A young, white forehead boring through the darkness. An eleven-year-old girl. Siss.
It was really only afternoon, but already dark. A hard frost in late autumn. Stars, but no moon, and no snow to give a glimmer of light -- so the darkness was thick, in spite of the stars. On each side was the forest, deathly still, with everything that might be alive and shivering in there at the moment. (p. 7)
Summary: Siss is an eleven-year-old girl in a small town. One year, another girl of the same age, named Unn, moves into the area; her mother had recently died, so Unn is coming to live with her aunt. Unn does not participate much in school activities, preferring to remain at the edge of things, but Siss takes an interest in Unn, and they eventually meet one evening at Unn's house to spend some time together and get to know each other. They have a good time together, but at one point, Unn wants to tell Siss a secret, but backs down from doing so. She also says that she doesn't think she is going to heaven. This makes them both uncomfortable and shortly afterward the visit ends. The next day, Siss is eager to meet Unn at school; Unn, who wants to meet Siss again but is still unsettled from the night before, decides to skip school and go out to the 'ice palace', the frozen waterfall outside of town. Unn never returns, and the adults keep questioning Siss as to what she knows; but, of course, she doesn't know anything, and what is more, she feels some parts of their brief evening meeting need to be kept secret.
Some stories are not primarily plot driven; this tale has a very minimal plot, and even that seems to be a concession to the weakness of the reader. The author deliberately foils literally every possible attempt the reader could make to determine exactly what was going on. What was Unn's secret? Why does she think she is not going to heaven? Who is the 'other' that Unn keeps trying not to think about? What happened with Unn's mother? We never learn. We can get some hazy picture of some of it, but always shifting and never certain. There seems to be some connection between Unn and Siss that pre-exists their meeting (some readers have thought that maybe they are actually related, through Unn's unknown father); one wonders whether Unn had something to do with her mother's death, or was sexually abused, or had some other kind of trauma in her background. But the true point is that all of this is deliberately suppressed. Siss never learned Unn's secret; Unn's aunt never knew quite what was going on with her; the narrator never gives us enough to fill in the details and, indeed, deliberately complicates various possible hypotheses we might have. The whole point, I think, is to look at the fact that we know very little of each other. Everyone you meet, everyone you know, has their secrets; most of them you will never know.
The plot is very limited. There is, however, a well defined character arc, which is a pseudoplot concerned not with the narrative of a story but with the change of a character across it, in this case Siss's dealing with Unn's disappearance. The landscape itself also seems to represent Siss's arc symbolically, first ice, then snow, then finally the melting of the ice palace. Indeed, at times it's unclear whether we are ever getting outside of Siss's head and imagination; the story is really one of a young girl's changing emotions on meeting and losing a friend, and all of the plot questions that are deliberately left unanswered seem to be left unanswered because they are not actually relevant to the story being told.
More than this, I'm not sure we should think of the work as primarily a story at all; less a novel than a prose poem, it depicts the complexities of friendship, loss, and struggle with oneself in highly symbolic terms. The book itself is like its own ice palace: intricate and crystal-like, with many rooms, including dead ends, all beautiful but mysterious, and potentially trapping us in a set of puzzles until it dissolves away in the warming weather.
As soon as she stepped in she felt a trickling drop on the back of her neck. The opening she had come through was so low that she had to bend double.
It was a room of tears. The light in the glass walls was very weak, and the whole room seemed to trickle and weep with these falling drops in the half dark. Nothing had been built up there yet, the drops fell from the roof with a soft splash, down into each little pool of tears. It was all very sad.
They fell into her coat and her woollen cap. It didn't matter, but her heart was heavy as lead. It was weeping. What was it weeping for? (pp. 52-53)
Tarjei Vesaas, The Ice Palace, Rokkan, tr., Peter Owen (Chicago: 2016).