Friday, January 13, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

I held out for a while, not wanting to bring the incredible reading experience to a close, but I finally couldn’t wait any longer. I just finished the fourth and final Neopolitan novel by Elena Ferrante: The Story of the Lost Child.

I’ve been addicted to this remarkable story of complex friendship and the detailed narrative of two entwined lives since I first picked up My Brilliant Friend.

Lila and Elena are now grown women. Elena has achieved the two main goals in her life: she’s a respected author and she’s finally in a romantic relationship with the man she’s loved since her childhood, Nino Sarratore.

Lila has remained in Naples and has set about organizing the decaying neighborhood in opposition to the Solara brothers, thorns in the sides of Lila and Elena since childhood. The brothers are now crime bosses and rule much of the neighborhood with legal and illegal businesses.

There is far too much going on to summarize. The plot is important–it’s the story of their lives and it continues through their middle age. Their lives are complicated and rich, and through them we get a glimpse of Italian political, literary, and intellectual debates of the times. But what makes the novels so compelling is not so much the happenings, but Elena’s interpretation of them and the way she connects everything to the push and pull between her and Lila.

Ann Goldstein’s translation is remarkable. The language is always precise and beautiful and I never feel like I’m reading a translation.

The novels go right to the heart of friendship, everything good and bad in a relationship that is intense in its devotion and rivalry. Family dynamics, love, disillusionment, and the satisfactions and dissatisfactions, joys and terrors of parenting are all shown with an intensity that always feels real. Ferrante’s ability to bring the reader completely inside the head of the protagonist, to let us empathize with Elena’s conflicts, her vanities, her doubts. . .even when Elena is behaving badly, stupidly pursuing Nino or descending into pettiness, even when she is lying to herself, she is honest with the reader. The ending is painful but perfect. These books are extraordinary. I don’t often re-read books any more because there is just too much out there to read, but I can see myself starting over again with book one.

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