Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Days of Abandonment by Elsa Ferrante

I have been a fan of women's literature for many years.  One such author has eluded me until a recent article discussed the Italian writer, Elena Ferrante.  My first actual encounter with Ferrante’s works occurred after a trip to the marvelous independent bookstore, Inkwood Books of Haddonfield, N.J.  I asked the clerk about Ferrante, and she suggested the “Neopolitan Quartet” of novels, which was sold out, but she did have a copy of the Days of Abandonment.  Across the street from the shop was a coffee bistro, so went for a coffee and a scan of the novel.  About an hour later, I was hooked, and I accepted the fact this was a powerful novel I could not let pass by again.

William Congreve wrote, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned.  Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned” (Congreve, The Mourning Bride, III, viii).  Days of Abandonment tells the story of a woman abandoned by her husband, who then takes up with a young woman half the wife’s age.  The novel begins, “One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me.  He did it while we were clearing the table; the children were quarrelling as usual in the next room, the dog was dreaming, growling beside the radiator.  He told me that he was confused, that he was having terrible moments of weariness, of dissatisfaction, perhaps of cowardice.  He talked for a long time about our fifteen years of marriage, about the children, and admitted that he had nothing to reproach us with, neither them nor me.  He was composed, as always, apart from an extravagant gesture of his right hand when he explained to me, with a childish frown, that soft voices, a sort of whispering, were urging him elsewhere.  Then he assumed the blame for everything that was happening and closed the front door carefully behind him, leaving me turned to stone beside the sink”   This is nothing more than the tiniest of spark which will turn into a conflagration of immense power.

Warning this is an adult novel on the basis of a single chapter when Olga vented all her rage, jealousy, and fury, in a scene of a rather explicit and volcanic nature.  A reader will know when it starts, so it is easy to skip.  This novel is the most incisive and detailed account of the agony a woman undergoes when she is abandoned by her partner.  The prose is mesmerizing and gripping.  I could barely put it down for a moment.  Here is a scene when Olga decides to seek revenge on her husband.  “He again brought his lips to mine, but I didn’t like the odor of his saliva.  I don’t even know if it really was unpleasant, only it seemed to me different from mario’s.  He tried to put his tongue in my mouth, I opened my lips a little, touched his tongue with mine.  It was slightly rough, alive, it felt animal, an enormous tongue such as I had seen, disgusted, at the butcher, there was nothing seductively human about it.  Did Carla have my tastes, my odors?  Or had mine always been repellant to Mario, as now Carrano’s seemed, and only in her, after years, had he found the essences right for him” (80-81).  You can now skip to page 88 and the beginning of Chapter 18.

Is this really Ferrante?
In a blurb on the cover, a reviewer for The Guardian wrote, “Ferrante’s novels are tactile and sensual, visceral and dizzying.”  Not for the faint of heart, this novel is a masterpiece of the inner workings of the mind of a woman.  5 stars.

--Chiron, 12/31/16

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