“The Days of Abandonment” by Elena Ferrante

“The Days of Abandonment” by Elena Ferrante (2002) – 188 pages

 “One day, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me.” – the first sentence of “The Days of Abandonment”

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It turns out he has found a new much younger woman who happens to be one of their ex-babysitters, thus he is leaving his wife and two children, ages eight and five-and-a-half.  Is ‘abandonment’ too strong a word, too over the top?

Olga, the woman here, is devastated.  Elena Ferrante as a writer is not afraid to deal with strong emotions.  This is not an uplifting novel about how things are not as bad as they seem.  Before the novel is over Olga descends into despair and almost loses it completely. Ferrante as a writer is not afraid to deal with hard unflattering feelings.

“The Days of Abandonment” is the novel that put Elena Ferrante on the map.  As you may be aware, “My Brilliant Friend” by Ferrante was my top read for last year, and now I went back to the well.  ‘Abandonment’ is another winner for me.

“Existence is this, I thought, a start of joy, a stab of pain, an intense pleasure, veins that pulse under the skin, there is no other truth to tell.”

One of Ferrante’s real strengths is that she can be matter-of-fact and honest about her characters’ strongest ugliest reactions.  Her abandoned female character has no stiff upper lip, no toning down of emotions.  Perhaps I’ve read too many fine-tuned even-tempered British novels and appreciate a writer who is willing to go blunt and operatic and let it all hang out.

One statistic I watch to measure a novel’s reception with the public is its waiting list at the Minneapolis Public Library system.  The waiting list even for novels which are originally tremendously popular dwindles down to nothing after a few years.  I checked the waiting list for “The Days of Abandonment” which now stands at 9, extremely good for a novel that is over ten years old.   Perhaps it gets a steady audience of women who find themselves in a similar situation.

Even though I’m a male I could identify strongly with Olga’s clueless-ness when dealing with practical mechanical devices.

“The Days of Abandonment” is not a pleasant read.  It is an unflinching depiction of a woman dealing with an extreme difficult predicament, with abandonment.  The novel does have its redemptive moments especially toward the end.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kelly S on June 9, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    I really enjoyed “My Brilliant Friend,” and am looking forward to reading the last two books in that series. Seems like this one could be a good one to check out in the meantime!

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    • Hi Kelly,
      Although both “My Brilliant Friend” and “The Days of Abandonment” are very involving, there is a big difference between the two novels. “My Brilliant Friend” is more nostalgic and deals with quite a number of people over many years in the Fifties and Sixties. “The Days of Abandonment” is an intense family situation which occurs over a couple of months in the present day

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  2. Tony, I loved The Days of Abandonment. There IS no waiting list for it at our library.

    I really liked the character, her near-madness, her fury. It seems more realistic to me than those stiff-upper-lip novels, though I am an anglophile and love them.

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    • Hi Kat,
      That is one quality I like about Elena Ferrante her Italian fury. Before Ferrante, Alberto Moravia was my Italian writer hero. Now it is both of them. As for the difference between the English and the Italians, long live the difference.

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  3. Nice post, thanks for sharing. I never considered the waiting list at the library before, but it makes sense. You now have me wanting to check some of the books currently in my eReader against my local library. Many thanks, and have now added this book to the TBR list.

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    • Hi scottrudolph,
      There are a few variables in using the waiting list as a measuring device. For instance, for “Bringing Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel, the library has 70 reservable copies of the book, and now the waiting list is down to 2. For “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce, the library has 38 reservable copies and the waiting list is 71.

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