BOOK REVIEW: Ice by Anna Kavan. Interior landscapes cast in ice.

IceIce by Anna Kavan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kafka cavorts with Plath in this post-apocalyptic novel by the late Anna Kavan. A thermonuclear device has been detonated, and the world slowly awaits its fate as the planet freezes. In this new Ice Age, a nameless narrator searches for the girl he loves. But this isn’t just another version of love among the ruins. The imminent destruction of the world has set in motion the erosion of civilization. Random acts of violence and mass hysteria take over the cities, as the icebergs creep closer. The tragicomic game of political conquest takes place, starting in Scandinavia, led by the vainglorious character called the Warden. The narrator must vie with the Warden for possession of the girl, whom the Warden has abducted. The relationship between the narrator and the girl is not healthy in the least. He views her contemptuously, as a born victim, and believes that only he has a right to brutalize her. The girl herself–with her white-blonde hair and fragility, is a study in passive-aggression. She can be downright cruel. Several times during the novel, the anti-hero leaves her, only to take up the search again. The two men fight over the girl, without actual care for her; she is merely a pretty prop on which hang their aggressions and neuroses. It mirrors the futility of the political games, where the various powers vie to gain power over a dying world. There is a Kafkaesque sense of absurdity, along with that author’s existential despair of humankind’s folly.

These psychodramas take place amid a surrealistic, nightmare landscape. Kavan’s images of the encroaching ice are beautiful and deadly. It’s reminiscent (and perhaps even inspired) the arctic cover art of Radiohead’s ‘Kid A.’ The hallucinatory intensity might be due to Kavan’s drug use. Born Helen Ferguson, Kavan legally changed her name to a
character in one of her novels. She suffered severe depression and self-medicated with heroin, eventually becoming an addict. Like Plath or Sexton, Kavan uses bouts of depression to create brutal, enigmatic images. Her characters in this book are forces of nature themselves. The eternal war between the sexes is illuminated unsparingly–at odds with her delicate, mannered prose. ICE appears to document Kavan’s
brilliant, if unsettling interior landscape.

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