Nancy Corbett

Book Review 2008

General Fiction

Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

Everyone knows divorce is a terrible ordeal. When a marriage, a family, is suddenly ripped apart by the husband leaving for a younger woman, the suffering is horrific. It's one of the oldest of stories. Countless woman have experienced it. Those who do, look on others embarking on the path with pity and knowing. Women who've experienced this kind of break up know that the only way through it is, well, through it.

But no one talks about it. Probably because it hurts so damned much. Eventually, the mother and children get through the ordeal, each with their own private scars, but it just becomes a bad spot in the past, like a bruise on a banana.

Elena Ferrante talks about it. In Days of Abandonment, she goes into the home of Olga, Ilaria and Gianni and shows us what went on behind that closed door after Mario, husband and father, left them for Carla. The story is from Olga's point of view, and it is her anguish we feel most poignantly. But we see all of them, Olga, Ilaria, Gianni, even Otto the dog, swirling in the wake of Mario's departure. They plummet until it doesn't seem they can go any lower. Then they begin to heal.

The well-being of the mother and children can be measured by the way they view Carrano, their neighbor. When the story starts out, they see him through the eyes of Mario. Mario didn't like Carrano, and his observations were taken in by the rest of the family without question. After Mario leaves, Carrano goes through a remarkable series of transformations. He starts out sullen, unattractive and rude and migrates through lechery, incompetence to being a source of comfort.

Ferrante accomplishes all of her magic by showing us the transformations of Olga's outside world as she goes from shock to despair and up through the dregs to find her strength.

A fantastic book about an occurrence all too common but little understood. The book is difficult to read because the subject matter is so painful and displayed so graphically. But well worth taking the opportunity to become acquainted with this marvelous Italian talent.

"We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams..." Arthur O'Shaughnessy


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