Writer: Tove Ditlevsen (translated by Tiina Nunnally)
Publishing House: Penguin Classics
Date of Publication: January 26th 2021 (first published 1968)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’She could think about the words in peace, without fearing that new ones would appear before the night was over. During this time the night held the days apart only with difficulty and if she happened to breathe a hole into the darkness, like a fist on a frost-covered windowpane, the morning might shine into her eyes hours ahead of time.’’
Copenhagen. 1968. A writer, famous for children’s stories and poems, begins a slow descent into the darkest territories of her mind and soul. Suffocated by the presence of a toxic woman who has practically occupied her house, frustrated by a useless husband whose achievements can only be found on other women’s bedsheets, uncertain over her behaviour towards her children, Lise finds refuge in writing. But how can you write when you fear for your life and the faces that haunt you want to drag you away from the life you desire? Or is it all just a twisted game devised by your overburdened mind?
‘’Writing had always been like a game, a pleasant task that allowed her to forget everything else in the world. She thought: If I start to write again, this whole nightmare will be over.’’
Tove Ditlevsen created the epitome of the unreliable narrator within just 100 pages. Who is Lise? What goes on in her life? Is everything as bleak as she believes or has she fallen victim to her fears? Is she in danger? Is her life threatened? Some questions are impossible to answer, but what is absolutely certain is the attack on her personality and her creativity. Her need to express herself through her writing is in danger of being smothered by toxic people and circumstances. We write to unburden our souls, to satisfy our need to create, to understand ourselves, to break free. A true journey into madness comes from being forced to abandon your vocation, from surrendering yourself to the will of others, from forgetting that your first obligation is to protect yourself. Ditlevsen created the account of a troubled woman through sarcasm, elegant irony and a haunting confession that there are limits in sacrificing ourselves obeying the ‘’calls’’ of a family and a society that, when all is said and done, couldn’t care less for you.
‘’Leave me alone’, she sobbed. ‘’I’ve never wanted anything else. I don’t care about the world. I just want to write and read; I just want to be myself.’’