The Days of Abandonment
By: Elena Ferrante
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
A national bestseller for almost an entire year, The Days of Abandonment shocked and captivated its Italian public when first published. It is the gripping story of a woman’s descent into devastating emptiness after being abandoned by her husband with two young children to care for. When she finds herself literally trapped within the four walls of their high-rise apartment, she is forced to confront her ghosts, the potential loss of her own identity, and the possibility that life may never return to normal.
Oh man, this book has long been on my wish-to-read list. Aside from her Neapolitan books, The Days of Abandonment is Elena Ferrante’s other most notable work, and I was keen to read it and find out what everyone was talking about. Plus, I’m slowly making my way through the remainder of her bibliography so it was high time I got around to it 😉 However, I wasn’t sure if it was the best of ideas to bring it with me to work to read during my break as I knew it was going to make for a bit of a hefty read, but it was also one of the slimmer volumes sitting on my TBR pile at the time 😛 Contains spoilers ahead!
Well. This was a very difficult book to read, not to mention rate. It was also deeply uncomfortable to read on some level, which I can see why this book captured the attention of many. On the one hand I sympathise with Olga and her spiralling breakdown; she just lost 15 years of her life right there when her crap husband (whose character could’ve been fleshed out a bit further, but seeing as we’re reading this story from Olga’s perspective, it’s enough to know he’s a cardboard douchbag who elicited so sympathy from me). Olga, who at the start appears to always self-contain herself, gives in to her emotions, her confusion, and her hurt. She’s not perfect, and over the course of the novel and as she comes to terms with her newfound situation, she questions every aspect of her life–her upbringing, her life before Mario, her marriage, her own motherhood–and her identity after 15 years of marriage. It’s natural and realistic as this one relationship that was at the core of her life was suddenly ripped apart. It’s raw, it can be brutal (her reaction to seeing Mario and the woman he left her for…eep), the self-destruction she spiralled dwon made for difficult reading.
As flawed as she is, as troubling as some of her self-examinations are, she was also pretty hard to empathise with at times, and I understood where Carrano was coming from when
So yeah, overall I can see why The Days of Abandonment is so highly praised as the examination of Olga’s response to having been so callously abandoned by her husband was quite scathing. And whilst the ending showed that there can be new beginnings after such rough endings, for the most part this book is pretty negative and depressing, its look on humanity and relationships and perception pretty ugly and downbeat. Is Olga a liberated woman after having gone through the shock of Mario’s abandonment and the blah-ness of what was their marriage? I wouldn’t say so, if anything the end of the novel showed that maybe one day she’ll be happy but for now she just survived her breakdown, is surviving and taking it a day at a time. It’s a harrowing read, and I’m glad to have finally read it, but I can’t say it’s a favourite from her.