Thoughts on The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman


I loved Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth and I have come to expect lyrical prose and magical realism in her work. I am not a fan of magical realism as such but hers I gobble up like a plate of hot Top Ramen noodles (read the fragrance of childhood). Poetry, magic, fate everything I have never understood and can’t put into words, Alice Hoffman does it with ease like she has done it all her life, which she has, but it always takes me by surprise.

I usually steer clear of misery or negativity in pop culture unless I think I can handle it. And Alice Hoffman should be read when you can handle her prose. Her words pierce your soul. She wrings out emotions and feelings you never thought you had. The storyline is easy to follow but the themes are weighty. The Ice Queen deals with matters of life and death and everything in between that constitutes the business of living. She writes fairy tales for adults but don’t be fooled into thinking that it would be simple or straightforward.

I took the book with me when I was travelling but somehow I could sense it wasn’t the place for it and I read very little. And I didn’t want to read the book at breakneck speed because I wanted to inhabit the words of this book until I absorbed its essence.

Like many reviewers I agree there isn’t an extra word in The Ice Queen. She covers so much in 211 pages. It is a sentimental tale but the ending is unpredictable. At the centre of the story is an unlikeable protagonist – the unnamed narrator, who is a librarian and a lightning survivor. Something happened when she was a child and and she has allowed it to colour her entire life. Lightning has always fascinated me but this scared me, the damage it can do to your system if you have the misfortune to be struck by it. Her character changes in a fundamental way and she sees herself differently by the time the book ends and so did I. Alice Hoffman makes you feel for her and in spite of everything you root for her. Deep down we are all dreamers.

The Ice Queen is a book about life and death, and about love and hate. It is a book about secrets and their power to define us if we let them.

Secrets are only knowledge that hasn’t yet been uncovered… Therefore, they are not in fact secrets but only unrealized truth.

The Ice Queen is about all kinds of love – love between siblings (blood ties can’t be so easily dismissed), love between people who have survived the same thing, love between people who are married and their lives tied together in ways unimaginable and love that remains even when the object of affection has vanished into thin air. (Not literally true but I wanted to use it because I am feeling theatrical today!)

Feel lucky for what you have when you have it. Isn’t that the point? Happily ever after doesn’t mean happy forever. The ever after, what precisely was that? Your dreams, your life, your death, your everything. Was it the blank space that went on without us? The forever after we were gone?

The Ice Queen tells me things find their own way to fruition if it’s meant to be. And to have an open heart and appreciate the present. Nothing I didn’t know but how many of us actually live fully in the present?

What’s the difference between love and obsession? Didn’t both make you stay up all night, wandering the streets, a victim of your own imagination, your own heartbeat? Didn’t you fall into both, headfirst into quicksand? Wasn’t every man in love a fool and every woman a slave?

Love was like rain: it turned to ice, or it disappeared. Now you saw it, now you couldn’t find it no matter how hard you might search. Love evaporated; obsession was realer; it hurt, like a pin in your bottom, a stone in your shoe. It didn’t go away in the blink of an eye. A morning phone call filled with regret. A letter that said, ‘Dear you, good-bye from me’. Obsession tasted like something familiar. Something you’d known your whole life. It settled and lurked; it stayed with you.

I loved how the chapters began with what would seemed like random questions but actually turned out to be the theme of that chapter.

He had no fear, who had wrestled with death and returned far stronger than he had been before. He wanted his privacy; some people believed a man who told his secrets was a man who lost his strength, and maybe Lazarus Jones was such a man.

Does the same hold true for a woman? Women talk. It is a relief not carrying a secret around. We share our burdens, not only to find solutions but to get it out of our systems. To continue living without losing our sanity. And sometimes that is enough.

A good book moves you and makes you see yourself differently by offering a unique perspective through the world the characters inhabit (I thought it would be too clichéd to say to read this book is to know me). And The Ice Queen made me feel things I never would have admitted to, laying my soul bare.

The ending was like walking out of a cold, bleak and foggy day into the warmth of a sunny day with clear blue skies. There is so much I want to say but cannot for the fear of spoiling the book. I am far from digesting The Ice Queen and the characters won’t leave me so soon. I am thinking about it nearly a month later and I can’t be objective about the book yet. This is one for the reread list but not too soon.

I loved Alice Hoffman’s sense of humour and look forward to reading more of her work in the coming years. (Note to self don’t buy more books under any circumstance. Finish the books on the shelves first!)

Chaos theory and fairy tales are integral to the plot of The Ice Queen and it was fascinating. And reading The Ice Queen has made me want to read the original fairytales, written by Hans Christian Anderson and Brothers Grimm both. Do you like fairy tales or detest them?
At the heart of his paper was the notion that fairy tales relieved us of our need for order and allowed us impossible, irrational desires. Magic was real, that was his thesis. This thesis was at the very center of chaos theory — if the tiniest of actions reverberated throughout the universe in invisible and unexpected ways, changing the weather and the climate, then anything was possible. The girl who sleeps for a hundred years does so because of a single choice to thread a needle. The golden ball that falls down the well rattles the world, changing everything. The bird that drops a feather, the butterfly that moves its wings, all of it drifts across the universe, through the woods, to the other side of the mountain. The dust you breathe in was once breathed out. The person you are, the weather around you, all of it a spell you can’t understand or explain.
The Ice Queen was written the year I passed out of school. I was a girl then. I am reading the book years later as a woman. I can’t deny the fact (more silver hair on my head than I can count to make that mistake) and neither do I want to go back to that self. (I’m truly an adult now having understood that there is no going back because a time machine won’t be invented in my lifetime.) I have always had a sense of mortality even when I was young, an old soul you know. There’s a lot these years have taught me and there’s a lot that has been lost, especially innocence but in the world we are living it’s probably a good thing. Some things are beyond my control and hence I won’t (mostly) beat myself up about things which aren’t my fault.
The Ice Queen is a very quotable book and I have quoted a few lines out of the many that resonated with me.

Why the absence of a colour would affect me so deeply, I had no idea, but I suddenly felt completely bereft. I had lost something before I had known its worth, and now it was too late.

The world is a cruel place. You think you are getting what you want, and you wind up with a plate full of crap.

Could you walk into fear as one person and comeback as someone else entirely?

All I wanted to be was someone else. Was that asking too much? Was that asking for everything?

Are people drawn to each other because of the stories they carry inside? At the library I couldn’t help but notice which patrons checked out the same books. They appeared to have nothing in common, but who could tell what a person was truly made of? The unknown, the riddle, the deepest truth. I noticed them all: the ones who’d lost their way, the ones who’d lived their lives in ashes, the ones who had to prove themselves, the ones who, like me, had lost the ability to feel.

If there was a negative point, I clung to it. A life raft of doubt and fear.

Instead of going home, I drove to the library. To hell with human beings. I’d always felt safer with stories than with flesh and blood.

People hide their truest nature. I understood that; I even applauded it. What sort of world would it be if people bled all over the sidewalks, if they wept under trees, smacked whomever they despised, kissed strangers, revealed themselves?

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