This is a quick-paced, brutally frank, and sometimes hilarious look at a woman scorned. The first line of the book jumps right into the action — “One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me.”
On the surface, this is a story that’s been told a million times. Husband has an affair, leaves wife. Wife feels desperate, sad, angry. Wife starts to feel better and then finds love again. But Ferrante is a brilliant writer who can purposely pick up a stale story and hit all the expected notes, yet still create something original and moving.
The real rewards of her writing come when she sets up a common situation and then takes the reader in an unexpected direction. In one of my favorite scenes, Olga – the wife/mother protagonist – happens to catch a glimpse of her husband and his lover in a busy shopping area. I expected her to trail them, watch where they were headed, observe the other women and compare herself to the new model. No. Olga runs right up to them and ferociously attacks her husband. It’s only after he is bleeding with his shirt torn up that she focuses on his lover and charges at her as well.
Similarly, the sex scene is anything but sexy. I’d love to throw in some quotes, but I’m afraid it would be too vulgar. Here’s a quote from the foreplay: “I pushed my tongue into the mouth of that man with exaggerated eagerness, for a long time, as if I were following something to the bottom of his throat and wanted to catch it before it reached his esophagus.”
I laughed out loud a couple times, but I can’t call this a comedy. She writes about blood, vomit, fevers, poison, an ant infestation, a dying dog. She vividly illustrates Olga’s anxious state of mind and her agony of being so angry at Mario, yet still loving him and feeling desperate for him to love her again.
This book is quite different from Ferrante’s more famous Neapolitan novels. It’s much shorter, for one thing. It’s a very interior type of story. There are only a few characters and all of the action takes place in or around Olga’s apartment building. I started this immediately after finishing The Story of the Lost Child and the totally different tone was a shock. But, at the end of the day, it’s beautifully written and a completely fresh take on a worn out story.