‘Ice is everywhere,’ observes the narrator of Ice, Louis Nowra’s fifth novel, before succumbing to a bad case of the Molly Blooms and giving us a few pages of punctuation-free interior monologue. No wonder he’s so worked up: ice, in Ice, really is everywhere. It is subject, motif, organising principle, and all-purpose metaphor; it is death, life, stasis, progress; it is seven types of ambiguity and then some. For variety’s sake, Nowra occasionally wheels out a non-frozen alternative – taxidermy, waxworks – but the design is clear: these are merely different nuclei around which the same cluster of metaphors gather.
Structuring a novel around one all-encompassing conceit is risky. A carefully spun web of affinities might intrigue at first, but how easily it can degenerate into laboured contrivance. Thematic resonance, striven for so keenly, is drowned in a puddle of nebulous ‘meaning’; the conceit comes to mean everything, therefore it means nothing.