The frozen disaster overtaking the planet in Ice evokes that Cold-War, bomb-dreading, postwar 20th century we still, in many ways, live inside; it echoes images as popular as episodes of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone or Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. The presentation is scattered with scenes of war, civil unrest and collective societal dysfunction, both vivid and persuasive … Kavan’s commitment to subjectivity was absolute, but in this, her greatest novel, she manages it by disassociation … The book has the velocity of a thriller yet the causal slippages associated with high modernist writing like Beckett’s or Kafka’s. The whole presentation is dreamlike, yet even that surface is riven by dream sequences, and by anomalous ruptures in point-of-view and narrative momentum.
The story of Ice is reported by a nameless narrator who claims to be a former soldier and explorer. We soon realize that he is entirely unreliable, and perhaps mentally unstable … The reason for the disorienting vagueness of so much of Ice becomes clear only in retrospect. It is a work of traumatized sexual surrealism, and its true setting is its author’s haunted imagination … The novel’s title refers not only to the environmental catastrophe of the encroaching walls of ice but also to the emotional numbness of the victimized girl whom the warden and the narrator are vying to possess. The abuse of the girl and the abuse of the environment stem from the same driving male impulse for control and dominance … A half century after its first appearance, Kavan’s fever dream of a novel is beginning to seem all too real.
Ice was Kavan’s first major literary success and it is difficult to classify: it is post-apocalyptic science fiction with the caveat of ‘kind of.’ The subgenre that it shares most characteristics with is slipstream, in that it obsessively constructs an atmosphere of not-quite-realism. We are immediately made aware of a potentially delusional narrator … Essentially the book revolves around a love triangle, emphatically minus the love: the narrator pursues the girl against her husband, known only as ‘the warden’; the warden possesses the girl with an uncomfortable severity. Encircling them are the inexplicable, inhospitable glaciers. Attempts at actually characterizing the ‘glass girl’ always fall upon emphasizing her presumed victimhood … Certainly this is a book full of violence, but Kavan’s masterful and exacting prose never lets us forget that violence has to do with the human—specifically with the man—starting with the violence of language itself.