Jen A.'s Reviews > The Ice Queen

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
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's review
Jul 29, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012, kindle
Read from July 27 to 29, 2012

** spoiler alert ** The first word I want to use to describe The Ice Queen is "beautiful," but this adjective requires some explanation.

The protagonist, a woman whom I don't think we ever actually name, is eight years old when she selfishly wishes her mother -- 30 years old and out to celebrate her birthday, leaving our narrator home alone with her older brother, Ned -- dead. When the mother is actually killed in a road accident involving bald tires and winter ice, the girl believes that her wish came true. She locks herself down emotionally and mentally, becoming the ice queen with a diamond heart.

Obviously, this guilt, self-blame, and self-pitying survives with her into adulthood. She's an island of ice, living with her brother and grandmother. The more realistic, gruesome fairy tales that she loved as a child (and now even more so, a form of literary penance where sometimes there is no happily ever after) are threaded throughout this entire novel in an inventive way, explaining much of our narrator's outlook on and understanding of life. As a librarian, she's well versed in all of the most obscure fairy tales, and discovers a fascination? obsession? with death, researching it until she all but becomes an expert on the topic.

When the grandmother dies, she falls into herself like an individual black hole. Her brother comes up from Florida to rescue her from herself, and moves her down to Florida to be closer to him. There, feeling completely set adrift and dispossessed, she becomes a victim of a lightning strike.

Now, I feel it's important to note that this woman should NOT be a likeable character -- without ever talking about her guilt and grief, she's almost completely withdrawn and self-centered. She's engrossed in her own pain and pity, and finds it incredibly difficult to empathize with anyone else. Her strength comes from her silence, and her impression of being encompassed in ice from her heart to her skin. Yet somewhere in there, threading itself along in between the words and her actions is some sense of what she might be if she could just come to terms with what has happened to her. If she could learn to accept that there were outside forces at work, and her wishes are not all to blame. This quality, built into this character, left me strangely in her corner -- I wanted to read on, to see if she'd "get it", to see what she'd become. I wanted her to find a version of happily ever after, where wishes don't end in death.

I suppose it is that juxtaposition within the main character, and Hoffman's writing, that makes me immediately want to describe this novel as "beautiful".

I also have an odd soft spot for books and films that do exquisite justice to death and dying. The Ice Queen is no exception -- from introducing us to a variety of characters that are all lightning strike victims, describing their various fears, hopes, troubles and gifts, to the mother's death? suicide?, to the grandmother's death, to Ned's struggle with pancreatic cancer... Hoffman gets it all right. Each character is unique, dignified in his/her own way, and each character is lost, searching for a way to be found, and each character faces his/her reality in different, human ways. These characters are a tribute to Hoffman's empathy, and her dedication to real and believable characters.

After reading The Ice Queen, I definitely see myself picking up other books by Hoffman in the future. I like how *complete* the entire book felt -- as if it was really well thought out, not written in haste. Hoffman ties all of her loose ends up neatly after weaving a complete picture, a satisfying read.
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Reading Progress

52.0% "You could fight against cruelty, tooth and claw, but sympathy engulfed you, took you over, made you aware of all you'd done wrong."
58.0% "How many women in how many stories had done this before? Mistrusted a lover, longed for an answer to a question that was not yet fully formed. [...] of course, there were a hindred versions of the same story: a woman who has to learn what she already knows, somehow, somewhere inside."
93.0% ""What's the best way to die?" I asked Jack one night. [...] "Living," he said."

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