Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The novel is dominated by two opposing images, the walls of ice and the singing lemurs. Both are introduced in the first chapter, the former with characteristic unreality. At this point, the narrator is driving along a lonely road in the dark, seeing only the hail and snow flashing through the headlights to strike his windscreen. Then he looks sideways through a gap in the hedge, to see “for a moment . . . the girl’s naked body, slight as a child’s, ivory white against the dead white of the snow.... ” What can the girl be doing, naked in a field in a snowstorm? If she were there, surely the narrator would stop? Instead, he describes in slow detail the way in which walls of ice close in on her, reach over her, set hard over her feet and ankles, climb up her body until all that is left is a black mouth open to scream. How, one wonders, could the narrator have seen all this from a moving car through a gap in the hedge? No answer is given. Instead, the reader finds six pages on his past infatuation and is then returned to the problems of his drive in the snow. The girl and the walls of ice have been a hallucination, though it proves to be a recurrent one.

By contrast, the narrator’s other obsession lies in the study of a nearly extinct race of singing lemurs called the Indris, who live only in the forests of a remote tropical island. From time to time, he plays their songs; works on a monograph about them, to the total exclusion of his immediate...

(The entire section is 532 words.)