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Faces in the Water

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,384 ratings  ·  141 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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Average rating 4.04  · 
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Diane S ☔
Jan 12, 2017 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 ...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
Aug 22, 2012 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
For me to sit here and say that this book was a difficult read, would certainly be an understatement. This wasn't a happy themed book, and I knew what I was going into, even before I opened the book, but still, seeing those words written down, someones life experiences, really has had a notable effect on my thinking.

The book is written in memoir form, of Istina Mavet, who's experiences are very similar to Janet Frames own. She speaks of her time from when she was a teacher, during which time she
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
Oct 15, 2011 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.

Lee Foust
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I know that I tend to feel too acutely, particularly where books--and especially great books--are concerned. These last couple of weeks I've been feeling frightened, lonely, alienated and depressed. At first I assumed it was coincidence--a chemical downturn co-incidentally happening as I read this desperate and beautiful novel of mental illness and the torture of what passed, in 1950's New Zealand, for its cure. But it's more likely that the sheer power and intimacy of this novel pulled me into ...more
(4.5) I feel a bit sorry for books like Mind on Fire and Rabbits for Food, which I read alongside and shortly after Faces in the Water, respectively – there was no way those depictions of life in a mental hospital could compete with Frame’s wonderful and frightening work of autofiction. Just as Frame’s To the Is-land had some of the best writing about childhood I’ve ever read, this is probably the best inside picture of mental illness I’ve read. Istina Mavet (which looks awfully like it should ...more
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
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
3.5 rounded up
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., ...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
"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 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 nor help them; sometimes by a trick of a circumstance ...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 ...more
Mar 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Faces in the Water is technicolour. Language and imagery mercury fluid so as to immerse the reader into the compelling experience of Istina Mavet- incarcerated in a mental institution in New Zealand in the 1950’s for 8 years (as had the author Janet Frame).
The book is geographically chartered by the senses, Izmet moves through the wards over her eight years as determined by the psychiatrists. The observation wards with brightly coloured décor – and one’s own clothes- the public face of the
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
this is a very important book
Eva Weaver
Jun 06, 2013 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.
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frame has heartbreakingly blurred the line between fiction and non-fiction. Through Istina she was able to create a record of her own fear and humiliation within this narrative. The culmination of these was the threat of the lobotomy. Istina’s terror seeps off the page as she contemplates the destruction of her sense of self and her desperation to save the person that she has become. The only light left in this book is that Istina, like Frame, may have managed to escape that fate.
Jose Moa
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
Mar 31, 2015 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 ...more
Quite a depressing look at mental hospitals in the days when lobotomy and insulin shock therapy were in vogue.
Viv JM
I found this quite a distressing book to read, both in its depiction of the anguish of mental illness and in the inhumane and cruel treatment metered out by the staff in the institutions depicted. The fact that this is a autobiographical novel makes it even harder to read. There is some lightness in the empathetic and occasionally humorous depiction of other patients. However, I can't deny that I found this a fairly depressing, albeit wonderfully written, book and I am glad to move on to ...more
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
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).
Maud (reading the world challenge)
[#55 New Zealand] I thought this book would never end. I feel like I just finished a marathon. Or maybe a 10 years jail sentence.
This is a descriptive novel about life in a couple of psychiatric hospitals in the 50s, in New Zealand. Other than that there's no plot. I thought it would be interesting but I quickly realized I couldn't care less. I didn't connect with any of the characters, not a single one touched me and I was indifferent to their fate. Some "therapeutic" methods straight up
Jan 03, 2014 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 ...more
Laura J. W.
Apr 08, 2009 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!
Nov 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
heavy-going but un-put-downable.
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Janet Frame's book is written in a biographical manner but is fiction nonetheless. Miss Frame is a New Zealand writer, highly touted along with Frank Sargason and Katherine Mansfield. Sargason actually helped Frame make her dream to become a writer come to fruition.

Janet Frame and her main character both suffered from a mental illness which mandated admittance to a mental hospital and parole as necessary. Schizophrenia was the diagnosis! Shock therapy (and weeks of treatment that served no
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This novel completely blew me away. I haven’t read Janet Frame before – I had heard of her famous autobiography An Angel at my Table – though I can’t say I knew the name of Janet Frame in connection with it. I feel as if I should have done – because Janet Frame’s own story is extraordinary – and rather terrifying. New Zealand writer Janet Frame spent years being admitted to psychiatric hospitals where she was treated with ECT and insulin. While she was still a patient in hospital, Janet Frame’s
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Reading 1001: Faces in the Water by Janet Frame 1 8 May 29, 2017 01:37PM  

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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 ...more
“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.” 15 likes
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