Troubling Love Paperback – Sep 1 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
The pseudonymous Italian author of Days of Abandonment returns with a daughter's attempt to unlock the mystery of her mother's death by drowning following years of domestic abuse. Days before her body washed ashore near her hometown of Naples, Amalia called her oldest daughter, Delia, now 45, with shocking news that she was with a man—not her estranged husband, a two-bit painter—then hung up, laughing. After the funeral (Amalia's husband doesn't show), Delia goes in search of the story behind the expensive new brassiere Amalia was found wearing at her death, incongruous for a poor seamstress who deliberately downplayed her good looks to avoid arousing her husband's savage jealousy. Caserta, a man who acted as Delia's father's agent as well as rival for Amalia's attention, plays a role here—and in Delia's past. In tactile, beautifully restrained prose, Ferrante makes the domestic violence that tore the household apart evident, including the child Delia's attempts to guard her mother from the beatings of her father. By the time of the denouement, Ferrante has forcefully delineated how the complicity in violence against women perpetuates a brutal cycle of repetition and silence. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Forty-five-year-old Delia returns to her childhood home of Naples, Italy, to discover the truth behind the drowning death of her mother, Amalia. Suspicious circumstances surround Amalia's last days; the humble seamstress, who never flaunted her beauty for fear of her jealous husband's wrath, was wearing nothing but an expensive designer brassiere at the time of her death. As Delia wanders the vibrant streets of Naples, she ponders three dubious men who figured prominently in her mother's past: Amalia's irascible brother, known for hurling insults at acquaintances and strangers alike; her husband, a mediocre painter with no qualms about slapping Amalia in public; and his lascivious agent, whose marriage never precluded him from propositioning other women. Ironically, it is her mother's death that enables Delia to make better sense of her own life. "I realized . . . that in fact I had Amalia under my skin, like a hot liquid that had been injected into me at some unknown time." Pseudonymous Italian novelist Ferrante (The Days of Abandonment, 2005) delivers a brutally frank tale about the dangerous intersection of rage and desire. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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As a narrator, Delia is at once distant and intensely emotional. This makes her one of the most compelling characters I have found in modern literature. This book was so engrossing that I read it from start to finish in just under two days. I have discovered a new favorite author in Elena Ferrante.
There she learns from a neighbor that her mother had been seeing someone. An expensive shirt belonging to a man, and a garbage bag containing her mother's well-mended underclothing, are the only clues to Amalia's recent life. A strange telephone caller tells Delia to leave the laundry bag of dirty clothing for him, and he indicates that he has left a suitcase of her mother's things in the apartment, new designer items, unlike anything her mother has ever worn.
So begins Delia's quest to discover who her mother really was--and, in the process, who she herself is. As she reconnects with a friend from childhood and learns about her mother's recent relationship, she is forced to remember early events in her relationship with her mother, and to re-examine her feelings about her mother's life from her present adult perspective. Ultimately, she must rethink her own role in affecting the outcome of her mother's life.
Author Elena Ferrante, a pen name used by one of Italy's foremost (and most private) contemporary authors, creates haunting mysteries from the lives of ordinary people leading seemingly ordinary lives--the kinds of mysteries which always exist for family members who can never quite get inside the lives and relationships of people they think they know but whose intimate lives they have not shared. Gradually, Delia begins to realize she may be more her mother's daughter than she had realized. Dense with imagery which speaks directly to the reader's own sensibilities about family, this emotional and introspective novel is also full of ambiguities which resonate long after some of the mysteries have been solved. n Mary Whipple
Troubling Love, packs a punch, beginning with the opening sentence...."My mother drowned on the night of May 23rd, my birthday, in the sea at a place called Spaccavento, a few miles from Minturno. "
Told from the POV of Delia, the 40+ year old daughter of the late Amalia. While waiting for her mother to visit her traveling from Naples to Rome, Delia receives several strange telephone calls from her mother. One indicating that a man was following her and wanted to wrap her in a carpet, and then another saying that she was going to have a bath. She was discovered floating in the sea, wearing only a lacy and expensive bra, the type of undergarment that her mother would not normally have worn.
Early on the reader learns that when Delia was young, her mother's absences caused Delia much anxiety, as she would stare out of the window endlessly waiting for her return. As an adult, Delia and her mother had a rocky relationship. When her mother would come for a visit she would reorganize her daughter's home to her own liking, causing friction between the two. At her mother's funeral, Delia feels relieved about not having to worry about her 63 year-old mother any longer --she doesn't shed a tear at her funeral, like her two sisters did. Amalia's husband, who she had been estranged from for many many years, did not attend the funeral.
After the funeral, Delia goes to her mother's "dirty and ugly" 4th floor apartment, and begins to look around. She sees several more things that make her wonder about what her mother had been doing the days before she died. Her mother was poor and she typically dressed shabbily; a frugal woman, yet why did she leave the water running in her apartment, and what was that expensive men's shirt doing in her drawer, and what about her other odd possessions?
Delia becomes obsessed with finding out more about her mother's life, and how she died, and in the process she unearths more of her own painful childhood, growing up in an abusive home. Each step along Delia's journey while searching for the truth, her behavior becomes increasingly bizarre, and at times it seemed as if she was hallucinating. Yet how valid are those memories from our past, especially when people tend to repress painful happenings?
Probably even more so than the two other books by this author, Troubling Love is an emotionally charged, at times - sexually raw, and cringe-worthy story. It's not an easy story to read, even though it is just 139 pages, but once you've begun you will not want to put it down.
Ms. Ferrante has written a novel that transcends ersatz dime store female literature and presents a moving picture of universal interest. Great literature is not great simply because a woman wrote well or not great because women by definition cannot or should not write (remember George Eliot).
But let me not belabor the obvious. I believe that two unremarked aspects of this novel are the brutally realistic picture of life in Naples (one need only read Ferrante's letter to the New York Times, available from Europa Editions) and the clever exposition of her male characters and their reliance upon women to define their existence. These qualities are what make it great and enduring.