The Faces by Tove Ditlevsen review – a tortured life turned into art

A welcome, posthumous translation of a magnificent 1968 novel about the mental sufferings of a children’s author

Here is a book whose time has come, first, because it fits the openness of conversations about mental health today, but also because there’s an appetite for more work by Tove Ditlevsen, following the publication of her exceptional trilogy of memoirs in 2019. The Faces, which was published in Danish in 1968 and now has its first UK publication, translated by Tiina Nunnally, was written in the same period as Ditlevsen’s trilogy and is inspired by her life, but transforms the material alchemically into art.

The central character, Lise Mundus, is a writer of children’s books, struggling with arbitrary success; she has won an award for a book she “considered no better or worse than her other books” and is phoned up by newspapers seeking the views of “prominent women” on trivial issues (“are miniskirts destroying marriage?”). Fame has “brutally ripped away the veil that always separated her from reality” and now she “clings to that fragile sense of security which was nothing more than the absence of change”.

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