Critical Context

In reading this novel, one should not forget that Anna Kavan was for many years a heroin addict, and that she committed suicide very shortly after this book was published. The simplest way of reading it is to see it as an account of a disturbed personality trying to express fear of the outside world together with a desperate (if ultimately unsuccessful) ambition to break through to it, to come out of ice, entrapment, and mental confusion to a place in the sun. In this view, Ice would take its place as one of many modern documents of disturbed states, together with, for example, the poetry of Robert Lowell or Sylvia Plath, the fiction of William Burroughs or Franz Kafka.

To this view, however, two further dimensions may be added. One is that Ice remains a work of science fiction, which has been highly praised by Brian Aldiss, and has many points of resemblance to the futuristic visions of J. G. Ballard, especially The Crystal World (1966) and the short stories of The Terminal Beach (1964). The other is that Ice is clearly a work of the late 1960’s, a period in which “consciousness-raising,” often by use of drugs, became a cult activity believed to permit glimpses of a truth inaccessible to sober realists.

The achievement of this novel may be, accordingly, to have combined in one work three different forms of nonrealism: one personal, to do with the author; one generic, stemming from its science-fiction mode; and one ideological, dictated by its period. The three are fused in a highly characteristic style which moves abruptly from banality to bizarrerie and is animated by unforgettably surreal images.