This is not a novel in the normal sense. It is a painting composed of words. Despite all its references to bright white ice and snow it has a persistent brooding aura of dark mental despair and a calamitous irredeemable finality about relationships and life itself.
Two eleven year old girls, Siss, an extrovert, the other, Unn, an introvert, are irrepressibly drawn to each other. Eventually, Unn, an orphan who has recently moved in with her aunt, invites Siss to her home. Soon they lock themselves in Unn’s bedroom to share each other’s deepest thoughts. But Siss becomes overwhelmed when Unn wants to reveal some mysterious, perhaps sinister secret. Siss departs in a hurry, breaching the delicate bond that has formed between them. Nevertheless Siss feels herself committed to place her relationship with Unn above all others. The following day Unn feels embarrassed and uncertain to face Siss and instead of going to school she elects to go wandering in the woods and to explore an ice palace formed by a frozen waterfall. Unn is never heard from again. Siss withdraws from her circle of friends; she is protective of Unn and the “secret” which she could have learned had she been more trusting and stayed longer that night. It was probably not Vesaas’ intention, but reading his narrative fifty years later, the mental and emotional attraction between Siss and Unn seems homopolar (i.e. nascent homosexual). Anyway, the reader can’t help but wonder for the rest of the book what Unn was hiding. Was it some trauma she had experienced, or was it something she wanted to experience with Siss? Did the fact that Unn wanted them both to get naked as soon as they were in her locked room provide a clue? Mystery is embedded in the iciness of this tale.
Unn’s disappearance hits Siss hard. She becomes secretive and introverted, almost taking on Unn’s persona. She suffers from loneliness, depression and guilt. She distances herself from her friends. She is drawn to the ice palace, sensing its connection with Unn’s fate. The last two thirds of the book keep the reader in suspense. Much of the prose is metaphoric and enigmatic. Conversations are stutteringly brief. This is like verbal acupuncture. This short novel could easily be dismissed but can leave an impression of succinct and timeless relevance.