Everybody (mostly in the english-speaking bibliophile world) has been talking about Elena Ferrante, lately. I was curious, as, strangely, though she has been translated in French for quite a few years already, there wasn’t that much of a buzz surrounding her Neapolitan Novels (or not one that I noticed). Which is paradoxical because I usually hear about more Italian writers in the French (translated) book world than in the English (that is not limited to Italian fiction, and probably due to the fact that the English literary scene is bigger than the French-speaking one, and therefore the drive for translated fiction is less important. Or, it might be a cultural thing. I was half suspicious, I had kind of decided in my head that I already had my panel of favourite Italian writers (Calvino,Erri De Luca, Goliarda Sapienza, Margaret Mazzantini, and a few others), and, like I often do in the most annoying way, judged in advance that maybe that buzz wasn’t really worth it.
Anyway, I was looking her up at my public library (yes, it is mine, I’ve decided), and found not the Neapolitan Novels, but one of her first novels, The Days of Abandonment (I giorni dell’abbandono). This is a long, almost continuous monologue about Olga, a writer, a mother of two children, and an spouse, whose husband leaves her, suddenly. This abandonment, as it is felt, leads her to a slow descent of rationality loss, where she abandons the world, her family, her normal functioning, and herself.
Beautifully written, it explores this episode of loss of self, this gripping, raw testimony of a crumbling, like no other book I have read so far. You are, at every step, with Olga. You are, for once, the mad woman, you don’t get to observe from afar. In that same way, you don’t get to judge. And you feel, or at least I felt, the fall, almost from within. She seems to be left with no skin, exposed to the tiniest drift of air, with burst of violence and rare moments of self awareness, and you aren’t spared any second of it.
From the premise, you might think this is a story that has been told many times already: the woman who loses herself, in a crisis. But I don’t think it has been told that way. It is gripping, and beautiful, and scary, as true madness, felt, must be.
So I get the buzz surrounding her, and I’m joining the fan-base, at least for this book. This is a must read.