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1001 Book Review Faces in the Water Janet Frame


“I was now an established citizen with little hope of returning across the frontier; I was in the crazy world, separated now by more than locked doors and barred windows from the people who called themselves sane.’

When Janet Frame’s doctor suggested that she write about her traumatic experiences in mental institutions in order to free herself from them, the result was Faces in the Water, a powerful and poignant novel.

Istina Mavet descends through increasingly desolate wards, with the threat of lobotomy ever present. As she observes her fellow patients, long dismissed by hospital staff, with humour and compassion, she reveals her original and questing mind. This riveting novel became an international classic, translated into nine languages, and has also been used as a medical school text.”

While I have decided to give this book 4 stars that is actually based on what it teaches the reader about sanity and the treatment of those considered to be not sane, as a novel nothing really happens we really don’t learn about the central character but we do experience her feelings and come to understand them which is a scary place to be.

Faces in the Water Janet Frame

First Published: 1961

Reviewed by Book Worm


Faces in the water is the story of a young woman Istina Mavet (considered by many to be Janet Frame herself) who is sectioned in various mental institutes throughout her life, the one she spends most time in is Cliffhaven.

We the reader arrive in media res and have no idea why Istina is in the institute however it soon becomes obvious that the way the patients are treated far from being conducive to mental well being have entirely the opposite effect.

We meet various members of nursing staff who while they may have started out idealistically with good intentions are soon worn down by dealing with the mentally ill day in and day out, this wearing down leads them to simple acts of neglect as well as overt acts of cruelty.

Patients are considered to need “treatment” if they refuse to obey orders, don’t get on with the staff or for simple human acts of rebellion. Constantly held over their heads is the threat of Electric Shock Therapy or Leucotomy the fear of which leads them to breakdown in fits of tears or screaming which make them appear to need the treatment more, I would argue that even the most sane person kept in these conditions would exhibit the same symptoms.

This is a terrifying insight into what can happen behind closed doors to the vulnerable and needy in our society.

Want to try if for yourself? Click here: Faces in the Water

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