‘The Story of the Lost Child’ by Elena Ferrante (2015) – 473 pages Translated by Ann Goldstein
Now that Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels are completed, I added up all the pages and came up with a total of 1693 pages. Since the four novels combined are the life story of the two girls, Lenu and Lila, from a poor neighborhood in Naples, Italy, I suppose at some point they will all be combined into one novel, and it will make even ‘War and Peace’ seem puny.
To me, these four novels have been highly addictive. I appreciate movie director John Waters’ comment, “Elena Ferrante: the best angry woman writer ever!”
The two girls grow up to be not only angry women but tough and smart and enterprising. In the earlier novels we got a total picture of the men and women in the families in their Naples neighborhood as the girls grow up. It was not always a pretty picture, but it appeared to be emotionally true and real. Now the girls are full adults themselves and make mistakes like most of us adults do.
At the beginning of ‘The Story of the Lost Child’, Elena has become a successful writer, and her novels are even translated into other languages. She has a husband and two daughters, but she leaves her husband and children to take up with one of the boys, now an adult would-be writer himself, from her old neighborhood, Nino. Once long ago during their teenage years, the two girls had gone on vacation with Nino’s family, and one night Lila had gone off with Nino leaving Elena behind. This had made Elena so hurt, jealous, and angry that Elena had wound up sleeping with Nino’s father. Now twenty years later, Nino, though still living with his wife, becomes Elena’s lover. Nino even gets his wife pregnant during this time, and Elena puts up with the arrangement. She even gets writing assignments for him with her publisher.
“Ma, today it’s not like it used to be. You can be a respectable person even if you leave your husband, even if you go with someone else.”
There are soap opera qualities to these novels just as there are in real life.
Elena Ferrante has written a story each of us ought to be able to write but don’t, the real story of a child growing up in a neighborhood. I cannot think of any other novels that have captured the inhabitants of a neighborhood as well as these Neapolitan novels.
I suppose there might still be some debate as to whether Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels are great literature or not. All I can say is that I have read these novels with the same eager interest and pleasure as I have read ‘Middlemarch’ and ‘War and Peace’.