It is inside of this ice palace structure unspoiled by nature that Unn is able to meditate on her feelings about her mother, her father, her new friendship with Siss, and her inherent loneliness. Almost by design, Unn falls through the ice and drowns. Siss' new friendship is not meant to be and, through a despondent winter, she grieves in her solitude. In addition to the ice structure, Siss has erected an almost impenetrable barrier around herself that not even her parents are able to crack. Coping with her own survivors' guilt while being on the cusp of adolescence, Siss is unable to strike a balance between preserving Unn's memory and moving on with her own life.
She screamed as she did so: for there was Unn! Straight in front of her, looking out through the ice wall.
In a flash she thought she saw Unn, deep in the ice."
But spring comes, her friends still seek her company, there's a boy she likes, and the palace, which features throughout, is finally melting... "Now the palace, with all its secrets, goes into the waterfall. There is a violent struggle and then it has gone."
I don't think I can say much more about this book without becoming repetitive but I urge you to download or pick up a copy. I can promise that you won't regret it. It's a short and easy read, but I guarantee that you won't be satisfied after simply one time. Enjoy!