This trilogy from Tove Ditlevsen, a pioneer in the field of genre-bending confessional writing, explores themes of family, sex, motherhood, abortion, addiction, and being an artist. This single-volume hardcover contains all three volumes of her memoirs
... beautiful and fearless ... Ditlevsen’s memoirs...form a particular kind of masterpiece, one that helps fill a particular kind of void. The trilogy arrives like something found deep in an ancestor’s bureau drawer, a secret stashed away amid the socks and sachets and photos of dead lovers. The surprise isn’t just its ink-damp immediacy and vitality—the chapters have the quality of just-written diary entries, fluidly translated by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman—but that it exists at all. It’s a bit like discovering that Lila and Lenú, the fictional heroines of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, were real ... A half-century later, all of it—her extraordinary clarity and imperfect femininity, her unstinting account of the struggle to reconcile art and life—still lands. The construct of memoir (and its stylish young cousin, autofiction) involves the organizing filter of retrospection, lending the impression that life is a continuous narrative reel of action and consequence, of meanings to be universalized ... Ditlevsen’s voice, diffident and funny, dead-on about her own mistakes, is a welcome addition to that canon of women who showed us their secret faces so that we might wear our own.
Don’t think yourself odd if, after reading the Danish writer Tove Ditlevsen’s romantic, spiritually macabre, and ultimately devastating collection of memoirs, The Copenhagen Trilogy , you spend hours, if not days, in a reverie of alienation. It’s because the author, who died by her own hand in 1976, when she was fifty-eight, makes profound and exciting art out of estrangement ... Ditlevsen was marked, wounded, by her own sharp intelligence ... A wonderfully destabilizing writer, she admits to something that a more timid memoirist would never cop to: monstrous self-interest. By baring her bathos along with her genius, she makes us reflect on our own egotism. How many of us have thought only of ourselves at a time of great calamity for others? ... Unlike Karl Ove Knausgaard and many other recent memoirists, Ditlevsen doesn’t have a larger philosophy about pain or death; she is drawn to the flatness of facts and the way they mix with dreams. She builds a literature of disaster, brick by brick, entombing within it all the people who couldn’t love her and whom she couldn’t love ... For some, mucking things up can be an assertion of will; negative attention is better than none. Reality—or one’s understanding of it—can be as dependent on pain as it is on hope, and Ditlevsen is addicted to both.
The Copenhagen Trilogy and The Faces are very different books, but they draw on the same material—Ditlevsen’s life—and both display a distinctive style; an uncanny vividness; a gift for conveying atmospheres and mental sensations and personalities with remarkable dispatch; the originality and deadpan, trapdoor humor of the significantly estranged; a startling frankness; and a terrible commotion of unresolved conflicts and torments. Both books also accelerate from zero to sixty before anyone has a chance to buckle up ... The Copenhagen Trilogy is fastidiously unjudgmental toward those who people it, including its author, though an autobiographical account is an ideal vehicle of complaint. The reader of autobiographical material more or less expects allocations of blame, at least implicit ones, often neatly dovetailing with lurid confession—in other words, a satisfyingly simple, easily understood way to interpret a life, though nothing of that sort can be entirely accurate or honest ... The narrative of The Copenhagen Trilogy is governed, like the narratives of other memoirs, by the exigencies of memory within the fluid time of the mind—and also by the fact that in reality, as opposed to fiction, it’s reality, not some writer, that gets to decide what comes first and what next ... The language is elegant—as natural, responsive, and true as wet clay—and the observations provide the pleasurable shock of precision, rather than the sort of approximation we have more reason to expect when reading. Ditlevsen stays remarkably faithful to the unformulated consciousness of the moment.