The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante tr. Ann Goldstein

The final book in the Neapolitan Novels tetralogy that began with Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant FriendThe Story of the Lost Child continues the saga of two compelling woman, Elena and Lila, childhood friends and now single mothers, back living in the neighbourhood of their humble origins.

At the end of Book 3 Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena was in the midst of a crisis, unable to think or act in anyone’s best interests, rather, she was lead by the wild palpitations of a lust driven heart and appeared to be prepared to risk all she had fought so hard and for so long to rise above and gain.

Now with everything collapsing around her, she returns to her roots, where things are as likely to be in disorder and chaos, but in a place where she feels safe, it is familiar, known.

Elena’s daughters must adapt to a less pampered life, although their mother wishes that they, like her, acquire sufficient education to allow them choices about where and how they might live. Elena and Lila’s children present them both with significant challenges, causing them to move closer together in some respects and further apart when tragedy strikes hard.

As with the previous books, Elena is never quite sure of Lila’s intentions, questioning her motives when she appears helpful and suspicious of her intentions when she informs her of gossip. It is a characteristic of their friendship that has existed since the beginning, an aspect Elena never fully unravels and keeps her always on guard.

‘I went home depressed. I couldn’t drive out the suspicion that she was using me, just as Marcello had said. She had sent me out to risk everything and counted on that bit of fame I had to win her war, to complete her revenge, to silence all her feelings of guilt.’

Naples Earthquake 1980It is the 1980’s and one of the turning points in Lila’s deterioration is the earthquake that occurred on November 23, 1980 killing 3,000 and rendering 300,000 of Naples inhabitants homeless. It is used as a powerful metaphor for the destabilisation that occurs in Elena and Lila’s lives.

‘It expelled the habit of stability and solidity, the confidence that every second would be identical to the next, the familiarity of sounds and gestures, the certainty of recognising them. A sort of suspicion of every form of reassurance took over, a tendency to believe in every prediction of bad luck, an obsessive attention to signs of the brittleness of the world, and it was hard to take control again. Minutes and minutes and minutes that wouldn’t end.’

Elena has always sought her independence and intended to create a career as a writer, it is only when she moves back to the neighbourhood that she realises with greater urgency that she must be autonomous.

‘It was then that a part of me – only a part – began to emerge that consciously, without particularly suffering, admitted that it couldn’t really count on him. It wasn’t just the old fear that he would leave me; rather it seemed to me an abrupt contraction of perspective. I stopped looking into the distance, I began to think that in the immediate future I couldn’t expect from Nino more than what he was giving me, and that I had to decide if it was enough.’

Book Four brings the girls full circle into the adult world where the relationships of childhood and dramas of their youth play out in a more dangerous playground, where boyhood pranks have evolved into criminal activities and the annoying habits of children transform into the damaging actions of adults with far-reaching and destructive consequences.

They are no longer observers of the world around them, they are perpetrators of events and circumstances that will affect the next generation, their children. Though they never wanted it and put all their energy into trying to prevent it, in many ways, they have begun to resemble the already departed, those they worked so hard not to become.

Book Four brings Elena and Lila’s stories back to where it all began, reacquainting us with the story’s beginning, of memories and possessions that have endured, that contain within them that sense of unease alongside the familiar, the two coexist and can not be separated, even in maturity. It is a conclusion of sorts, as thought-provoking as we have come to expect previously, not quite giving in to that alternative literary tradition of tying things up neatly.

I read the first three books in close proximity, each volume adding to the compulsion to want to re-enter their lives and discover what would happen next.  The longer gap in awaiting this final novel meant it took a little longer to pick up the pace, suggesting it might be a series best read consecutively.

If you haven’t read Elena Ferrante yet, here are links to reviews of the first three books in this series:

The Neapolitan Novels Reviewed

Book 1: My Brilliant Friend

Book 2: The Story of a New Name

Book 3: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

 

Note: This was an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) thank you to the publisher Europa Editions for kindly providing me with a review copy.

 

 

 

26 thoughts on “The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante tr. Ann Goldstein

  1. Lovely review. I liked book 4 more than book 3 which I had thought wasn’t quite as compelling as books 1 and 2. I did love the way The Story of the Lost Child ended. I like endings that sort of haunt the reader afterwards 😊

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  2. I love reading your thoughts on this powerful series; what strikes me particularly is how you said that they have now moved beyond observing into participating in the events around them. I suppose that is what it means, in part, to grow up.

    I am looking forward to finishing books 3 and 4, hopefully soon in 2016.

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    • It is great to almost grow up with them and see how things change and how they become central to the drama and as likely to make mistakes as those they observed from the position of youth. So well portrayed and constructed, just brilliant. Enjoy the end of the series!

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  3. Like Ali, I preferred this final instalment to book three (which lacked a little of the spark between Lila and Elena). I like your commentary on the earthquake and its role as a metaphor for the destabilisation in these women’s lives – that’s very true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jacqui, yes the earthquake was a kind of turning point, especially for Lila and reading about the actual event and the terrible losses and destruction that occurred, one can imagine that many, many people were likely to have been affected mentally by such a cataclysmic event. Book 4 back in the neighbourhood was a great way for the women to reconnect and for us to see them through the lens of middle age to maturity.

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  4. I thought she brought the series to a very satisfying end. I’ve been riveted, as a writer/reader/woman, by Elena Ferrante from the start for many reasons, not the least of which is how she captures the intricacies of friendship — love/loyalty/envy. And all to a backdrop of the political/social landscape in a time of upheaval.

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    • I actaully wrote that exact phrase Deborah, it was a satisfying end and then decided to try and find a better way to describe it, but “satisfying” is exactly what came to mind first up.

      Yes, the portrait of friendship was so intense and well communicated from within the mind of Elena and it remained that little bit elusive throughout, it was strong and yet she could never take it for granted or rely on it fully. That pursuit of the need to completely understand the relationship, kept us turnign the pages and wondering if it would ever be fully revealed, to really know someone inside and be sure of them.

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    • Timing is so important Rebecca, I recently read The Pollen Room which was highly recommended by a blogger I really trust, but it was so the wrong time for me to read it and I couldn’t like it at all, it was a relief to finish it. But I think at a different time it would not have had that impact. I was on a roll when reading the Elena Ferrante books, although I admit, it wasn’t quite the same picking up the 4th book nearly a year later, I think they need to be read in succession, for me anyway. Follow your instinct I say.

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