“Childhood” – Tove Ditlevsen (5/5 ★)

Here is a case where judging a book by its cover has gone well for me 😉 Never having heard of the author Tove Ditlevsen before, I have discovered this trilogy, Childhood making up the first book of it, on…. Bookstagram! (aka some accounts posting book content on instagram) I was tempted to purchase this set of three powder pink books, with a black and white photograph design on each of their covers, back in the days of the COVID19 lockdown in the spring of 2020. Having finally gotten around to the first one of them, I dove in without any expectations and ended up being left longing for more of the author’s writing, having instantly become a fan of her style.

“[…] Inside of me long, mysterious words began to crawl across my soul like a protective membrane. A song, a poem, something soothing and rhythmic and immensely pensive, but never distressing or sad, as I knew the rest of my day would be distressing and sad. (p. 6)”

I can be the testimonial to say that even if you’re not familiar with the author and her life, you’re still very likely to enjoy her account of it. A story written in a way that successfully hits the note of a child’s voice, feeling older than her actual years. There’s a lightness and a tragedy to it, a suffering of not being understood and a longing to be able to follow one’s dream career of being a poet even though “that’s only possible for men”. The book was a “love at first sentences” for me, so see if the opening lines of “Childhood” speak to you as well, as they portray the style of the memoir perfectly:

“In the morning there was hope. It sat like a fleeting gleam of light in my mother’s smooth black hair that I never dared touch; it lay on my tongue with the sugar and the lukewarm oatmeal I was slowly eating while I looked at my mother’s slender, folded hands lay motionless on the newspaper, on top of the reports of Spanish flu and the Treaty of Versailles.” (p. 3)

While reading, you feel yourself transported into the streets of Copenhagen, to the soft light, to the fresh & cool breeze there. One of my favourite parts that unveiled itself during the reading process, were the author’s different descriptions about the state of childhood:

“Childhood is long and narrow like a coffin, and you can’t get out of it on your own. It’s there all the time and everyone can see it just as you can see […].” (p. 27)

“Childhood is dark and it’s always moaning like a little animal that’s locked in a cellar and forgotten. It comes out of your throat like your breath in the cold, and sometimes it’s too little, other times too big. It never fits exactly. It’s only when it’s cast off that you can look at it calmly and talk about it like an illness you’ve survived.” (p. 30)

“Time passed and my childhood grew thin and flat, paperlike. It was tired and threadbare, and in low moments it didn’t look like it would last until I was grown up.” (p. 63)

“Our friendship is over just as my childhood is. Now the last remnants fall away from me like flakes of sun-scorched skin, and beneath looms an awkward, an impossible adult.” (p. 98)

I can’t wait to get to the other two parts of the memoir, “Youth” and “Dependency”, to see whether their style is different to “Childhood”. In any case, this book is well worth a read if you’re a fan of stylistically beautifully written memoirs.

★★★★★ (5/5)

Edition: ISBN 978-0-241-39193-8
Penguin ClassicsBooks, 2019

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