Tarjei Vesaas and the Ice Palace


 In the MOOC on The Fiction of Relationship, we had one book assigned by a Norwegian writer, Tarjei Vesaas, whom I had never heard about and is now on my “must read” list. The style of writing, terse and poetic, is just the kind of thing that strikes my fancy.

The plot is rather simple: Two little girls have a nascent friendship. One of them disappears without a trace and the other is left to grieve for her lost friend. She isolates herself in an effort to remain faithful to the lost friendship but eventually works through her grief and reconnects with others.

Well, that really does not describe the richness of the book… The author, in a very poetic way, explores the long journey through loss and grief, their impact on the self, and on relationships with others. It also alludes on the role of community in supporting those who are grieving and their own longing for normalcy.

For the MOOC, I had to write a “creative essay”, which means we have lots of leeway to write something related to the reading, without being constrained by the customary essay form. So at the risk of being accused of plagiarizing my own blog, I am posting what I wrote before the closing of the peer review period.

Auntie’s lost chance at motherhood

Siss is here for a visit and I tell her: “If Unn doesn’t come back, I shall sell this house and go away. I don’t think I can stay here – even though I had Unn for only six months.”

Look at that child. So lost, so forlorn. I cannot talk about my growing conviction that we will never find Unn… that she was just a shooting star, among us for an instant. I don’t want her to lose hope, children should always have hope. What is childhood without hope, without a broad sunny horizon, without something new and fresh to discover every day. Losing a friend, another little girl, could spoil the world forever for her… I have to stay calm, keep a gentle face, hide the pain.

And how does Siss see me? Auntie was just as placid and friendly as she had been the whole time.

Me, an old maid, childless… I was given a chance, but such a small chance to experience motherhood, even though I will never be a mother, to cultivate this bond with a child. But did Unn even give me a chance? What an odd little girl she was, always brooding, very silent, but seemingly pleased with herself, as if holding a secret against the world. How did she connect with Siss?

If I leave… when I leave… where will I go? Close by, but far enough to avoid the memories? Or shall I go far, far away? Where there will be no chance to run into anyone from here, to bring up memories, to ask how am I getting along, since Unn…

This place, this house, in other times a quiet haven, fills with the absence of a little girl, who could have been mine, but never was. And never will be.

* * * * *

As I read the book, I wondered about what Auntie really felt about the disappearance of Unn. I was trying to image the chain of thoughts that would fill her head as she looked calmly at Siss, probably looking quite inexpressive to the little girl. I was wondering what her perception of this relationship and its subsequent loss was.




Quotes from pages 102 and 103 are indicated in bold italics.

Vesaas, Tarjei. The Ice Palace. Peter Owen Classics, London, 1991.




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