‘The Faces’ by Tove Ditlevsen – Almost Too Painful to Read


‘The Faces’, a novella, by Tove Ditlevsen (1968) – 151 pages            Translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally


‘The Faces’ is a disturbing Danish novella that is almost too painful to read. It is about a woman’s sojourn in an insane asylum, and it is not as though she was put there wrongly or incorrectly.

At the beginning of ‘The Faces’, the renowned author Lise is lying in bed. Her fabulous writing talent is still with her. You can tell that by the words and similes she uses. However her constant use of sleeping pills has taken its toll and has done terrible damage to her psyche. You can tell she is sliding down the rabbit hole of insanity.

She has a husband, Kurt, who discusses his other mistresses with her. At the outset of ‘The Faces’, he tells his wife while she is lying in bed that one of his mistresses, Grete, has committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Later, he has the maid take Lise’s sleeping pills away from her.

Lise finds the sleeping pills in the maid’s room, and after her own overdose on sleeping pills, Lise is first taken to the unlocked ward of the insane asylum. However she scratches a woman in the face there, so she is put in the locked ward where she is belted to the bed.

She hears voices, voices from her family which tell her that her husband, her maid, and her daughter are plotting against her. She has hallucinations, and the reader can never be sure if what she hears and sees is real or not.

Do you hear voices?” she asked.

Of course,” said Lise. “You hear them too.”

No,” she said adamantly, shaking her head. “All the voices you hear come from inside yourself.”

It dawned on Lise that the whole staff must be in on the plot.

If I believed that,” she said, “I would be insane.”

You aren’t well, you know.”

Lise is hallucinating that her maid Gitte is one of the nurses in the locked ward.

Just listen to how meek she is,” said Gitte triumphantly’ “She thinks she’s going to go home again. As if anyone has ever gotten out of here alive.”

Is it true that Lise’s husband is having an affair with her daughter, his step-daughter? We don’t know if this is something that is happening or one of her hallucinations.

The author of ‘The Faces’, Tove Ditlevsen, was a renowned Danish author and poet herself. She was very prolific; in her lifetime she published 29 books. Ditlevsen struggled with alcohol and drug abuse throughout her adult life, and she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital several times. She died by suicide overdosing on sleeping pills in 1976, aged 58.

Ditlevsen’s astute use of similes and metaphors throughout ‘The Faces’ makes this novella a compelling if harrowing read.


Grade:   B+


7 responses to this post.

  1. […] The Faces by Tove Ditlevsen (Tony at Tony’s Book World) […]



  2. This sounds like my kind of thing Tony, I like an ambiguous narrative. I’m definitely going to check this one out.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. I bought a copy of this recently and it’s one of the novellas I plan to read this month.

    Liked by 1 person


  4. […] The Faces by Tove Ditlevsen (reviewed by Anokatony at Tony’s Book World) […]



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