“We had maintained the bond between our two stories, but by subtraction. We had become for each other abstract entities, so that now I could invent her for myself both as an expert in computers and as a determined and implacable urban guerrilla, while she, in all likelihood, could see me both as the stereotype of the successful intellectual and as a cultured and well-off woman, all children, books, and highbrow conversation with an academic husband. We both needed new depth, body, and yet we were distant and couldn’t give it to each other.”
-Elena Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein
Book three of the Neapolitan series focuses almost exclusively on Elena, who finds herself leading a meaningless life surrounded by cultural symbols of success. Like Lila in the previous book, she feels betrayed by the institution of marriage, but unlike Lila she is still intimidated by the heavy social norms of the era. In some ways, perhaps because of Lila’s absence, she retreats back into the cold, bitter Lena of the second half of the first book, who seems able to feel only jealousy and guilt out of the broad spectrum of human emotion. Many times what kept me reading was the hope of news of Lila, who I have come to love dearly and am always surprised by.
Yet even where entire chapters are devoted to loneliness, to self-pity, to tedium, to the quest for and then emptiness of status symbols, to feeling trapped by circumstances– even there Elena’s narration is direct and accurate, her thoughts well-formed, and her questions legitimate. And if that is not enough to bind me to Elena, there is the undeniable fact that she, too, waits for news of Lila, admitting freely that the whole series is a memoir engineered to gain Lila’s attention.
I purchased the fourth book yesterday and am regarding it with trepidation, realizing slowly that as torturous as this series sometimes is, I desperately do not want it to end.