January 24, 2013

‘The Days of Abandonment,’ by Elena Ferrante

I just finished an amazing novel ~ The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein.  It’s a domestic psychological thriller much like movie Unfaithful, but told from a jilted wife’s point of view.

I have to say, Elena’s prose is so amazing.  She’s so clear and nuanced and fabulous about the inner life of this woman, Olga.  And it’s so deceptive ~ at the beginning you’re nodding your head, going, “Yeah, I identify with this woman.  She’s level-headed and reasonable, and I would hope I would act the same way,” until she’s not and you’re not.  You’re saying, “What a crazy bitch ~ justified, but crazy!”  An unreliable narrator. (Did she put the glass in the pasta on purpose?! We’ll never know.) And then you’re on pins and needles! Is that horrible thing that Elena so deftly foreshadows going to happen? Oh my God, I hope not!

And so, some glorious excerpts from the novel.

Be forewarned.  There is a lot of sex in this book, and it’s here in the last excerpt below.

A great paragraph about women and writing (Mario is the cheating husband, and Otto is the dog):

I saw the cover again in every detail. My French teacher had assigned it when I had told her too impetuously, with ingenious passion, that I wanted to be a writer.  It was 1978, more than twenty years earlier.  “Read this,” she had said to me, and diligently I had read it.  But when I gave her back the volume, I made an arrogant statement: these women are stupid.  Cultured women, in comfortable circumstances, they broke like knick-knacks in the hands of their straying men.  They seemed to me sentimental fools: I wanted to be different, I wanted to write stories about women with resources, women of invincible words, not a manual for the abandoned wife with her lost love at the top of her thoughts.  I was young, I had pretensions.  I didn’t like the impenetrable page, like a lowered blind.  I liked light, air between the slats.  I wanted to write stories full of breezes, of filtered rays where dust motes danced.  And then I loved the writers who made you look through every line, to gaze downward and feel the vertigo of the depths, the blackness of inferno.  I said it breathlessly, all in one gulp, which was something I never did, and my teacher smiled ironically, a little bitterly.  She, too, must have lost someone, something.  And now, more than twenty years later, the same thing was happening to me.  I was losing Mario, perhaps I had already lost him.  I walked tensely behind Otto’s impatience, I felt the damp breath of the river, the cold of the asphalt through the soles of my shoes.

And you know how spring is so often shown as hope, a new beginning?  Well, I love this characterization.  So economically and ingeniously shows her state of mind (Ilaria and Gianni are the kids):

Never, that is, would he have abandoned us if he had known about our condition.  The spring itself, which by now was advanced and perhaps to him, wherever he was, seemed a glorious season, for us was only a backdrop for anxiety and exhaustion.  Day and night the park seemed to be pushing itself toward our house, as if with branches and leaves it wanted to devour it.  Pollen invaded the building, making Otto wild with energy.  Ilaria’s eyelids were swollen, Gianni had a rash around his nostrils and behind his ears. 

Finally, about love.  Maybe we fool ourselves.  Maybe it’s nothing more than sex, she says. 

Everything is so random.  As a girl, I had fallen in love with Mario, but I could have fallen in love with anyone: a body to which we end up attributing who knows what meanings. A long passage of life together, and you think he’s the only man you can be happy with, you credit him with countless critical virtues, and instead he’s just a reed that emits sounds of falsehood, you don’t know who he really is, he doesn’t know himself.  We are occasions.  We consummate life and lose it because in some long-ago time someone, in the desire to unload his cock inside us, was nice, chose us among women.  We take for some sort of kindness addressed to us alone the banal desire for sex.  We love his desire to fuck, we are so dazzled by it we think it’s the desire to fuck only us, us alone.  Oh yes, he who is so special and who has recognized us as special.  We give it a name, that desire of the cock, we personalize it, we call it my love.  To hell with all that, that dazzlement, that unfounded titillation.  Once he fucked me, now he fucks someone else, what claim do I have?  Time passes, one goes, another arrives.  I was about to swallow some pills, I wanted to sleep lying in the darkest depths of myself.


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