Thursday, July 28, 2016

Elena Ferrante - The Story of the Lost Child (Neapolitan Novels #4)

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Translated by Ann Goldstein from Italian into English.

'It was the Solaras.' A litte child has been spirited away from the neighbourhood and among other fantastical explanations, we hear the familiar line, 'It was the Solaras'.  After I am done reading the book, I think so too.

Now that all the books have been read I am feeling empty. The books have a very appropriate ending. Even if I do not get the closure that I really wished for, I realize this is better. A character like Lila was not made for an ordinary life.

Right to the end, Lila and Lenu continue their see-saw relationship, now thick with each other, now fallen out. It is not in their character to truly weld with each other. They could be close one minute, yet another minute blow up like the Vesuvius that is forever in the backdrop.

Nino Sarratore is another big character in the books. Yet I have written nothing about him in the past three reviews. To write about Nino is to give away the story. Here, I don't want to give away any of the story. I want the reader to have the same pleasure that I did, discovering every bit of the books on their own.

Nino is intelligent and handsome.  He has also outgrown the neighbourhood because his parents moved away.  He came up in life, despite poverty, due to his education, like Elena.  His destiny is to be linked to the two friends.  They look up to him as a symbol of all that is good in their neighbourhood.  He is their 'God' unlike the Solaras who are the 'Devil'. 

Elena continues to write books, Lila, following Enzo's ambitions, makes a foray into the world of computers. Despite their personal successes, they continue to suffer at the hands of Solara brothers who make life difficult for them.

By the time the reign of Solaras ends, Lila and Lenu are too damaged to be whole again. 
The friends face devastating losses in their lives and a laborious process of trying to mend themselves begins.  But will they succeed at it?

The strident feminist and political activism of the last novel is missing here.  Because times change, I realise.  Women have earned the right to more personal freedom now.  They are able to achieve a lot more, have more command over their destiny.  The men in their lives yield to their insistence on living their lives the way they want.

Lila and Lenu were always strong women but by the time the books end, they are completely in command of themselves.

The political situation in Italy also seems to settle down, becomes less volatile.  The current regime cannot commit crimes, it faces action for corruption.

In the first book, Elena mentions how the girls devoured 'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott and were tremendously inspired by it.  I was pleased to read this.  Even at the end of the book, Elena (who is recounting the whole story as a tribute to her friend who has vanished), recounts again how the book had set the friends on a path of aspiration that led them here.

I was pleased to read this.  I personally love 'Little Women'.  It has been reviled a lot in recent years for being too preachy.  It is preachy. But it is also a warm and a lovely story of four young girls who want to live their lives to the fullest.  

In a way these books also resemble 'Little Women', but only in the scope.  As in the 'Little Women' quartet, the four Neapolitan Novels also chart the lives of two young women. If you reduce the story from four to two sisters you can find a shadow of a similarity. Like Jo and Amy, Lila and Lenu also love the same man for a long time.

Apart from a very slight similarity in themes, not only with 'Little Women', but also 'Anna Karenina', there is absolutely no similarity in the treatment of the story. Ferrante is too visceral, too original in her depiction of women and their lives to be compared to any other novelist. Never does she pander to her readers, never does she attempt to sugar-coat her story.

I am sure these books are never really going to go out of my head.


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