‘Ties’ by Domenico Starnone – Feelings

 

‘Ties’ by Domenico Starnone   (2014)  – 150 pages            Translated by Jhumpa Lahiri

Last fall it was revealed that novelist Domenico Starnone is married to the woman who writes under the pen name Elena Ferrante.  Now his own novel ‘Ties’ has been translated into English and published.

The subject of the novel is quite similar to Ferrante’s ‘Days of Abandonment’ which I have also read and which also takes place in Naples.  (I have read a considerable amount of Ferrante’s work, but this is my first novel by Domenico Starnone.)  Both novels are about a husband who abandons his wife and two kids to go live with a 19 year old girl for a couple of years.

Book I of ‘Ties’ quotes the angry bitter letters the wife writes to her wandering husband.

“Let’s talk about it.  You can’t leave me in the lurch.  I need to know about this Lidia.  Does she have her own place? Do you sleep there?  Does she have what you were looking for, what I no longer have, or never did?  You snuck off, clearly avoiding speaking to me at all costs.  Where are you?”

These letters seemed to me to be quite standard fare for the letters written during a bitter separation, and I would have appreciated more originality. The whole first 37 pages are transcripts of these furious letters, so the reader gets no sense of place, no sense of Naples, at all.  But even in the scenes that follow which are not quoting letters, the reader gets no sense of Naples.  The story could have happened just about anywhere, because there is nothing grounding it to Naples.  It is entirely about the feelings of these people.  This is far different from the writings of Elena Ferrante which have a strong sense of place, and I mark it as a shortcoming of ‘Ties’.

After Book I, Book II is about an elderly couple whose home is broken into and ransacked.  I read twenty pages into this Book before I could figure out that this is the same husband and wife now reunited from Book I but occurring many years later.  The only hint was that the children’s names are the same.  I felt this was another flaw that we weren’t given more indication that this was the same couple.  So for twenty pages we are pretty much bereft of any point to the story.  Later we get immersed again in the marital problems of this straying but returning husband and his angry wife and their two children, but it is again all feelings without any definite ties to the real world.

Book III is about the couple’s kids who are portrayed as young wasters which I felt was somewhat unfair to them

I would call ‘Ties’ a psychological novel.  I do like psychological novels, but the ones I like most are those that are well grounded in a definite time and place.  Otherwise all the conversational back and forth about feelings sounds all too much like babble.

 

Grade :   C+

 

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4 responses to this post.

  1. I had the same reaction when I saw your example of the letter but then I wondered whether the author was trying to make a point about how, in these circumstances, we are bereft of words. That we just dont know how to respond to a situation like this. Or am I being too kind??

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    • Hi Booker Talk,
      “Bereft of Words” would mean at a loss for words, but the woman here has lots of words, but none of them particularly interesting to me. Starnone’s ‘Ties’ and Ferrante’s ‘The Days of Abandonment’ are both about the husband taking off from his family for a couple of years in order to live with a 19 year old woman. There is some speculation that these novels might be about a real-life incident. I’m a big fan of Elena Ferrante and much prefer her novel. Starnone seems to be implying that the kids’ not turning out right afterward had to do with the wife’s over-reacting to his leaving. Also he seems to blame his luke-warm return to her severe problems. I don’t know about all that, but to me Ferrante is the much better writer.

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  2. I strongly agree with your assessment of Ties. Elena Ferrante’s books explore interpersonal relationships along with many references to the wider world and how we life in it. I found this very unsatisfying, just spent my time trying to figure out which character I disliked more.

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    • Hi Charlotte,
      I’m happy yoiu agree. Elena Ferrante’s novels are always a pleasure for me to read, I have read six so far. ‘Ties’; was no pleasure.

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