Thursday, October 4, 2012

Review: THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT, by Elena Ferrante

The Days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante. Published 2006 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Italian.

A woman finds one day that her husband is leaving her. She's 38; they have two young children and a dog. The other woman is a 20-something the couple has known for years. At first, Olga, the scorned wife, thinks her husband might be having a passing spell of some sort. But soon enough it's apparent that it's permanent, that she's alone.

The book follows her descent into irrationality and anger, during which her life as well as those of her children is at risk. She sinks into a kind of sexual and physical morass, a loss of dignity from which one would think would be impossible to recover. The language is raw and unadorned, and I've heard that the original Italian is even rougher than the English translation. Olga's desperation and pain and anger and fright is hard to look at and hard to look away from. Early on, she confronts her husband, who wishes she wouldn't be so dramatic, so difficult:

Speak like what? I don't give a shit about prissiness. You wounded me, you are destroying me, and I'm supposed to speak like a good, well-brought-up wife?...With these eyes I see everything you do together, I see it a hundred thousand times, I see it night and day, eyes open and eyes closed! However, in order not to disturb the gentleman, not to disturb his children, I'm supposed to use clean language, I'm supposed to be refined...
This kind of thing works well in novels because it's cathartic for the reader, but of course in reality she'd be locked up for some of the things she does and says. It's not a revenge fantasy- she takes it all out on herself and the kids which are like extensions of herself, and the poor dog, a symbol of the whole family- but it's still violent, psychically and psychologically.  Nevertheless it's an incredible book that would certainly stimulate a lot of conversation and thinking about what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother. Ferrante does not fetishize the family, or children, or middle class marriage the way many American writers do.  Olga puts herself first and views her children as parasites at the height (or nadir) of her crisis.  The whole family is in chaos. She hits bottom, but then she comes back up enough to see the daylight and a way out.

So yeah, I really enjoyed this but in a way it was like reading a particularly gritty crime novel, one that you can't put down even when it's ripping you apart. Maybe we need a new category for Ferrante's books, domestic thrillers. Or something. She's got a new book coming out from Europa out soon- watch for it, and read this in the meantime.

This is my 11th book for the 2012 Europa Challenge


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


bermudaonion said...

I don't know what it is about books like that but they're captivating. As much as they tear you apart, you can't look away.

Mystica said...

I can imagine the feeling. It sounds very very raw but also not put downable!

Audra said...

I love the idea of 'domestic thrillers' -- this one sounds awesome/awful!

Zibilee said...

I have read a lot about this book, and I know that this is one that I want to read, though I know it will be brutal, and the plight of the dog kind of scares me. You did a great job of conveying just what makes this book work and what makes it so visceral. Nice review today!

Bellezza said...

I felt the same way: a really gripping crime novel that you could not put down. I ended up not able to say if I liked it, because I don't know if you can like such a work. But, I will certainly remember it. I felt it, if that makes sense.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I enjoyed this one a lot. There is something about this author's style that never disappoints. I've now read all of his books.