This Elena Ferrante’s first novel and like her later novel The Lost Daughter there’s a lot here that feels very familiar if you’ve read the Neopolitan Novels. The next novel Days of Abandonment is very different. In this novel, we begin with our narrator finding out that her mother’s body has been found in the water, drowned, from an apparent suicide. She begins retracing her mother’s life in the recent years and weeks, and begins to confront the specters of her mother’s life that were unseen and unknown to her in position as child. Now at 45, the narrator seems ready to face that long and complicated history of her mother as a separate individual, as opposed to her life and role as mother. In her mother’s apartment, she gets a phone call that unlocks a huge memory vault. A man, not her father, calls the apartment and demands the mother leave his stuff on the stairs so they can exchange items. It becomes clear that this man and her mother had had an affair and he does not know she’s dead, and wants his stuff back , or wants to be rid of her stuff.
This begins the long, novel-length process of unlocking her mother. I read this book after I read the first two books of the Neopolitan books, and that did it a disservice. While, like with many writers, Ferrante revisits a lot of these ideas, this book is too good and too beautifully written not to be read with a clear mind.
The Lost Daughter
In now my second reading of this novel, her last novel before publishing the Neopolitan Trilogy, I have a newfound appreciation for it. If Troubling Love is all about understanding mothers and motherhood through the role of being a daughter, this is the inverse, where a mother looks at other mothers and her own daughters attempting to understand more about herself. The narrator finds herself — like a lot of Ferrante characters — on the beach. She begins chatting with a mixed family with a young daughter, seemingly with a young mother. She’s in the mother both herself, but also her oldest daughter because they are about the same age. What follows in a psychological embroiling of her life into theirs, for the span of their beach vacations. This is not a thriller or anything, so don’t worry about that (or don’t expect it) but instead is a look at how we search for reflections on our own lives in those around us, or the inverse, abhor the reflection of ourselves we find in others. This relationship brings up some troubling past issues and dark times in the narrator’s life and she sort plays out her feelings about these times in this relationship — not necessarily as a redo, but as a kind of lab through which to better understand what motivates those people in our lives, as well as our own actions. The novel is subtle at times, overt at others, and is challenging through and through.