Review: The Story of the Lost Child

Posted 10 September, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

The Story of the Lost Child (L’amica geniale #4)
By: Elena Ferrante
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

Here is the dazzling saga of two women, the brilliant, bookish Elena and the fiery, uncontainable Lila. Both are now adults; life’s great discoveries have been made, its vagaries and losses have been suffered. Through it all, the women’s friendship has remained the gravitational center of their lives.

Both women once fought to escape the neighborhood in which they grew up—a prison of conformity, violence, and inviolable taboos. Elena married, moved to Florence, started a family, and published several well-received books. In this final book, she has returned to Naples. Lila, on the other hand, never succeeded in freeing herself from the city of her birth. She has become a successful entrepreneur, but her success draws her into closer proximity with the nepotism, chauvinism, and criminal violence that infect her neighborhood. Proximity to the world she has always rejected only brings her role as its unacknowledged leader into relief. For Lila is unstoppable, unmanageable, unforgettable!

Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous and a world undergoing epochal change, the story of a lifelong friendship is told with unmatched honesty and brilliance. The four volumes in this series constitute a long remarkable story that readers will return to again and again, and every return will bring with it new revelations.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw me tweet a bit of my exciting in the hours leading up to the publication of this book. I had pretty much devoured the first three novels of this series back in August and preordered this book. So yeah, pretty much hovered over the internet midnight of September 1st, waiting for the confirmation that my purchase went through and the ebook was downloaded. I meant to read it a bit slowly, reading only the first two chapters…which became ten…which became a third of the book…Then finally I said what the heck and just read the whole book :3 Contains spoilers if you haven’t read any of the books in this series!

Oh my God, where to begin with this post? As always, this book brings out a lot of thoughts (and feels); I found myself pondering a lot about the relationships in this book, the changing times that their childhood neighbourhood was facing, the continuing class/social/political divides that rocked the country, the continuing tenuous relationship that Lila and Elena hold, etc. I will say that this book was a vast improvement compared to Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (review); the last book got a bit too much with some of the theoreticals and I got especially frustrated with the characters, but I guess time (having sort of had a month in between finishing the first three and reading this final volume) and the pacing of the story and the events that occur over the course of 480 pages balanced things out this time around with the narrative.

Having said that, I guess I was a bit more understanding of Elena’s plight at the end of the last volume now and it picking up in this volume. It’s still frustrating, and her life increasingly becomes complicated, and half of the time I wanted to shout for her to just leave Nino already because he’s clearly not as into her or as devoted as he seemed, but her situation does highlight not only how complex relationships are and how tough women have it, but also highlights how flawed a character Elena is. She may have had it in terms of getting out of her childhood home, seeing the world a bit, finishin her studies, making her way towards becoming a renowned author but she’s not on a pedestal, she’s not superwoman, she makes mistakes. It happens. It certainly wasn’t easy reading it at times (especially when it came to her juggling work and her children and dealing with her in-laws but then what about her children…Ahh, so hard to read!), but her ups and downs made her very three-dimensional as a character and really reflects life, you know?

I will have to say, it was pretty striking to read this book because at times it really felt like things were pretty bleak for all of the characters involved. Life has always been hard for these characters, harder than hard for some, but it occurred to me how fleeting and temporary things were. There was no stable relationship in Elena’s generation/circle of friends. Their relationships with partners, with lovers, with their children, with in-laws were all transitory, had their ups and downs, though often with more conflict than naught. It was frustrating (because guh, I was rooting for some of these couples to stay together; also, grrr at Nino -_-;), but I can see the larger symbolism and themes at work here as well.

This book does cover quite a chunk of time, mainly from their 30s and then moving into their 60s. A lot happens, Elena and Lila’s relationship goes through a constant state of flux, but here they were close for some time, until events of the lost child (which was heartbreaking when it was revealed exactly what it was). Once again I found myself wondering why Elena and Lila were friends most of the time as some of Lila’s ways of getting Elena to see what’s going on is baffling and mean (which is strange as she usually has no trouble telling things as it is or what she thinks). I suppose this book was interesting in that it provides a bit more insight on why Lila is friends with Elena (since we’ve been following Elena’s narrative from the beginning) and how some of her own insecurities and hopes are pinned on Elena.

Gosh, there’s so much more I want to say about this book but it’ll just spoil the whole journey. There were some surprise developments, and a lot does happen in this novel, but it really felt like the concluding volume to the series. I admit, I chuckled when Elena mentioned that one of her later novels was a slim, 80-page novelette recounting her and Lila’s relationship; it was like “Dude, 80 pages? I’ve been reading 4 books recounting your friendship with Lila!” I thought it was funny. Anyway. I was really sad when I got to the epilogue of the book; it was absolutely bittersweet, but absolutely perfect. One of the final lines of the novel really captures the essense of this journey I have been on with the Neapolitan books:

Unlike stories, real life, when it has passed, inclines toward obscurity, not clarity.

Just like Elena and Lila’s relationship. Nothing is ever really clear or settled, but I’m glad to have read these books. They’ve left me brimming with thoughts about the ongoing situation in Italy with their socio-political reality, how language can be a divide in itself, about the complexity of friendships and relationships (love or generational), as well as the feels. All the feels. Towards the end of the novel, it really felt like I was slowly saying goodbye to Elena and Lila and all the people in their lives.

I cannot recommend this series enough. Go, go read it now.

Rating: ★★★★★

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