The Lost Daughter
By: Elena Ferrante
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
From the author of The Days of Abandonment, The Lost Daughter is Elena Ferrante’s most compelling and perceptive meditation on womanhood and motherhood yet. Leda, a middle-aged divorce, is alone for the first time in years when her daughters leave home to live with their father. Her initial, unexpected sense of liberty turns to ferocious introspection following a seemingly trivial occurrence. Ferrante’s language is as finely tuned and intense as ever, and she treats her theme with a fierce, candid tenacity.
This is the final book from her list of fiction that I haven’t read. After reading the fraught-ness that was The Days of Abandonment (review) I was looking for something a bit quieter to read. Good thing I left this for last 😛
The Lost Daughter was a quick read–I read it in one evening–but it’s brimming with tension and reflection. I’ve spotted a trend in Elena Ferrante’s books whereby her protagonists find themselves re-evaluating their pasts and their relationships–in the Neapolitan books it was the friendship between two women, in Troubling Love it was a daughter’s relationship with her mother, in The Days of Abandonment it was a woman’s relationship with her (former) spouse. Here it’s a reflection on a mother’s relationship with her daughters, albeit she does also reflect a bit on her relationship with her mother. The reflections are grim, though I found it more balanced compared to The Days of Abandonment, of Leda’s pull between motherhood and the doubts that went along with it with her desire for independence and fulfilling her own ambitions. She often describes her motherhood as unconventional, but it seems to border of non-existent by the time events of this novel beings; she is relegated to the background and virtually going through the motions, especially now that her daughters are in Canada (heh, and in my city, no less).
I felt for Leda though. Unlike Elena Ferrante’s other female protagonists in other books, Leda is rocked with anxieties and pains from the first page, which are aggravated when faced with a stressful situation. I’m honestly surprised her conditon didn’t worsen as the novel progressed or that it was revealed that she had a serious underlying illness, she was constantly beseiged by attacks and pains. Also, and perhaps it’s because this character probably clicked with me a bit more personality wise, but despite these anxieties and pains she seems stronger in that she weathered so much doubt and so much upheaval. She’s quieter, and I can see why other characters turn to her.
Plot-wise, it does read a bit like The Girl on the Train (review) in that Leda finds herself drawn to a family that’s also hanging out at the same beach she’s at for holiday. The clash of society, and that of differences in Italian cities and cultures, comes to life through these interactions–and by extention Leda’s own recollection of her childhood–as she finds herself drawn into their circle where there’s clearly a few shady things happening underneath. That bit was pretty tense, and whilst on the outset the event itself seems rather trivial, it was nonetheless compelling to read.
Overall The Lost Daughter was an interesting read and another fascinating reflection brought to you by Elena Ferrante. It’s grim and uncomfortable at times, and again I can see why it’s such a sensation not only with Italian society but also around the world. If you’re looking for a quick but thoughtful read, I’d recommend picking this title up.