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08 August 2012

The Days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante


My initial interest in this book was solely based around the public shyness of the author. From Naples, Italy, Elena Ferrante's work is published by Europa Editions. Rumors abound on who the real identify of the elusive writer is. Some say she is covering for another writer. Some say it might be a male author. And some just think she doesn't want anything to do with public scrutiny.

It was intriguing and I wanted to pick the book up immediately. Thanks to my local library, I was able to get it right away, and I promptly read it in a day and a half. I would have finished it a lot sooner, had I not thrust the book down for extended periods of time in complete disgust by several actions by the main character, Olga.

The down and dirty of this story is that Olga has been married to Mario (one heck of a sh*t human being) for fifteen years and they have two children. He decides to leave her, unceremoniously announced one day, and Olga is left completely alone in the city. The summer is upon her and she begins to unravel. Her identity with this man was clear for fifteen years and The Days of Abandonment is a thoroughly unapologetic view of one woman's breakdown. It is vulgar, it is heart-wrenching, it is disturbing. It's hard for me to say whether or not I liked it, though. When I look back at my notes on Goodreads, it seems pretty evident that I miserably and voraciously hated it. I don't think there is one single note I made in that day and a half that was positive at all. However, I don't feel right to say that I hated it. I'm conflicted.

Olga's husband is a complete loser. I hated him immensely. He is no honorable man. I understood the initial moments of Olga's immediate breakdown, sanity falling away in those first few moments, but the eventual result and actions (or inaction, in some cases) of her worst moments that occur with her children and her dog made me absolutely mute with helpless anger. I couldn't deal with any more pages of Olga falling apart, and so many times it was almost willingly. In part, I cheered her on to come out of it, since I did not want her to lose herself and allow her husband, that little moron, to come out unscathed. Argh, he was horrible. Horrible! But so was Olga and there is no excuse with it at all, I felt. So I was just frustrated. But it's when the actual finality of her weakness is evident with her responsibilities and her children, and then with her dog that I found it all completely unforgivable and I had absolutely no sympathy. There was just no way I, as a reader, could recover from page after page of this helplessness. I hated Olga.

After coming off of Kate Chopin's classic short story The Awakening, I'm struck by some of the similar themes of a woman falling apart, from books published more than 100 years apart. I'm annoyed by it because doggone it, women can be and are, much, MUCH stronger than this.

So that is why I am conflicted by The Days of Abandonment. I was insanely frustrated by Olga and was disturbed by her complete lack of common sense and how she miserably threw it all away, allowing her children and dog to suffer (which drove me BATTY with anger, resentment and frustration with her), but again, like The Awakening, it was still beautifully written. It was so VIVID, the descriptions of certain scenes absolutely painful, poetic and genuine. Amazing. There is almost a stream of consciousness to the writing style that I loved, but then again, it was also a stream of only Olga suffering all the time, and it was something like complete selfishness that overtakes her and she ultimately focuses only on her own pain, allowing others to suffer who depend completely on her.  I get that this is extremely symbolic to the story, but it drove me nuts. Beautifully written, but absolutely frustrating to read.

It's very difficult for me give a thumbs up or down for this book. You read it and let me know what you think. For me, I wanted to devour the beautiful words (excellent translation), and then on the other hand, I wanted to throw the book across the room as I read.

I'll still read another one by Elena Ferrante, though.

Passages of Note:
Certainly something had happened to me during the night. Or after months of tension I had arrived at the edge of some precipice and now I was falling, as in a dream, slowly, even as I continued to hold the thermometer in my hand, even as I stood with the soles of my slippers on the floor, even as I felt myself solidly contained by the expectant looks of my children. It was the fault of the torture that my husband had inflicted. But enough, I had to tear the pain from memory, I had to sandpaper away the scratches that were damaging my brain. (p.101)
Publisher: Europa Editions
Release Date: 9/15/05
Pages: 192

Others said:
Bibliophile by the Sea
Care's Online Book Club
Dolce Bellezza
Reviews by Lola

FTC Disclosure: I checked this book out for free from my awesome local Virginia Beach Public Library.

About the Author (from Europa Edition's website)
Elena Ferrante was born in Naples, Italy. Though one of Italy's most important and acclaimed contemporary authors, she has successfully shunned public attention and kept her whereabouts and her true identity concealed.

19 comments:

  1. The fact that you had such strong reactions to the book makes me think it has some merit. Maybe this would be a good one to read with a book club.

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    1. I think you're right; this would be perfect for a book club. It would certainly be fodder for a lot of heated debate and discussion!

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  2. Interesting. I recognized the author's name immediately. I knew I had read a book by her before, but I didn't realize that she was so reclusive. I was meh on the book that I read by her as well. I didn't love it, but it was interesting enough that I had to finish. Though I didn't write a full review, I had this to say:

    " I just finished reading The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante . The story was not the most compelling story in the world (a woman goes to the beach for three weeks on vacation), but I finished reading it because the character was interesting, constantly surprising, and even though I didn’t like her, she was fascinating."

    Having said that I think I will skip this one. I am enjoying my zen these days.

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    1. The Lost Daughter is the one that I was actually considering when next I read Elena Ferrante. The passage from your review makes me think I wouldn't outright hate the characters as I did in this one!

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  3. I love/hate books like this -- it's like when I read Scarlett Thomas. I'm in agony the whole time I'm reading, but maybe that says something? I'm totally adding this to the TBR even though it might be painful -- it could also be worth it.

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    1. I'd be really interested to read what you think about it, Audra! I do predict that you would read it one sitting, it's a quick read. I just found it laborious and painful because of the characters, yet simultaneously beautifully written. So conflicted!

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  4. There is definitely something to a book that you read in a day and a half, and inspires such an emotional response! But I've been there, I know how it is to hate a book too. I guess it is one you chalk up to a screaming rant at book club.

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    1. Yes, screaming rant is a perfect description! I was so conflicted with it and while I thought it was beautifully written, the scenes were tough and frustrating. This would be perfect for a book club, no question about it!

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  5. Wow! This was an intense review! I can imagine the scenes that you are talking about in my mind, and it would probably just drive me mad to have to plow through it to see how it ends, but also to hate it just that much. I think I will pass on this one, but I do have to say that you wrote an incredibly passionate review!

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    1. If you do read it, Heather, I'd love your opinion on it! I think I might be the only one out there who struggled with this book and felt two different ways about it!

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  6. I have enjoyed every book I've read by this author -- a little dark and somewhat disturbed -- He/she has a new one our called My Brilliant Friend.

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    1. I love a good dark and disturbed storyline, no question about it, but I felt more frustrated by this than anything else :( I do want to read another book by her one day so I'll check out My Brilliant Friend as well. Thanks, Diane!

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  7. I think you have your answer to why the author wants to be "anonymous." It is probably autobiographical and she is in a better place now and does not want to dredge up all the negative feelings. I love books printed by Europa. Haven't read a bad one yet. I might add this one.

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    1. I thought about that as well, that this particular book out of all of her others is probably much more autobiographical, and I feel terrible for simultaneously loving the writing but extremely frustrated with the events. If you read it, would love to get your thoughts on it! I'm definitely no expert, however, and plenty of readers loved this book with no question or doubts about it, so my opinion is only one :) This was my first Europa Editions book and I really want to try more, and have been looking at Massimo Carlotto also! Can't wait to read more!

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  8. I agree with you. Total meltdown and so frustrating. But that does attest to the skill of the author.

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    1. Completely agree! The writing was hands down one of the more beautiful books I've ever read but I was so upset by everything and didn't quite care for any of the characters (particularly the husband!). I did like the dog, though. Poor thing! All of the events just broke my heart and I was so upset. But my goodness, such lyrically beautiful writing!

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  9. I had to check my Europa shelf to see if I had any of her books. Nope. Which might be a good thing...not sure I'm up for emotional breakdowns...especially with IT on the horizon!

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  10. I'm intrigued by the mystery surrounding this author. Perhaps intrigued enough to read one of his/her books, despite your reaction (not ambivalence, just conflicted reactions).

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  11. It's been quite some time since I read this novel, but I completely understand your sense of frustration...and being conflicted! I think as readers, it's understood that we'd dislike Mario. But, to dislike Olga, too? We almost feel like traitors. (I shouldn't speak for you.) However, like you, I was very annoyed with her weakness. No matter how much pain she was going through, she certainly 'should have been' a better mother.

    This, on top of The Awakening? My goodness! Here's a suggestion: don't pick up Madame Bovary any time soon. :)

    As to King, I can't can't can't read The Stand, or IT. But, I am reading his 11/23/63 book (probably not the right title) about JFK's assassination. Any thoughts on reading that one in November? xo

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