During my online course I met several American readers who were crazy about an Italian writer called Elena Ferrante. I was uneasy: in line with the proverb about prophets in their own home, I was the only Italian attending the course and had never read a book by Ferrante. And what really stunned me was the description these readers made of her: “She writes about the unsayable”, they said, “about things that cannot be said”.
I immediately went to the library and borrowed The Days of Abandonment, then came home and surfed the net. I found out that Elena Ferrante had been translated by Ann Goldstein, who had introduced her (and many other Italian writers) to the American market. I also discovered that “Elena Ferrante” is a pen name and that nobody knows who the writer really is. But above all, I read that The New York Times and The New Yorker had dedicated different articles to her work, and that Foreign Policy – one of the most important magazines about policy, economics, and ideas – stated that she is one of the most influent global thinkers of 2014.
I thus started reading The Days of Abandonment and immediately realized that, if there was greatness, it was not within the plot, which was really poor. We are inside the mind of Olga, an asphyxiating first person narrator. She is 38 years old and has two children. She has just been abandoned by her husband for a very young woman and she gradually collapses into a sort of psychosis. Her sense of self becomes blurred and she starts descending into an Inferno of the mind. There, she faces the image of the “poverella” (poor creature), an abandoned woman who committed suicide during Olga’s childhood and that in some way represents a part of Olga’s self. She then manages to re-emerge from this “inmost cave” with a renewed self and a new, inner power to live and love.
Every book is in some way difficult to review, but I found this particular one more difficult than many others. The reason is that I was stunned by several aspects of Ferrante’s writing, but I can’t say that I like this novel fully. I don’t understand why, yet.
However, the book deserves to be praised. I’ve had the privilege to read The Days of Abandonment in its original version and have appreciated both the stunning perfection and the emotional power of Elena Ferrante’s language. Her writing oscillates between brutality and a delicate and precise poetry, and everything is incapsulated in a grammatical perfection that gives back to Italian its immense lyrical power. Besides, the writer’s bluntness is astonishing and admirable. She is able to depict the deepst rooms of the mind and uncover the most secret depths of everyday life.
However, what I loved most is her ability to give the story the colors of Myth. It seems to me that, in order to write this novel, she plunged into her Neapolitan origin (and perhaps into her real experiences, as well). In The Days of Abandonment, women are surrounded by an aura of tragedy and absoluteness. Elena Ferrante decides to stick to some South-Italian imaginary about abandoned women, but then surpasses the Myth and draws a new kind of trascendent feminine. Each and every event is attentively designed to fit in the narrative (and mythological) structure, and there are deep ravines where everything seems flat and clear.
The novel is well and easily written, so you will read it in a couple of days. However, at the end of the story something essential and atemporal will glue to your soul. That ineffable, obscure myth… will remain with you.