Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Story of the Lost Child

Last night I finished the fourth, and according to Europa Press, the final book in the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante. I scarcely know where to begin to talk about these books that have made such an impression on me. The characters have been so much a part of my life for months now. I loved them and hated them. They soared and then fell, becoming all too human. And Italy? The country of my heart was exposed as the passion- inducing yet dangerously corrupt land that it is.

 I don't believe that I've ever read a more realistic description
of a friendship, one that spans over fifty years and involves
 so many losses, misunderstandings, great acts of love, and acts of
The Story of the Lost Child (The Neapolitan Novels, #4)ferocious cruelty. This is no fairytale. Readers must be prepared to examine their deepest thoughts and emotions, the ones they'd never want to share with another human being, and admit that these are a normal part of our human condition.

The ambivalent feelings that Lila and Elena hold for each other manifest themselves from grade school where their teachers pit one against the other. The girls are drawn to one another until they become two sides to the same coin. Lila seeming to be the more powerful force, Elena the wanna be.

Elena sees Lila's early marriage, a means of escaping grinding poverty, as capitulation. For Lila it's a means to an end. Elena's star rises when she leaves Naples for academia while Lila's influence in Naples' business world threatens the powerful hold that the Solara brothers have over the old neighborhood.

Elena thrives when away from Naples. She is fecund with words, publishing feminist tracts to critical acclaim, and fecund biologically, reveling in the pregnancies that produce two beautiful girls. Lila's body, on the other hand, is repelled by the sex act and is sickened by her own pregnancy.

At times I questioned Lila's magnetic pull on Elena. Why would such a smart, outspoken woman be drawn to Lila's subversive undermining of Elena's hard-won confidence. I wanted to yell out to Elena, "No! Don't return, don't let her tear you down." And though Elena questions her own motivations, she does eventually move back to Naples where the two women's symbiotic relationship becomes a destructive force, poisoning all the people they love.

These novels are absolutely Shakespearean in their depth and insight. Though much praise has been (well-deservedly) lavished on the translator, Ann Goldstein, I think that another draw is the anonymity that the author has been able to maintain over the years and through all the publicity. This mystery of authorship and the mystery of this finale force us to accept the uncertainties of life. Don't miss this tour de force.

No comments: