In the secret, underground world of good literature no one knows about, Anna Kavan lurks (see Who Are You?). Ice is just as weird as Who Are You?, but there’s a more palpable sense of despair, sinister hinting at the end of the world. The narrator is a man we first encounter on the road, searching for the girl, “I myself did not understand my compulsion to see this girl, who had been in my thoughts all the time I was away, although she was not the reason for my return. I had come back to investigate rumors of a mysterious impending emergency in this part of the world.” The impending emergency is hinted at in the first paragraph, as he’s refueling the car, when the attendant mentions the area is in for a “real bad freeze-up.” We learn that the narrator had intended to marry the girl at one time, had patiently waited for her to trust him, and then she deserted him for her current husband, the couple he was speeding through the dark to reach at invitation of the husband. The descriptions of the girl swirl around her silver-white sparkling hair, her thinness, brittleness, a “glass girl,” transparent.
Already in the fourth paragraph, we’re being told what to expect from the narrator: “Reality had always been something of an unknown quality to me. At times this could be disturbing.” So we shouldn’t be surprised when he hallucinates seeing her dead white body among the snow as he’s hurrying toward their house. He drops in, discovers that their relationship has deteriorated, leaves her with her abusive husband. Chapter 2, she’s left the husband, disappeared. Narrator feels compelled to find her, drops all his own business to search for her. “Nothing else mattered.” As the story continues, the settings become colder and colder, the insatiable ice marches on. He discovers her living as a prisoner/companion to the warden who controls everything in town from the High House, the man with piercing & hypnotic blue eyes. Narrator appears to witness her rape, although at this point perhaps the narrator & the warden are the same person?
War breaks out, countries realizing it’s the end times and making their final power plays. Narrator spots silver-haired girl running through the forest and then dead, but of course she’s not really dead. “I had a curious feeling that I was living on several planes simultaneously; the overlapping of these planes was confusing.” Narrator tries to rescue the girl, she flees with the warden instead, ramming their car at top speed through the barrier at the border. It’s futile, the ice chases everyone, the warden/girl roam through battlegrounds where the warden is an important figure. Narrator helps broadcast from a transmitter on the enemy side, defects to warden’s side when he’s tired of things working so smoothly. He eventually gets the girl to safety, warmth, but even there he detects a chill in the air, tropical plants not doing so well, citizens curiously reluctant to admit that it’s colder than normal. When glass girl continues to reject him, he leaves, just as she suspected he always would. Narrator winds up a mercenary fighter, then decides he wants a more important role so goes to see the warden. When questioned about the glass girl’s whereabouts, the narrator faces insults from the warden, who decides that he will go and take her. This piques the narrator’s interest in the girl again, and he steals a car, goes to rescue her. The ice is barreling down on them the whole time, the last scene they’re warm in the car in a futile escape attempt, narrator reassured by the weight of the gun in his pocket.
Bothered by the dust jacket’s proclamation that “Anna Kavan’s books have established her reputation as one of the most talented and original contemporary writers-comparable in stature to Virginia Woolf, Anais Nin and Djuna Barnes.” Ah, so writers who are women must be compared to other writers who are women. I’d say she’s fair competition to Ian McEwan’s creepiness, as lyrical as Rilke, and as capable of crazy as anyone.