The Lost Daughter Paperback – Mar 1 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
The arresting third novel from pseudonymous Italian novelist Ferrante (Troubling Love) pursues a divorced, 47-year-old academic's deeply conflicted feelings about motherhood to their frightening core. While on vacation by herself on the Ionian coast, Leda feels contentedly disburdened of her two 20-something daughters, who have moved to their father's city of Toronto. She's soon engrossed in watching the daily drama of Nina, a young mother, with her young daughter, Elena (along with Elena's doll, Nani), at the seashore. Surrounded by proprietary Neapolitan relatives and absorbed in her daughter's care, Nina at first strikes Leda as the perfect mother, reminding herself of when she was a new and hopeful parent. Leda's eventual acquaintance with Nina yields a disturbing confession and sets in motion a series of events that threatens to wreck, or save, the integrity of Nina's family. Ferrante's prose is stunningly candid, direct and unforgettable. From simple elements, she builds a powerful tale of hope and regret. (May)
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About the Author
Elena Ferrante was born in Naples. She is the bestselling author of The Days of Abandonment, which the New York Times described as “stunning,” Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter. Her latest novel and the first in a trilogy, My Brilliant Friend, will be available from Europa Editions on September 25, 2012.
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"When my daughters moved to Toronto, where their father had lived and worked for years, I was embarrassed and amazed to discover that I wasn't upset; rather, I felt light, as if only then had I definitively brought them into the world. For the first time in almost twenty-five years I was not aware of the anxiety of having to take care of them. The house was neat, as if no one lived there, I no longer had the constant bother of shopping and doing the laundry, the woman who for years had helped with the household chores found a better paying job, and I felt no need to replace her."
It's summer and since she is feeling happy about her new freedom, Leda decides to rent a beach house for six weeks, on the Ionian coast, near Naples. She packs her books and lesson plans for the coming school year and is planning to relax by lounging on the beach by day.
Early on she becomes fascinated by the interactions of an attractive young mother named Nina, and her young daughter, Elena. She also intently watches little Elena's interactions with her doll, which the girl calls by several different names. Several other family members visit the family on the beach as well. One day Leda notices the child by the waters edge, so she returns her to her mother who was lying on the beach blanket and hadn't noticed the child had wandered to the water. Another day when the family leaves the beach for the day, Leda notices that Elena's beloved doll was left buried in the sand. This incident upsets Leda, and suddenly this event, along with the interactions of mother and child, opens a floodgate of memories for Leda of her own days as a young mother. Some of the incidents which she recalls of things she did, and ways she reacted to her own daughters --were cringe-worthy.
This brief novella, just 124 pages, is sure to evoke emotions among readers, especially mothers. Narrated in the first person, this deep journey into a mother's psyche, gives the reader plenty to think about. Marriage, motherhood, personal freedom, sacrifice and career fulfillment are some of the conflicting issues that surface in this work.
Initially, I thought I might have a problem with the flow of the story due to the translation, but that was not the case. Once I got into the rhythm and into what was going on in Leda's head, I was hooked. I liked this one a lot, and would definitely recommend it.
This book is one of the most powerful novels I've ever read. On the face of things, a novel with a very slight plot: an educated middle-aged woman with family issues goes on a seaside holiday, commits a nearly meaningless act, and consequences ensue.
However, building on this slight point of departure, Ferrante takes us once again into wild territories: the deep ambivalence of mothers towards their children, the significance of insignificant actions, the terrors of being honest with oneself, and more.
For me, as a man, reading Ferrante on being a woman in this world, a mother, a daughter, a sexual being, is an unsettling experience. Ferrante portrays a psychological world that forces the reader with the need to either identify with the narrator's frame of reference, or to figure out why not. Readers often say that they dislike Ferrante's protagonists, and find nothing much to like about her other characters (who are almost always antagonists) either. For me, this is tangential to the experience of reading her novels, and this novel in particular: Ferrante consistently confronts the reader with the question: Can I bear being myself, since I cannot be anything or anyone else?
As an aside, I am entranced by Ferrante's narrators: writing in the first person, Ferrante's narrators elude being characterised as 'reliable' or 'unreliable.' They are reliable and unreliable just like we are. Have you ever found yourself recounting something that happened to you, and changing details, eliding important facts, embellishing, deleting? Have you known why you are doing it? This gap of knowledge or understanding is the gap that Ferrante's narrators bring to the foreground. I find here something reminiscent of Ishiguro's narrators, but in most of Ishiguro's novels, this gap is resolved or at least brought to a crisis point. Ferrante's genius is that she leaves the gap as it is, and this is the space that her narrators inhabit.
I would definitely recommend this book for readers who aren't afraid of a challenging, even unsettling read.
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