“She was completely encircled by the tremendous ice walls, which were made fluid by explosions of blinding light, so that they moved and changed with a continuous liquid motion, advancing in torrents of ice, avalanches as big as oceans, flooding everywhere over the doomed world.”
Ice was claimed by Brian Aldiss as the best science fiction of 1967. “She is De Quincey's heir and Kafka's sister,” he’d said. However, critics prefer to call it a work of literary slipstream, a certain kind of ambitious science fiction that lay outside the familiar themes of space travel, alien invasions and time travel. So, JG Ballard, Angela Carter, Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami, Jorge Luis Borges and William S Burroughs were some of the writers included in this genre along with Anna Kavan.
Kavan's hallucinogenic end-of-the-world novel follows two men – the narrator and a man known as the warden – as they search for a girl, wading through a landscape of ice and snow after a nuclear disaster. The girl whose name we never hear is referred to as an “ice maiden, as brittle as Venetian glass, with long white hair.”
In Ice it’s not only people who don’t have names, it’s also the countries, places, buildings and roads that are anonymous, making the reader feel “completely lost in an oneiric dystopia without a single signpost,” says Hannah Freeman in The Guardian. The novel, according to her, also tells the fascinating story of Kavan's 40-year relationship with heroin. “The similarities between the white snow in the story and the powdered form of the drug I'm sure aren't coincidental.”
Kavan’s fiction is highly autobiographical and is rooted in her experiences of asylums, heroin addiction and psychiatric treatment. Submerged in an atmosphere of dread, her books are a direct reflection of her mental state at the time and are profoundly bleak. She herself describes them as “‘nocturnal, where dreams and reality merge.” Written while she was addicted to heroin, Ice was the last of her novels to be published before she died in 1968.
Published in 1967.