Thursday, June 16, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

I decided to treat myself and take up the next installment of Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. Once again, I was caught up by Ferrante’s amazing writing and the way she can pull you in to the story of two women bound in a pathological friendship.

Lila is the brilliant friend, the one who stayed. Despite the violence and poverty of the surroundings in the old Naples neighborhood, Lila seems to draw her strength from her roots. Lena has always been desperate to leave. Finally she does: furthering her education, marrying a quietly intellectual professor with a job in Florence, and publishing a novel that catapults her to literary acclaim. Acclaim that is, unfortunately, fleeting.

Whenever Lena’s star rises, Lila appears to fall apart. When Lila finds her footing and shows signs of success, Lena becomes enmeshed in a domesticity that she finds unbearably stifling. She fights against it, embraces it, and fights it again in ways that are self-destructive but unavoidable. The two women continue to compete, although without admitting to each other they are competing. Lena is frustrated by the dishonesty between them, but is no more able to bridge the widening gap than is Lila. The ongoing jealousy each feels, Lena’s frustrated sense of inferiority despite having achieved goals they had set for themselves as girls, Lila’s alternating strength and fragility, are all depicted with a beautiful, flowing narration that is heartbreakingly real and immediate.

As in previous books, the women are situated squarely in the midst of the turmoil of their times (1960s and 70s, Italy). They are sometimes involved in the political upheaval and other times divorced from it. Ferrrante’s ability to give the reader a taste of all that is swirling around her characters without letting the political discourse take over the novel is masterful.

I can’t put my finger on exactly what makes these books so superb, but I’m anxious to read the fourth and final installment.

Start with My Brilliant Friend and then The Story of a New Name.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read anything by this author but the book sounds intriguing.