Sunday, 2 October 2016

Review: 'The Ice Queen' by Alice Hoffman

The Ice QueenIn the last few years I’ve read and reviewed a number of Alice Hoffman’s books, both recent and older. With each I discovered new things about her writing which drew me in, kept me on the edge of my seat and fascinated. Thankfully, The Ice Queen is no exception to that rule. Initially published in 2006, it was the title that put this book at the top of my ‘Alice Hoffman books I still have to read’-list.

Original Publisher: Vintage Books
From the bestselling author of Practical Magic, a miraculous, enthralling tale of a woman who is struck by lightning, and finds her frozen heart is suddenly burning.
Be careful what you wish for. A small town librarian lives a quiet life without much excitement. One day, she mutters an idle wish and, while standing in her house, is struck by lightning. But instead of ending her life, this cataclysmic event sparks it into a new beginning.
She goes in search of Lazarus Jones, a fellow survivor who was struck dead, then simply got up and walked away. Perhaps this stranger who has seen death face to face can teach her to live without fear. When she finds him, he is her opposite, a burning man whose breath can boil water and whose touch scorches. As an obsessive love affair begins between them, both are forced to hide their most dangerous secrets--what turned one to ice and the other to fire.
A magical story of passion, loss, and renewal, The Ice Queen is Alice Hoffman at her electrifying best.
The Snow Queen is a beautiful mix between a fairy tale and magical realism. Naturally the two fit together very well but it takes a skilled author to recognise the differences between the genres and make them tangible. Wrapped in a fairy tale structure, Hoffman tells a magical story about reality, about a normal life. Hoffman’s novel starts off with the nameless main character warning the reader about the power of words. A simple wish comes back to haunt her and for the rest of her life she trusts neither herself nor wishes. Her lack of name and her ability to see the large patterns of life makes Hoffman's main character a perfect substitute for the reader. She is me, you, us, the reader who thinks they know exactly how the story ends and yet can't stop reading. This kind of meta narrative, a novel which discusses reading, writing and words, can backfire unless it is willing to go deep and Hoffman is very willing.

At the heart of this story lies the story of those struck by lightning. Once Hoffman's main character is struck she partially rediscovers her desire for life. She loses the colour red and misses it more than she thought, she suddenly discovers the relative void in her life and aims to fill it. Introducing a set of characters who have also been struck, Hoffman is able to offer glimpses into different people's lives and how many preconceptions both we and they themselves have of themselves. A student who seems cocky and sure of himself is actually crippled by fear, a lady who seems to be the definition of suburban quietness actually has a backbone of steel. Throughout The Ice Queen Hoffman draws the reader's attention to how much people hide behind their facades, that nothing is as lost, or as won, as it may seem. At times this is heartbreaking, but there is also joy in these rediscoveries of lives.

One of the reasons why Alice Hoffman has become one of my favourite authors is her ability to create magic with her writing. Not only is her use of imagery stunning, but she also knows how to string together sentences with a punch, to set up plot points early on that resolve themselves at the perfect moment and unravel characters one sentences at a time. It is especially the latter which draws me personally to Hoffman, since many of her novels focus on women. Unfortunately it is still rare to find a writer so willing to explore female characters, and especially female characters post-teenage years. Hoffman's main character is difficult, at times almost cruel, full of love and terrified. It's a joy to read and feel along with her character.

I give this novel...
5 Universes!

Some novels leave a void after they're finished and when The Ice Queen finished I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. Hoffman's writing is magical and she is one of the best contemporary authors we have. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in Fairy Tales, Magical Realism and Women's Writing.

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