Reading a novel entitled ICE during our winter months is not such a smart idea. I was not to know that this Swedish author was so competent at description, for I’d not read any of her work previously. As it transpired, she is so accomplished, that shivers were actually created as I read of the climate on this small island off the coast of Finland, where the new pastor was arriving in 1946. Petter and Mona Kummel are welcomed warmly to their new home at the Parsonage, especially as they are young, and with a small daughter, Sanna, are very likely to spend a long and productive time on the Orland Islands. The islanders are devoted to their Lutheran faith, and to their singing. When their new Pastor reveals a fine singing voice, he is even more welcome. But when Mona reveals that, as a former farm girl, she wants to care for, and milk, the cows herself, most of the women in the parish are aghast. As the story unfolds, the characters of the couple, of the organist, the verger, and the store-keeper are outlined in detail, and each behaves in the manner expected, with perhaps a huge exception in the third part of the narrative. The reader is led on and led through the daily life of these northern people, and of “a priest who respects the way things have always been done and doesn’t immediately want to make changes”. When the unexpected change does finally happen, the reader is not prepared for the reaction from the villagers, or from Mona Kummel.
This is an introspective novel, written with great care in spare language. Sometimes it seems to suffer in translation (made by Thomas Teal), as though the enormous differences between locale and customs from our own have proven too much. This work has won the Finlandia Prize, and has been nominated for the Nordic Critics Prize. Despite its slow pace, it is easy to see why ICE has enjoyed such success. Wrap up warmly before you begin to read!