Thursday 14 January 2016

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

My reactions to book three of Ferrante's Neapolitan series are a lot more confused than with her previous two books.

I've just come to the not-so surprising end (when you consider the title) of Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and all I have are these words running through my head:

Push me-pull me
For God's Sake!
Get over yourself!
Get on with it!

Ultimately, though, I was left with the uncomfortable, complicated feeling of 'I don't like any of you very much.'
Except maybe Elena's sister, Elisa. There was something about her 'good girl' wish to please and 'peacemaker' desire to avoid rocking the boat that I connected to.

It's complicated because even though I've come to strongly dislike most of the main characters, I still want to know what happens. Maybe it's a simple as wanting to see them get their just desserts?

Flawed human characters are interesting and can inform us about our lives and relationships, but somewhere during book three, the flaws come to dominate at the expense of any endearing, engaging behaviours. Perhaps, again, this is a simple comment on the chaotic lives of most twenty-somethings or the crazy political situation in Naples post WWII.

At one point Lila says, 'Each of us narrates our life as it suits us.'
We all have the desire to tell our story so we can be the heroes in our own life. If this is the best possible version of the Elena and Lila story, I'd hate to see the worst! Meanness, pettiness, cruelty and unkindness abound. It's a desperate world, on the brink of political and social upheaval. There are no happy ever after fairy tale endings to look forward to.

Lila once again sums up their world and their times by saying, 'In the fairy tales one does as one wants, and in reality one does what one can.' It's not even the 'best we can do' - it's more basic and instinctual than that - it's about survival - at any cost. Being the best you can be is part of the fairy tale.

The first half of the book takes us into Lila's chaotic world, while the second half is all about Elena's story. Both stories delve into 'the solitude of women's minds'. With Lila we are often left to guess and assume what's really going on inside her head, whereas Elena shows us all her meandering, indecisive thoughts.

One forgets just how far women's rights have come in the past 40 yrs. Reading about the sexual revolution of the late 60's - early 70's in a devout Catholic country reminds us all how much has actually changed for the better. But it also highlights the challenges and provocations of this time, for both men and women.

I confess that I now need a little break from this world of brutality, unkindness and militancy. It's exhausting and quite draining...even though I can't get them out of my head!

I'd love to know what you think about this book and read your reviews.
Please feel free to leave the link to your review in the comments below.
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This book is part of my #XmasinSummer reading challenge.

My reviews for My Brilliant Friend
The Story of a New Name
The Story of the Lost Child
also by Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment


  1. Although I liked this book, it was my least favorite installment of the Neapolitan series (I loved the other three books). This one focused more on the political and social movements of the time than the other books do and that made it harder for me to connect to the characters.

    1. The characters definitely became more unlikeable in this book. The political & social discussions could have been interesting but they felt very disjointed and confused and somehow at a remove from the action of the story.

  2. This is a series I've yet to read, though it's on my TBR! I find I need at least one character to even halfway like/admire/appreciate in some way, otherwise it feels hopeless to me!

    1. All the characters in the first two books were a lot more likeable. I was pleased to hear that Miss Bibliophile also felt that book three was her least favourite of the lot.
      It wasn't just the character development. I think it can be hard to write about the late 60's and early 70's in any way that doesn't put you off a bit. It's not a period of time that can be romanticised or glorified.

  3. Hey!

    I really love this series. The characters take me to their worlds. I couldn't stop thinking about them for a long time. Normally, I always favor the protagonist, and no matter what I can't change my mind, BUT Ferrante gives me a big slap. In the first two books, I thought that Lenu was so naive and I liked to see her ambition for a better life. I didn't like Lila at all. After having read the last ones, everything changed suddenly :)) I still don't like Lila much, though.

    Sorry for my bad English. I was looking for a neat blog to read book reviews, and I found you! Great blog!


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