Bingo: Reader’s Choice (Sportsball)
CW: abortion, drug addiction
Before reading this, I had never heard of Tove Ditlevsen. I’m not into poetry, and as far as I’m aware have never picked up a book by a Danish writer. But when The Copenhagen Trilogy was re-released earlier this year, it got such glowing reviews that I had to read it.
Ditlevsen was born in 1917, and in Childhood she tells her story of growing up poor, with parents who did not understand her, and discovering that she liked to write poetry. That’s continued in Youth, where she starts working in offices, meeting men, and making and losing friends. Finally, in Dependency she talks about her life while addicted to demerol and methadone.
She’s a wonderful writer, and I can see why she is celebrated as a confessional writer. Her writing is smart, funny, and honest, and she manages to balance the wisdom of hindsight with sympathy for her younger selves.
One of my favorite passages is from her childhood, when she is talking about her habit of reading books well above her expected reading level, but being given childish books by her librarian:
I can’t understand how language – that delicate and sensitive instrument – can be so terribly mistreated, or how such monstrous sentences can find their way into a book that gets into the library where a clever and attractive woman like Miss Mollerup actually recommends it to defenseless children to read.
Writing like that makes me think Ditlevsen would be an amazing dinner party guest.
While her childhood was not easy, things get decidedly dark in the third part of this trilogy, when Ditlevsen quickly becomes an addict after being given a shot of demerol to get through an abortion carried out by the medical student who got her pregnant in the first place. I don’t think there is anything particularly unique about her experience of addiction for readers in the 21st century, but I can imagine it was eye-opening when this was first published, and it definitely is an interesting but frustrating story.
On a side note, I think this marks review #26 for me, which means I’ve finished the half cannonball I set out to reach!