READER: You suffer reading the book ‘The Days of Abandonment’ by Elena Ferrante
“Women without love lose the light in their eyes, women without love die while they are still alive. “ — Elena Ferrante in her book ‘The Days of Abandonment’
Now that I guess will give you a little idea what kind of suffering the book painted as our Sans Serif Book club members plunged into reading after equally powerful reading of ‘“The Virtue of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand last month. Over a period of time, our Book Club has matured into a serious group of passionate and discerning readers. That was quite evident, when we discussed with great passion, ‘The Days of Abandonment’ by Elena Ferrante on 27th Oct, at probably the most aesthetic environment of Apparao Galleries. Every one had a perspective to share. We all could relate to ‘The Days of Abandonment’ by Elena Ferrante (link leads to Europa Website of the Author) since each one of us have our own share of pain and difficulties in life.
Let me begin with some of the common underlying thoughts of our members. Most of us agreed that the manner of the dog ‘Otto’ death was something that we could not digest as well as to the idea of ‘how can a mother let her own sick child be sick without being able to get to a doctor’. Well the author did gave a reason why Olga could not, but I don’t want to give the details here as it is a review, however here is something that I can quote from the book…
“Now I associated it with Otto’s death and it no longer moved me. I discovered that it had become like the memory of the odor of an old man who on a bus, has rubbed off on us the desires of his dying flesh.” — Elena Ferrante
Sans Serif Book Club Member’s discussing the book
Another thing that stood out from every one’s comment that it was quite difficult to empathise with the situation where Olga, however she was depressed, was not able to open the lock of the door, over such a long period of time.
Having said that, to give credit to Author’s exquisite prose for most of us, it was quite painful to read the book as the raw emotions were sprinkled across the ‘almost blood stained’ pages Ferrante wrote on.
“In those long hours I was sentinel of grief, keeping watch along with a crowd of dead words.” — Elena Ferrante
I am sure whoever the Author — Elena Ferrante (It’s a pseudonym) is and where ever she is, she must be having goose pimples, as we kept remembering her words, talking about her for almost a month and specially so on 27thOct.
Listening to Prema Ma’am’s thoughts about the book…
Sujatha Ma’am, Meera and me
Now before I share my own thoughts about the book and the writing… here is something about the Author…
A Brief Note About the Author
Elena Ferrante is the pseudonym of an Italian novelist. Ferrante’s books, originally published in Italian, have been translated into English, Dutch, French, German, and Spanish, among other languages. Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels are among her best known works. She was named one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time magazine in 2016.
Ferrante is the author of a half dozen novels, the best known of which is the four-volume work known as Neapolitan Novels, about two perceptive and intelligent girls from Naples who try to create lives for themselves within a violent and stultifying culture. The Story of the Lost Child (2015), which was nominated for the Strega Prize, an Italian literary award.
Ferrante has repeatedly argued that anonymity is a precondition for her work and that keeping her true name out of the spotlight is key to her writing process.
In the land of Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi and many more authors popular or unknown, including me, we keep trying to be recognized as an author, she chooses to remain anonymous. I salute her for her words…
“Books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.”- Elena Ferrante
To see our name on the book cover, is mainly driven by our ego and then partly by a desire to be recognised as an author by people of divergent fields, sometimes including people from our childhood, schools etc., by whom we would like to be recognised. There are, of course, practical reasons for it too but then purposely denying the recognition, she seems to me to be at the level of detachment, which is preached in the Bhagwat Gita. So I respect Ferrante for that.
Now coming to the book let me begin by quoting these lines…
“I found my self alone, frightened by my own desperation.” — Elena Ferrante
And that’s the beauty of her writing. You suffer reading her words, the pain of Olga. It is so intense that you feel like skipping those painful pages, which was quite difficult for me as I don’t like to leave even one word unread. It is a story of 40 year old woman, Olga, who after marriage was uprooted from her known surroundings and sets up her home in a new town. Ferrante does not waste much time, going straight to the heart of the action in the first page itself as Olga’s husband declares his desire to move away.
As the sense of abandonment grew on her with each passing day, she returned to her Poverella — an old abandoned woman from her childhood memories, which in my view created a ulcerous wound that oozed with colors of pain as Ferrante brilliantly painted in her book.
“… After a lot of shouting that often woke me up in the middle of the night, that seemed to be flaking the stone off the building and the street as if it had saw teeth — drawn-out cries and laments that reached the piazza…” — Elena Ferrante
As the pages turn over, she begin to resemble more and more like her Poverrella, even taking on her abusing language as preferred means to communicate her deep sense of abandonment.
And as Olga settled deeper into the rigor mortis of her abandonment, she started to question her own feelings and thoughts about her husband in powerful words of Ferrante…
“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 is 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 sot of kindness addressed to us alone the banal desire for sex. “ — Elena Ferrante
If you look at the book in terms of characters, I felt somewhat cheated, when she did not flesh out Olga’s husband character who had abandoned her. It did leave a gap about why he actually abandoned her? Was it lust for young daughter of his colleague’s widow or it was love? It was the only thing that left me asking for more explanation in the book. Love, it seems has its own shades of grey, but her husband was painted more black than the grey it may have been. Probably when Olga reflected these words, it was more for him than herself…
“What a complex foamy mixture a couple is. Even if the relationship shatters and ends, it continues to act in secret pathways, it does not die. It does not want to die.”
5 years earlier, Olga had objected to her husband kissing the young girl, and that’s how the family moved away from hers but still, in my opinion the relationship was based on lust and despite my fellow members objecting to this opinion, I still feel it was lust. The husband had already abandoned Olga, 5 years back. Lust is a powerful driving force as our brains are so structured to crave after what’s available right then and there.
That was what probably got her to go upto her neighbour one night to feel, as the Author puts it in the pages, as a desirable woman. By end of the encounter, I felt her agony like, paraphrasing the Author, ‘unfolding skin to show the raw bleeding wound’.
In the end, let me close my views about the book with a thought… In times of desperation, human mind seeks to do what it can to survive powerful and debilitating emotions or situations and over a period of time it does so by suffering as much as it can, with memory replays again and again. But in the end, it settles down, more resolute and detached. That’s where the beauty of Elena Ferrante’s writing comes into action as she finishes the book with a perfect closure. I would have liked to quote those words, but then it will be a better for you to find your own closure in the book.
However here is a thought from my book, ‘Songs of the Mist’, to give you an idea of what that closer meant to me.
“People walk out of our life, leaving the sheer emptiness of the background with a clarity that has nowhere to go.” — Calliope in first book of “The Monk Key” series.
Finally leaving you with some quotes from the book “The Days of Abandonment”
“Favor has to be answered by another favor, and the courtesies become a chain that imprisoned us.”
“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 is 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 sot of kindness addressed to us alone the banal desire for sex. “
“… and I felt something move inside me, a jolt of grief so intense that the tears seemed to me fragments of a crystal object stored for a long time in a secret place and now, because of that movement, shattered into a thousand stabbing shards. My eyes felt wounded…”
“I thought of beauty as of a constant effort to eliminate corporeality. I wanted him to love my body forgetful of what one knows of bodies. Beauty, I thought anxiously, is this forgetfulness. Or may be not. It was I who believed that his love needed that obsession of mine.”
Om Namah Shivaya
Originally published at shadowdancingwithmind.blogspot.com on October 31, 2016.