By: Elena Ferrante
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
Following her mother’s untimely and mysterious death, Delia embarks on a voyage of discovery through the streets of her native Naples searching for the truth about her family. A series of mysterious telephone calls leads her to compelling and disturbing revelations about her mother’s final days.
This stylish fiction from the author of The Days of Abandonment is set in a beguiling but often hostile Naples, whose chaotic, suffocating streets become one of the book’s central motifs. A story about mothers and daughters and the complicated knot of lies and emotions that binds them.
After reading her Neapolitan books last year (see author tag) I was very keen to check out her three standalones. I was debating which of the three to start with and ended up picking up this novel first–planning on saving (and savouring) The Days of Abandonment for another day 😉
I actually started reading this book late one night after finishing another book. I was sleepy but I just wanted a taste of what was ahead of me with this book. Let’s just say I couldn’t put it down until almost 10 chapters in; there’s something about the writing and the voice of the character narrating, Delia, that simply draws you into the story. I had to learn more about Delia’s tenuous relationship with her mother, Amalia, and the strange circumstances surrounding her death. I was curious to learn more about Delia’s rough childhood and what Amalia was up to in the days leading up to her death. It’s a quiet, introspective novel in which Delia reflects on the life of her mother and her relationship to her, but it’s also quite a violent novel in its painting of Napoli–both the Napoli of Delia’s childhood and the Napoli in which as an adult she’s navigating and trying to figure out what her mother was up to in her last days–as well as the domestic household and the relationships between men and women. It’s frank about the thoughts and feelings and realities that women face, and like the Neapolitan novels, it doesn’t hold back when it comes to shedding some light on some unpleasant thoughts and flaws and aspects about familial relationships and the fractures underneath the surface.
What I suppose was most interesting about this novel is really the heart of the story, which is Delia’s relationship with her mother. Of course we only read her side of the story–how she remembers her mother, the memories she has of her–but nonetheless it’s an interesting character journey for Delia in coming to some sense of…realisation or peace with who her mother was, what she did, and that untenable bond she has with her that can’t be shaken no matter how distant they had been or how much Delia had tried to shed her old life away. It’s interesting, and I think it’s something you don’t really realise until you’re older. What’s also interesting in reading her account of her childhood is how she was very much affected by her home life and by her father’s domineering/paranoid behaviour and the domestic violence he inflicted. It’s horrible and as strong as Delia is now, it does explain some of her behaviours throughout the novel.
Heh, this review is pretty clustered in laying out my thoughts about this slim volume but it’s again one of those books you have to read for yourself to really grasp the nuances of relationships and perspectives that the author was laying out. If you’ve read her other novels you’ll find this book to touch on familiar themes, but it’s pretty compact and was nonetheless engaging from start to finish.