“The Lost Daughter” by Elena Ferrante (2006) – 125 pages
Much of the novel “The Lost Daughter” by Elena Ferrante takes place on an Italian beach near Naples. A woman in her late forties goes to the beach nearly every day and there meets an extended family who are set up near her. The extended family includes two sisters, their husbands, and one of the sisters’ little three-year old girl Elena whose most precious possession is her doll Nena.
This is the first Elena Ferrante novel I’ve read. I heard about her in Frisbee’s Book Journal. Elena Ferrante is rather a mysterious figure in Italian literature who has so far kept her identity concealed, and it even has been suggested that Elena Ferrante is actually a pen name for male Italian writer Domenico Starnone. There is a lot of speculation on the Internet regarding this, most of it in Italian.
Whoever she or he is, Elena Ferrante is a fine writer. She brings a bluntness of action and emotion to this story that reminds me of the great Italian novelist Alberto Moravia. The woman that is the lead character in “The Lost Daughter” is a highly educated woman who had the possibility of a spectacular academic career before her, but she also had a husband and two daughters. Twenty years ago, while her daughters were still very young, she left her home and her family and did not come back for three years. Now she is still trying to reconcile her walking out on her family. The fact that she was highly educated and successful did not make it any easier for her to accept the responsibility of being a full-time mother; it actually made it more difficult. The daughters are now grown up and living away from Italy in her divorced husband’s country of Canada.
It is refreshing to have an intelligent character in a novel look back on their own actions with maturity and honesty which allows them to accept responsibility for what they did. Ferrante has found the perfect and surprising objective correlative for telling this story of a mature woman passing on an important lesson learned to a younger woman. This is a short but powerful novel that contains several well-drawn characters and a very dramatic plot.