Sunday, October 18, 2015

Elena Ferrante

I just finished reading Elena Ferrante's The Days of abandonment. I had previously read the author's The Lost daughter. I had to read both in translation due to the difficulty of obtaining books in the original. No complaints here, the translation of the former by Ann Goldstein was competent and fluid.

Now this Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym) is the object of massive hype, and not only in Italy. How much of it is deserved? Although I will be a voce fuori dal coro, I think she is overrated. An Italian phrase came to mind when I read her works: si fa leggere, she's readable, sometimes compulsively so. But there is a letdown at the end. I read The Lost daughter years ago and absolutely nothing remains in my memory of this book.

Cynically, I believe that the mystery surrounding her real identity contributes to her mystique. Does the pseudonym conceal someone well-known? Is she indeed a woman? I don't think she intentionally cultivated this effect, at least not entirely, but it has been a great marketing ploy. Also, since it is a form of chick lit (of a high order), she enjoys a ready-made audience of avid female readers. And there does seem to be an element of gender-based political correctness in the excessive praise lavished on her.

The Days of Abandonment is a novel in the first person about a woman who is left abruptly by her husband for a younger woman, and descends into, how shall I put this, atavism. This includes literally ripping the shirt off her husband's back and kicking him in public. Happens all the time. It makes for interesting reading and suspense- will she or won't she lose it completely? To her (I do think it's a her, and I do think she's from Southern Italy) credit, Ferrante references Simone De Beauvoir's La femme rompue. Which covers the same theme, but much better. So that this novel seemed a bit superfluous to me. I won't spoilerarlo for you (as they say in Italy, to my amusement), but the ending was disappointing and not entirely credible.

Will I read other books by Ferrante? Very likely; she is a good writer and I am interested in contemporary Italy, women's fiction and Naples. Should you? Yes, give her/him/it a try and see for yourself.