Copenhagen, 1968. Lise, a children's book writer and married mother of three, is increasingly haunted by disembodied faces and voices. She is convinced that her husband, already extravagantly unfaithful, will leave her. Most of all, she is scared that she will never write again. Yet as she descends into a world of pills and hospitals, she begins to wonder—is insanity really something to be feared, or does it bring a kind of freedom?
The Faces...was written in the same period as Ditlevsen’s trilogy and is inspired by her life, but transforms the material alchemically into art ... Ditlevsen’s writing is at all points the perfect expression of its ideas, impossible to improve upon ... Despite the horror it depicts, Ditlevsen’s writing is deeply humane and understanding. She knows the mind’s cruel ingenuity to tailor pain to our worst fears ... Even when there is a hint of a happy ending, Lise 'knew it wouldn’t last' and this is what makes The Faces occasionally hard to read; its strengths come from real suffering and we know that for Ditlevsen too, happiness didn’t last. To say, then, that her death by her own hand in 1976 was a loss to literature is insufficient, insensitive even – but undoubtedly true.
The Trouble With Happiness, a collection of stories, and The Faces, a novel...consolidate but don’t greatly extend her reputation; neither quite makes the claims on you that the memoirs do ... This is a lurid crackup novel, too heavy-handed for my tastes, but I suspect a lot of readers will respond to it ... This is a promising setup, thematically; you want to soak in the brine as if it were a Marianne Faithfull album. But a sense of overkill emerges ... The constant return to the idea of faces — we all have more than one, they can appall, those of our friends turn strange — is heavy, too, but it does lead to a starkly comic moment, in the asylum.