Elena Ferrante

"Troubling Love"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple JAN 17, 2007)

"After many decades, I felt, grieving, that…I had not in any way managed to think [my mother's] thoughts from within her, from within her breath.  Already at that point her voice could say to me only: do this, do that."

This intense psychological novel, recently translated into English and published in the US for the first time, tells of a daughter's efforts to understand her mother following her mother's death.  Delia, a comic strip artist and the oldest of three daughters, receives three strange phone calls from her mother, just before her mother disappears on her way from Naples to Rome to visit Delia.  When the body of Amalia, Delia's mother, is ultimately discovered floating near a beach, she is nude, except for one piece of underwear, an elegant designer creation completely different from anything Delia has ever seen her wear.  Never very close to her mother but curious about the circumstances of her death, Delia leaves her own apartment in Rome to investigate her mother's life in Naples.

There she learns from a neighbor that her mother had been seeing someone she had known for some time, that the water had been left running in her mother's apartment, that there was no underwear in her bureau, and no toothbrush or toothpaste.  There was, however, an expensive shirt belonging to a man, and in a garbage bag, all her mother's old, well-mended underclothing.  While she is cleaning out the apartment, a man telephones to tell her to leave the laundry bag of dirty clothes for him—that Amalia had promised to do so—and says he has left a suitcase of her mother's things for her.  When Delia opens the suitcase, she finds items that are completely new, 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.  Before long, she has re-met a male friend from childhood, learned about the long-time acquaintance her mother had been seeing recently, and revisited scenes from her childhood.  In the process, she is forced to remember early events in her relationship with her mother, to re-examine her feelings about mother's life from her present adult perspective, and to 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 when they cannot quite get inside the lives and relationships of people they think they know but whose intimate lives they have never shared.  For Delia, this is particularly difficult, since "Out of hatred, out of fear, I had wanted to eliminate every root I had in [Amalia], even the deepest."  Now that her mother is dead, she knows that many mysteries about her mother will always remain, even as her memories of her begin to fade. 

As Delia revisits the places of her past and re-imagines events, Amalia's relationships and her attitudes toward life begin to come into focus, her "friendly, at times even joyful, relationship with the world," despite an abusive husband and a daughter who resented her.  As Delia reconnects with some of the people and places from the past, she begins to realize that she is more her mother's daughter than she expected, that "I didn't want to be 'I,' unless it was the I of Amalia." 

Dense with imagery which speaks directly to the reader's own sensibilities about family, the novel recreates the mysteries that will always surround our parents and the personal experiences they have had that we can never fully understand.  At the same time, it reveals the mysteries within the main character, many of which the reader will never fully grasp.  Unique and intensely emotional, the novel is also full of ambiguities which resonate long after this short novel is completed--a dramatic and thought-provoking novel.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 9 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)


Movies from Books:

  • Nasty Love (1995)
  • Days of Abandonment (2006)


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Elena Ferrante was born in Naples, Italy. Though one of Italy's most important and acclaimed contemporary authors, she has chosen to keep her identity and wereabouts a mystery. Theories and speculation as to who Elena Ferrante really is continue to circulate but she has not yet been unmasked.

Translator Ann Goldstein is an editor at the New Yorker magazine. She has translated works from works by Alessandro Baricco, Roberto Calasso, Pope John Paul II, Pierpaolo Pasolini, and Giuseppe Genna, as well as The Days of Abandonment.

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