A descent into madness and a return to sanity through art is the theme of this novel by Danish writer Ditlevsen (the story volume Complete Freedom, 1982), With strong autobiographical overtones, and set in Copenhagen in 1968, the novel describes how popular author Lise Mindus, under increasing pressures, tries to take her own life. Married twice, currently to bureaucrat Kurt, and the mother of three children, Lise has been unable to write for two years. Her housekeeper, Gitte, a sinister figure, criticizes Lise for loving her family more than she loves mankind, and for living for art rather than for political causes. A regular at political protests, Gitte is also sleeping with Lise's eldest son and husband Kurt. When Lise hears accusatory voices and sees disembodied faces, she attempts suicide and is hospitalized. Kept under restraint, she confronts the voices and terrifying visions. Gradually the voices begin to fade, however, and, as her sympathetic doctor tells her: "It's your destiny to express yourself just as it's the gazelle's destiny to be devoured by the lion," Back home, she finds that Gitte has been fired, that she can look after her children, and that at last she can write. A searing but never sensational account of a usually hyped theme—the struggle of the artist to do her work, without guilt about family or the outside world. Admirably without self-pity, and often ironic, Ditlevsen is a voice to heed.
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