Saturday 4 June 2016

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

It has taken me a while but here I am at the end of the Ferrante tetralogy.

With so much hype and frenzy surrounding the series and author, it was hard to come to these books with a fresh approach or low expectations.

My feelings and reactions have been complicated and mixed up to say the least. I was reluctant to get started and then reluctant to confess my lack of any amazeballs reaction.

I certainly don't hate the series either or think that it doesn't have any virtues. It just lacked something. A little something, that I haven't been able to work out yet.

I felt admiration for the writer and translator and fascination about the history and socio-cultural constructs. I also felt incredibly frustrated and annoyed at most of the characters, most of the time.

So much so, that I thought I would never actually read The Story of the Lost Child.

But at the recent Sydney Writer's Festival, I attended an event that discussed the Ferrante phenomenon. The exciting buzz from the event was enough to convince me that it was time to finally finish this series off.

And I'm glad I did.

Despite my misgivings at different times along the way, we finally see some personal growth and understanding from the main character, Elena.

The tension throughout this book as we wait to find out who the lost child is nearly unbearable. It's almost a relief when it finally happens.

I felt very connected to Dede by the end of the book. Her adult relationship with her mother was something that I understood and I finally had that little a-ha moment about why I had struggled with Elena all the way along.

Ferrante has created memorable characters who came to life thanks to the intimate details that she revealed about them along the way.

This series is entertaining and even ambitious, but, to my mind it's not a masterpiece.
Like Ferrante's characters, the books have issues and problems. But perhaps it is these very issues and problems that draw so many people in. Seeing the awkwardness, the rawness and the messiness of life reflected back at us via art can be very alluring and hypnotising - rather like watching a train wreck perhaps!

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

Where do you fall on the continuum of Ferrante fever?


  1. Anonymous4/6/16

    Thanks for sparing me the trouble of reading the series.
    Enjoyed your reflections. Funny, sometimes you know there is 'smth' missing but hard to pinpoint it.
    I had the same trouble with 'Frankenstein'. Classic but....with reservations.

    1. One of my lovely colleagues is already talking about when she will reread these books - she adored them so much.
      I'm still trying to work out why she got so much more out of them than I did?

  2. I have heard so much about these books.

    As a general rule things that are very popular at a given time do not always hold up over time. Perhaps that is why you found flaws in these books when some others have not.

    You raise a good point about life being messy and literature needing to reflect that messiness. I suppose part of what makes great books is how an author reflects that messiness.

    1. I've since read some reviewer's who think that what I call the 'messiness' as being too contrived and convenient for their liking.

      All the way though I felt these books had to be based on real events and real people in Naples, so having the characters have a major argument that gets interrupted by an earthquake felt like something that could happen not just a convenient writerly device.

  3. I read the first book and found it engrossing and highly readable, but did not feel like I HAD to read the others. I think I will at some point, all at once so i don't have to pick up the threads after a hiatus. But I suspect I will have a similar reaction to you, that it was worth reading but not a masterpiece. Interesting comparison to watching a train wreck - there's something in that!

    1. That was my little Ferrante homage. She loves to end with a dramatic moment :-)

  4. Like you, I did not have an 'amazing!' reaction to these books (although I did like Days of Abandonment much more, it was compact and felt much more like a masterpiece). I too struggled to understand just why they have become so appealing, although my interpretation 'soap opera' was perhaps unkinder. I think you've hit the nail on the head that it's the messiness of life which they reflect.

  5. I'm reading the book right now! I agree the series has its flaws, but what draws me in is the raw emotion of the characters, as well as the confused and conflicted inner dialogue of Elena. A lot of her anger, insecurity and passion resonates with me because I have experienced similar feelings throughout my life and with the relationships I have had. The families in the neighbourhood also reminded me of families I knew growing up in a small town during high school.

  6. Anonymous7/6/16

    Haha, I'm definitely on the +++ end of #FerranteFever ;) I think that's why I was so gripped by this tetralogy, it really brings out the messiness and rawness of life and both the strengths and flaws of its characters. The characters frustrated me at times, and yet I kept rooting for them to work their issues out. I look forward to reading her standalones at one point, I especially hear great things about Days of Abandonment.


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