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Faces in the Water

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  954 Ratings  ·  87 Reviews
Narrated entirely from the viewpoint of a young insane woman, this novel provides a moving description of the horrific conditions in two New Zealand mental institutions.
Paperback, 254 pages
Published 1985 by The Women's Press (first published 1961)
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Diane S ☔
Jan 14, 2017 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
I have been a reader for as long as I can remember, not going to say how many years that is, but it has only been in the last ten years or so that I started reading non fiction. I used to think that knowing an author's background was unnecessary, but after I now realize how much of an author is put into even the fictional books they write. None more so then in this novel. Knowing the background of this author in particular made this an even more heartbreaking read than the subject itself garnere ...more

The author of this book was saved from a lobotomy by her first book winning a prestigious literary prize.

Now, tell me, what do you say to that? What do you focus on first? The 'lobotomy', perhaps, one of the most popularly conceived intersections between the unknown and the brutal, a 'how could we' combined with a 'the best medicine has to offer' during a certain period of time. The 'author', the oh, I know what this will be about now, I have her numbered down for my interval of reading dep
Oct 17, 2012 Mariel rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: if you'd only held the cup while I poured
Recommended to Mariel by: Emilie
Choose to be changed. - Rainer Maria Rilke

I don't know how old Istina is. There is a young woman in one of her two institutional traps that had been there since she was twelve. Old women die in their sleep, flesh and spirit rotting from the disease of there was no where else to put you. Istina's Aunt gives her a pink bag that symbolizes to her that she'll never leave. Somewhere to put all of the prized possessions she'll ever have. I was reminded of the lifers in the mental asylums from Charles
Jenny (Reading Envy)
While this is "fiction," the author herself spent time in mental institutions in the same time frame as her main character in Faces in the Water. I have her three-volume autobiography on the shelf, so hopefully I will have more insight soon.
"I did not know my own identity. I was burgled of body and hung in the sky like a woman of straw."
This book is impossible to put down. The writing is poetic, graphic and nightmarish all at once, with detailed descriptions of mental institutions where people
Jan 06, 2012 Mikki rated it it was amazing
Janet Frame is clearly a writer who closely follows the advice of Mark Twain -- "write what you know." And what she intimately knows is the mental splitting from reality, electroshock treatments, psychiatric institutions and those who fill them. Following a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt during her early years as a teacher, Ms. Frame was committed to the New Zealand hospital system where she remained for the next eight years shuttling from ward to ward and institution to institution.

Everybody who works with mentally ill patients should read Janet Frame's largely autobiographical novel depicting the experiences of a sensitive woman incarcerated in an involuntary psychiatric unit for over a decade. Though "Faces in the Water" takes place in 1950s New Zealand, I was struck by the overpowering sense that it could just as easily have taken place in the present-day U.S. Yes, some of the technical details of psychiatric management protocols have changed since the 1950s (e.g., lobo ...more
Amanda L
A deeply personal account from a clearly reliable but intensely disturbed and isolated narrator, Istina Mavet, as she is bounced around among a slew of anonymous psychological holding tanks. The title comes from a quiet remark about being out of body and looking down on your own face underwater, and feeling that it could be any face, as a metaphor for no longer recognizing your own self or even your own humanness. This theme seems to resonate from the distinction of the 'mental patients' from th ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
How must you live your life?

If, like Janet Frame, people have considered you as touched in the head, and had put you in one mental hospital after another for years, and if there were times when you yourself had doubted your own sanity, then you need to look for something where you can find reassurance, something that would validated your existence among normal men.

Frame found it in literature. She wrote. And people realised that inside this head, with its uncomely face, the wild uncombable hair
Janet Frame's Faces in the Water was a book club pick for January, and a book which I had not expected to love quite as much as I did. Whilst I have wanted to read it for years, it is a tome which has so far evaded me in bookshops and the like; I had to resort to the Internet to find a copy of it.

From the outset, I was immediately captivated. We are effectively living inside protagonist Istina Mavet's head, as she negotiates the mental hospital in which she is incarcerated. As this account is ba
Eva Weaver
Jun 06, 2013 Eva Weaver rated it it was amazing
One of the most haunting books I have read. Janet Frame's language is so incredibly sharp, original and lucid that language itself becomes her clearest tool to hit back at a system that had her labelled mad. I am humbled by this book, her keen powers of observation and finding ways to express the inexpressible pain of being dumped, labelled, having all freedom stripped away.
It is a deeply moving and human book , with many near heart stopping sentences, both for the content and her language.
Quite a depressing look at mental hospitals in the days when lobotomy and insulin shock therapy were in vogue.
My first real experience with severe mental illness came on my psychology internship at Beth Israel Hospital in NYC in 1993-94. In the inpatient world of New York in the 1990s, most treatment for severe mental illnesses such as major depression, bipoloar disorder, and schizophrenia was delivered via short (a few days to a few weeks) inpatient stays featuring medication, group therapy and brief individual or family sessions followed by regular outpatient care in the form of ongoing medication and ...more
Kelly Dunagan
Sep 08, 2015 Kelly Dunagan rated it really liked it
Faces in the Water is a fictionalized account of the eight years that Janet Frame spent institutionalized after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. I don’t know that there’s much point in dissecting out history from fiction (though Frame did publish three volumes of autobiography, so if you were really interested you could probably take a stab at it). The point is, her fiction is born from painful, deeply personal experience, and she does not stint in cannibalizing her own life to create a power ...more
Istina Mavet, the narrator, is a young woman living in first one, then another, then the first, mental hospital in New Zealand. She narrates over about 9 years.

I struggled with the first few chapters, as I could not see where this book was going. But where could it go? Once I let myself look at it as a novelized memoir instead of a novel story I began to enjoy it. The narrator is classically unreliable. We don't know why she is in the hospital, and we don't know why she is transferred (twice).
Feb 17, 2014 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Faces in the Water is amazing, so good I woke up early this morning to finish it. The writing is just fantastic, I got chills. Heartbreaking too. Frame takes care to state at the start of the book that this is a work of fiction, yet it has so many parallels with the second volume of her autobiography, An Angel at my Table, that I can't help but think of it as semi-autobiographical. The conditions that our mentally ill were subjected to only two generations ago were horrific. It makes my heart hu ...more
Laura J. W.
Jul 03, 2009 Laura J. W. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From the very first page I was in awe of Janet Frame's writing style...I kept saying: "Wow, this is fantastic!"...who would' a thought that a book about a woman's painful experience spent in an insane asylum would be so beautiful? I savored every page, and found it hard to put down. So what did I do as soon as I finished it...I re-read chapter 1! Yup, I'll definitely read it again!
Nathalie Paterson
Nov 30, 2016 Nathalie Paterson rated it it was amazing
Den här boken är klok och galen på samma gång. Kan faktiskt inte minnas att jag läst ett vackrare och mer fascinerande språk. Tack gode gud för att de inte lobotomerade dig! Janet in my <3 att du inte fick nobelpriset är fan bedrövligt!
Jul 14, 2016 Caroline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hon skriver underbart vackert, trots ett ämne som inte bara upprör utan skakar om en. Fantastisk läsupplevelse.
Jose lana
Nov 27, 2016 Jose lana rated it it was amazing
That i know there are a few good novels about or developed in psychriatic hospitals and about mental illness : The Snake Pit by Jane Ward ,Lilith by J.R. Salamanca, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath ,One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey ,I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg and the document Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber.
Several of this are reality based.And there are several movies based in this novels,some good as for example Lilith by Robert Rossen
Christian Engler
Sep 19, 2013 Christian Engler rated it it was amazing
Janet Frame's Faces in the Water belongs on the same shelf with such contemporary books: The Bell Jar and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. But in its grim earnestness and somber naturalism of reality, it is a biographical novel that is on an echelon all by itself.
Janet Frame, one of New Zealand's most redoubtable and esteemed novelists and twice a contender for the Noble Prize in Literature, used facets of her own (earlier) melancholic life for the creation of the novel's protagonist, Estina Mav
Apr 03, 2013 Ian rated it really liked it
A thoughtful account of mental illness and it's treatment in mid-twentieth century New Zealand. Whilst a disclaimer at the beginning states that this is a work of fiction, the book reads as a documentary of an only-too-real personal experience. In fact the story appears to be a thinly disguised account of the author's own experiences, and it feels that way. With no real "story" as such, and little explanation of the exact nature of the narrators illness (or, indeed, the cause of her final discha ...more
Apr 19, 2012 Andrea rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, mixed
Some strange and vibrant prose evoking a hallucinatory experience:

"I was a teacher. The headmaster followed me home, he divided his face and body into three in order to threaten me with triple peril, so that three headmasters followed me, one on each side and one at my heels. Once or twice I turned timidly and said, Would you like a star for good conduct?"

and resulting delusional behaviour:

"I sat all night in my room, cutting out stars from sheets of gold paper, pasting the stars on the wall an
Book Wormy
Jan 31, 2015 Book Wormy rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1001-read
Faces in the Water Janet Frame

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
Cyril Wong
Jan 08, 2011 Cyril Wong rated it liked it
Insanity is a tough topic to describe and depict, yet easy--often too easy--to dramatise. The problem with this novel is also what is simultaneously so breathtaking about it: insights into the deranged mind are not so different from aspects of the artistic imagination and the author is full of revelations about the troubles (inspired from her own life) faced by her semi-fictionalised mental patient. The revelations bite hard into the facade of normal human behaviour and its veneer of hypocrisies ...more
Ronald Wise
A fictional account of an institutionalized mental health patient, which is illuminating, often disturbing, and sometimes inspirational. The book begins with electroshock therapy as a standard activity for this patient. She is shuffled from one ward to another, where the other patients and the rules vary widely, and is given no explanation for these changes. Reading this book brought back some vivid recollections of when I was working in the mental health field in the late 1970s and early 1980s. ...more
Jan 24, 2010 Cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frame's literary genius is apparent from the get go. She has an inventive writing style and way with words. Janet Frame is truly a unique writer.

Taking the taboo subject of institutionalization (ca. 1950s) and personalizing the characters and setting, without being grotesquely voyeuristic, is courageous. Frame's real life experiences are apparent, thus giving Istina a voice of authenticity. The progressive build up of Istina finding her healthy self is inspiring, especially given the very bleak
Rebecca Shala
Sep 05, 2010 Rebecca Shala rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing "fictional" and poetic account of the character's time at two mental hospitals. Frame herself spent over 8 years misdiagnosed with schizophrenia in New Zealand asylums before being released on the grounds of becoming an award winning author (right before her scheduled lobotomy...).Her writing explores the "the foreign ideas the glass beads of fantasy the bent hairpins of unreason embedded in our minds." Absolutely brilliant!
Mar 21, 2014 Lucy rated it liked it
Whist reading this I had to constantly remind myself I was reading about mental institutions and not penal institutions. What came over most strongly was the sense of helplessness/hoplessness of everyone: patients, nurses, doctors, in the face of mental illness on such a vast scale, and no suitable or satisfactory treatments. Thank God times have changed.

Nov 07, 2012 Abby rated it really liked it
Moving and frightening! A chilling, heart-rending semi-autobiographical novel of one young women's vacillating tenure in mental institutions in New Zealand. Beautifully written and sad and thought-provoking. An important text in the canon of mental illness narratives.
Mar 27, 2012 LadyDisdain rated it it was ok

Janet Frame is one of New Zealand's most prominent writers. Though as she put it, she is "New Zealand's mot famous unread writer". Or something like that. Basically, everyone seems to have heard of her but not nearly as many people have actually read her books. Which is a little sad, I think, but there is always the distance between the idea of the writer and the writers themselves and their works, and much of the time that distance is not bridged.

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The fate befalling the young woman who wanted "to be a poet" has been well documented. Desperately unhappy because of family tragedies and finding herself trapped in the wrong vocation (as a schoolteacher) her only escape appeared to be in submission to society's judgement of her as abnormal. She spent four and a half years out of eight years, incarcerated in mental hospitals. The story of her alm ...more
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“Much of living is an attempt to preserve oneself by annexing and occupying others.” 15 likes
“Listening to her, one experienced a deep uneasiness as of having avoided an urgent responsibility, like someone who, walking at night along the banks of a stream, catches a glimpse in the water of a white face or a moving limb and turns quickly away, refusing to help or to search for help. We all see the faces in the water. We smother our memory of them, even our belief in their reality, and become calm people of the world; or we can neither forget or help them. Sometimes by a trick of circumstances or dream or a hostile neighborhood of light we see our own face.” 14 likes
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