It’s been four years since I read the Neapolitan Novels, and I felt like reading some more of Ferrante’s dense prose. So as I was doing my monthly online gift shopping at Amazon (one of the things I amuse myself with during lockdown, buying gifts for people) I decided to treat myself too.
It is a story of abandonment, the title does not hide any surprises. We meet Olga, our narrator when she is being abandoned by her husband Mario. He leaves her with two children and a dog, after years of marriage, in which she has been a housewife. At first, Olga cannot believe he left, she constantly thinks he’ll be back. But gradually she accepts the inevitable. This acceptance does not make her better. It unleashes rage. She argues with all of their friends, becomes obsessive about Mario’s new woman. And eventually assaults him on the street.
For this is also a book about the abandonment of sense. Olga loses all perspective, throws herself into despair. Her life is lost, she has been thrown away. On the other hand, she fights with all her might to retain at least shreds of dignity and self-respect. Her brain oscillates between obsession and the need to hold everything together. It’s a vicious dance. She sees signs everywhere, the children become a burden.
After four months the meltdown comes. A hot day in August, her son being sick, the dog poisoned, broken telephone and jammed lock imprisoning her in the flat. Olga completely loses it. She becomes incapable of action, completely involved with her misery she is paralyzed. Lost touch with reality, everything out of proportion. On top of that, her young daughter trails her throughout the apartment.
As in life, the situation resolves, maybe not to everyone’s satisfaction, but still. Yet, we feel Olga’s breakdown will leave scars. For one cannot abandon oneself and come back with no consequences. And this is what Olga does on that day, she abandons herself, her mind that causes her endless suffering, she leaves it all. And then slowly she reels herself back. Things regain their solidity, logic is back, action finally can be taken.
Throughout the story Olga is accompanied by the image of poverella, the poor one, a woman from her childhood, who abandoned by her husband descends into despair and ultimately kills herself. It is Olga’s biggest fear to become like poverella, and yet she cannot completely prevent it. She fights it, with everything she has, but during that day she succumbs, loses herself in poverella. Only to emerge, she is a survivor, but a damaged one.
It is an extremely close introspection of a decomposing personality. Olga clearly writes from a perspective of time, for her voice is distances, dispassionate. Even when she describes her despair and anguish, we know she does not feel them anymore. Effectively it is a book about grief at being abandoned. A detailed study of how a woman that was fully occupying her gender role, assigned by the society is devastated when a man is removed from the picture.
Again Ferrante’s language is amazing, she evokes emotions with every word. It is a brutal book, in its honesty and unflinching look at pain and suffering. Not a pleasant read, but an important one.
Here are the links to Neapolitan Novel’s reviews:
You can find some quotes from The Days of Abandonment here.