by Anna Kavan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“As her fate, she accepted the world of ice, shining, shimmering, dead; she resigned herself to the triumph of glaciers and the death of the world.”
Her hair was a blizzard, a shimmering cascade of pale luminous moonlight. She was fragile as if made of glass and crystal, built like a waif with pallid skin and bruised eyes. She is an ice sculpture carved out of a glacier that is shattered and reassembled time and time again. He needs her, desires her, craves her. He wants to clench the slender bones of her wrist and grip the gaunt thrust of her hip.
He finds her as the world is ending.
She belongs to another, but then he realizes that she is discontented. ”While she was happy I had dissociated myself, been outside the situation. Now I felt implicated, involved with her again.”HE?
The unreliable narrator of this tale is suffering from daytime apparitions and nighttime terrors. The lurid concoctions of his agitated mind bleed certainty into the fantastical fooling, not only himself, but also this reader. He has seized his own deceptions and sees them for what they are, but understanding and containing them are two very different things. ”The hallucination of one moment did not fit the reality of the next.”
Ice is advancing across the Earth. He has the means to save her or at least put off the inevitable.
He is chasing a wraith. He loses her and finds her again only to have her turn to smoke in his hands. He knows she is real though everything must be questioned. She hates him. She misses him. She expects him to save her as she bashes him with her animosity. When he dreams of her, she is dead. ”I felt I had been defrauded: I was the only person entitled to inflict wounds. I leaned forward and touched her cold skin.”
He has a rival.
The split half of himself who is assertive, brutal, and obsessively possessive, The Narrator refers to him as The Warden, but it is unclear exactly who he is. I have lingering doubts about The Warden’s identity. Is he separate from The Narrator or is he merely just another personality that he jumps to when he needs to be someone else? Someone who can control the girl. The one who can remind her of who she is. ”Systematic bullying when she was most vulnerable had distorted the structure of her personality, made a victim of her, to be destroyed, either by things or by human beings, people or fjords and forests; it made no difference, in any case she could not escape. The irreparable damage inflicted had long ago rendered her fate inevitable.”
She is a victim, but he is starting to understand that he is a victim too. In her presence, sometimes he becomes someone unacceptable. Her very delicacy, her fracturability makes him want to hurt her, makes him need to hurt her.
Kindness is something he learns too late.
The world is so disturbing because he knows it comes from within his own mind.
Bruce Sterling termed the phrase slipstream to describe this type of writing long after this novel was published. He wrote: "...this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility."
I knew after reading only a few pages that I was going to have to read this novel quickly, feverishly, if I had any chance of staying in the boat as I swirled without paddles through the mind of Anna Kavan. I put Franz Kafka in the boat with me, but he too is a fragile soul, and became sea sick with the changing directions of this twisted plot. There are Kafka moments, especially when The Narrator is dealing with a government bureaucracy that is becoming more and more detached as the world becomes smaller.
Anna Kavan was also a painter. This is her self-portrait.
Anna Kavan, AKA Helen Emily Woods, AKA Helen Ferguson, suffered from depression and heroin addiction. She was in and out of treatment centers her whole life. She attempted suicide, but survived each attempt. Many people believed that she passed away from an overdose in 1968, but she actually died from a heart attack. She burned all of her correspondence and her diaries before she died. This is truly unfortunate because I have a feeling that to most of us her diaries would be like trying to read Cumbric, but to a select few it would be like finding an extension of their own brain.
I can’t help thinking The Girl in this story is Anna Kavan. A fragile woman herself whom both men and women found to be attractive. Ultimately, The Girl in the story accepts her fate, and I tend to think that Kavan reached the same conclusions with her own life. She lived in seclusion. Though venerated by many writers, most of her work was published after her death. She was a lost girl who became a lost woman, incapable of escaping the ebb and flow of a mind that obviously saw the world differently. Like The Narrator, the barrier that most of us have between real life and fanciful thoughts must have been breached for her. Everything was real, and everything was imaginary. The disparity between one or the other is a hair's difference.
This novel is bleak and beautiful. Anna is so crafty and so lost; yet, so desperate to be found. I can already tell that I will never completely shake this novel off. I will remember the starkness of the trees, the desperate searching, the walls of ice, the escaping to be repossessed, and the nameless characters who together might form one being.
I purchased a first American hardcover edition of this book from Between the Covers Rare Books in New Jersey
You can find more of my writing on my blog at http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
View all my reviews