The Ice is singing, Faber 1987
This is the story of a woman on the run from her husband, her children, herself. Driving through the snowbound Yorkshire countryside, stopping at anonymous bed and breakfasts, prepared to do anything to duck memory, she begins to write stories. Not about her own life, but about other parents, other children: stories to keep her own life at bay . . .
'A brilliant and concentrated piece of writing.' Robert Nye, Guardian
'Her style is terse and ruthlessly graphic: her attitude is one of implacable honesty.' Times Literary Supplement.
'The writing sings and lives and spins its own magical life' Financial Times
Children: a mother writes
Full Review from the Independent July 1997
MARION, the heroine of this novel, writes stories as a refuge, or as a relief. Marion is on the run from real life: driving aimlessly day after day through a winter bound landscape, having left behind her baby twins, the husband from whom she is separated and the two older girls who have chosen to live with him. In those solitary weeks, she scribbles compulsively at the notebooks that make up The Ice is Singing . They are part impressionistic diary, part self analysis, part narrative, and from the latter emerges the outline of her past - a marriage that died of neglect while she immersed herself in her adored children; the disastrous late pregnancy followed by shattering postnatal depression.
Punctuating the account of her life and feelings are four short stories, complete and separate worlds peopled with Marion's "paper children". Each of them tells of the loss or destruction of a child; each is a refraction of Marion's own mourning for the loss of her home, her elder children, her sense of herself as a mother.
But Marion, as well as being the heroine and narrator of her own story, is a tireless commentator and self-critic ("Oh Marion! How neat! What a ham. "). In other people's stories the world can be organised, controlled, its pain rendered "well timed and tragic"; in her own life the knocks are "so destroyingly continuous that they merely numb."
Writing about writing is hardly original, and can provoke a yawn faster than almost anything. Here Jane Rogers writes about a woman writing about writing and gets triumphantly away with it. The novel's structure appears as ragged and fragmented as Marion herself, but in fact operates as a sort of Rorschach's blot, allowing multiple interpretations to swim into focus.
Seen one way, the book is a more or less conventional novel of marital breakdown and family life; from another, a fictional study of motherhood and women's roles; looked at again, it is a set of discrete stories linked by a narrator. The list could continue. Although they make a unity, the book's parts are subtle and absorbing in their own right, and the switching between "experimental" and "conventional" styles is cleverly handled. There will be too much about babies for some people, too much tying-up of loose psychological ends for others, but no matter - this is a novel of tremendous readability and power from a writer of unusual talent.
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