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The Story of the Lost Child (2014)

by Elena Ferrante

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Neapolitan Novels (4)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,943896,498 (4.25)125
Here is the dazzling saga of two women: the brilliant, bookish Elena and the fiery, uncontainable Lila. Both are now adults; many of life's great discoveries have been made, its vagaries and losses have been suffered. Through it all, the women's friendship has remained the gravitational center of their lives. Both women once fought to escape the neighborhood in which they grew up-a prison of conformity, violence, and inviolable taboos. Elena married, moved to Florence, started a family, and published several well-received novels. In this final book, she has returned to Naples. Lila, on the other hand, never succeeded in freeing herself from the city of her birth. She has become a successful entrepreneur, but her success draws her into closer proximity to the nepotism, chauvinism, and criminal violence that infect her neighborhood. Nearness to the world she has always rejected only brings her role as its unacknowledged leader into relief. For Lila is unstoppable, unmanageable, and unforgettable. Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous, the story of a lifelong friendship is told with unmatched honesty and brilliance. The four volumes in this series constitute a long, remarkable story that listeners will return to again and again, and every return will bring with it new revelations.… (more)
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English (71)  German (6)  Italian (4)  Swedish (2)  French (2)  Dutch (2)  Catalan (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (89)
Showing 1-5 of 71 (next | show all)
There were times when the narrative dragged a bit but overall an amazing achievement. This one was probably a tad longer than it needed to be but if you read the other 3 books than you need to read this one if only for some closure.

Honestly, there really isn't another series that so thoroughly examines the life-long female friendship. There was nothing sticky sweet about this either - which I appreciated. It was a hard look at two women and the difficult life decisions they make. ( )
  scoene | Jul 13, 2021 |
Boy, oh boy. I don't know why I ever let myself imagine that there might be a tidy resolution to this four-book saga that has eaten up much of the last two months for me. "Unlike stories," Ferrante writes in the last paragraph, "real life, when it has passed, inclines toward obscurity, not clarity." Endeavoring, as she has from the beginning, to make this story as real as possible, Ferrante offers no clarity here. It would have been all wrong if she had, but it's hard not to want it anyway. Even with all their wretched, envious scheming, I miss Elena and Lila already, but am glad I stuck with them to the end.

( )
  CaitlinMcC | Jul 11, 2021 |
The final volume of the Neapolitan Novels has just the balance of clarity and ambiguity that it deserves. All of the plotlines are "closed", but the central mystery of Lila's place in Elena's life is open forever, as it should be. Her children have given her a mixture of pride and frustration. Her past lovers brought both disappointment and fulfillment. Even the city of Naples, which she's been constantly running from but never entirely leaving, remains as alienating as it is inescapable. She ends the final book with Lila having vanished from her life, trying to write the story of her relationship with her best friend, knowing that it will never truly capture the most essential aspects of that friendship but unable to desist. You knew exactly how the story would end from the very beginning of the first volume, but you had to see how Ferrante would get there, and that ability to compel the reader's attention over the subsequent thousands of pages is the mark of a truly great writer. I can nitpick individual parts of the series but overall it's exactly as great as everyone says it is.

This fourth book in particular is many things, but as I was reading I felt that it was primarily about what happens when you're finally dealing with the full effects of your life choices. Your major life decisions are never yours alone, since all of them - marriage, adultery, divorce, having children, choosing a career, etc - affect the people close to you, but life is not just a morality play that ends in a big trial with a guilty/not guilty verdict. Decisions that seem perfectly sound at the time - leaving an unhappy relationship, or leaving a city you're miserable in, or deciding to pursue a demanding career that involves sacrifices - can have all sorts of unintended side effects. But even making the "wrong choice", for example getting involved with a faithless rake like Nino, doesn't necessarily mean that life punishes you; often it just means you have more choices to make. There are many clichés like "life is lived forwards but can only be understood backwards" or "history is just one damn thing after another", but they are perfectly true, and the most skilled novelists are able to show how the ceaseless onslaught of events in our lives obey their own logic, only in hindsight showing the true narrative.

One example of how Ferrante shows how time reveals unexpected consequences is when Elena is accused of being "unreliable" by Pietro's mother Adele, who went from being "on her side" to the opposite after Elena admitted she didn't love Pietro and was going to leave him for Nino:

"I trusted a son to you and you didn't treat him honestly. If you wanted someone else, why did you marry him?"
"I didn't know I wanted someone else."
"You're lying."
I hesitated, I admitted: "I'm lying, yes, but why do you force me to give you a linear explanation; linear explanations are almost always lies. You also spoke badly of Pietro, in fact you supported me against him. Were you lying?"
"No. I was really on your side, but within a pact that you should have respected."
"What pact?"
"Remaining with your husband and children. You were an Airota, your daughters were Airotas. I didn't want you to feel unsatisfied and unhappy, I tried to help you be a good mother and a good wife. But if the pact is broken everything changes. From me and from my husband you'll have nothing anymore, in fact I'll take away everything I've given you."

Adele's reaction to Elena's abandonment of her son is harsh, but it's hard to call it unfair, and Elena should have known that her decision would involve unpleasant realities like that one. Elena never had the kind of instant spark with Pietro that she did with Nino, which, depending on your attitude towards marriage, either means she could have "tried harder" in the marriage, or that she should have refused to marry Pietro in the first place. But she chose a different option. Was Elena wrong to leave Pietro for Nino, and are the difficulties she will now have with her soon-to-be-former in-laws an appropriate punishment for that sin? As Elena says, "linear explanations are almost always lies": it's not like Elena deliberately set out to ruin her own life, or her husband's, or her children's, or her mother-in-law's, it's just that, well, life happens, and sometimes you set out on one path and then figure out later on that it's not what you really want. The exact extent to which you should follow your heart in the moment as opposed to sticking it out through tough times is forever unknowable, and when you start trying to factor in all the reactions of all the people you care about, the more you try to make a "reasonable" decision the more unreasonable the weight you place on yourself is.

That being said, rare is the reader who doesn't think Elena's an idiot for picking Nino. Of course he's going to cheat on her, of course he won't leave his wife for her, of course he'll get his wife pregnant again, and of course all of his grand political speechifying is ultimately bullshit. Should Elena have known this? As a reader, you want to scream: yes, you idiot! But honestly, nobody ever achieves the same clarity towards their own relationships that they do toward someone else's, so all you can do is feel for Elena as she tries to deal with the fallout of her own actions. You also feel for Lila and her perspective: imagine that one of your friends, in fact your best friend, is doing something stupid, in fact the very same stupid thing, that you once did, and in fact with the very same stupid person that you did the stupid thing with, and for much less of a good reason (Pietro over the course of this volume reveals himself to be not such a bad guy, and Elena probably could have worked things out with him if she'd tried). What does being Elena's friend mean in this case? Especially when the last thing Elena wants to hear from her is honesty, such as when she reveals that Nino never left his wife:

"I cut Lila out of everything that followed. I was hurt, not because she had revealed that for more than two years Nino had been telling me lies about the state of his marriage but because she had succeeded in proving to me what in fact she had said from the start: that my choice was mistaken, that I was stupid."

I think everyone, if they're honest with themselves, has a mortal fear of looking stupid, and has allowed that fear to drive them to make questionable decisions, often to even stupider effect. And as expected, Elena feels the weight of disappointment from everyone around her: Lila, her mother, her sister. About the only person whose sympathy and support she has is Franco, her boyfriend prior to Pietro, but she loses him tragically to his own depression. Her own harshest critic is herself, however. One of the most poignant scenes in the book comes when Elena, who's been trying to balance her accelerating career with her newly chaotic home life, experiences a moment of humiliation in front of her daughters:

"The next day I returned to Genoa and said point-blank to Dede and Elsa, in the presence of my in-laws:
'Girls, I have a lot of work at the moment. In a few days I have to leave again and then again and again. Do you want to come with me or stay with your grandparents?'
Even today as I write that question I'm ashamed.
First Dede and then, right afterward, Elsa answered:
'With Grandma and Grandpa. But come back whenever you can and bring us presents.'"

That your own children take such a casual and mercenary attitude towards your presence must be the worst thing a parent can hear, especially if it's deserved. This volume focuses heavily on motherhood and daughterhood, and so that moment is just one of many with a bitter edge, as Elena experiences all the usual anxieties of not wanting her kids to do the same things she did - like cursing or running with a "rough crowd" - even if she did all that and still ended up "okay". The death of Elena's mother, who had consistently hectored and worried over her, is a big deal, and likewise she endlessly fusses over her own daughters, especially Imma, who she had with Nino, comparing her to Lila's daughter Tina, who was also a Nino production. There are strong implications that, had Tina remained in the story, her relationship to Imma might have recapitulated Lila's relationship to Elena, but perhaps that's oversimplifying things. Imma herself raises strong questions in Elena, not just because of her nature, but also what her existence says about Nino:

"In those first hours of our daughter’s life I observed him in every gesture, in the expressions of disappointment and those of approval. I felt happy and yet disoriented. Was it him? Was he the man I had always loved? Or a stranger I was forcing to assume a clear and definite character?"

And that not only bears on questions of to what extent you can measure yourself by your children, but how you measure your relationships overall. Even though Nino ends up being worthless, was the relationship "worth it" because of the child? Elena was looking for something in Nino that she was missing in herself; was her inevitable disappointment truly inevitable? If she had gotten with Nino earlier, could they have had a different life together? Given the way she reconciled with Pietro, was it a mistake to marry him, a mistake to divorce him, both, or neither? More broadly, is there a silver lining to every failed relationship, some gift of understanding or experience they pass along in spite of themselves?

And that goes doubly, triply, infinitely more for the most important relationship of Elena's life, the one she had with Lila. It's very interesting that the reader never actually gets to see any of Lila's writing that Elena considered so meaningful to her, particularly the childhood story "The Blue Fairy", which she credited with inspiring her entire writing career. Perhaps that's Ferrante's way of saying that the actual writing itself wasn't so important, only its effect on Elena; perhaps it's also a way of putting the same kind of distance between the reader and the characters as the distance that emerges between Elena and Lila, since we don't see Elena's writing about Lila that caused the break between them either. Whatever the literary point is, you see that Lila's sense of "dissolving boundaries" becomes literal and she vanishes entirely, having left not even a photograph of herself behind. As Elena writes, "Unlike stories, real life, when it has passed, inclines toward obscurity, not clarity. I thought: now that Lila has let herself be seen so plainly, I must resign myself to not seeing her anymore."

Kudos to Ann Goldstein for the translation, but Ferrante's style would be wonderful in any language, and her focus on the seemingly small lives of her characters is so skillfully done on they seem far larger. A line from the last book that will stick with me is "In the fairy tales one does as one wants, and in reality one does what one can." Like all the best insights, it's as simple to state as it is difficult to understand, because only by experiencing life through all its twists and turns can even the plainest truth become truly known. This was a fantastic end to a fantastic series ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Even if we don’t admit or try to deny it, we all have a difficult relationship with mirrors. As I age, I believe I have become more disdainful of it, less preoccupied with the reflection of myself, less worried that I don’t conform to some societal rules of beauty or femininity. Yet, if I don’t scrutinize the mirror as I once did in my teenage years – oh, those years when the mirror seemed to reflect so much of my perceived faults – these days the mirror surprises me. There are times when a fast glance shows not the person I perceive myself to be, but I get glimpses of my mother, my grandmothers, my sisters, or even my father in a nanosecond of time. A smile, a wrinkle, a stance… all remind me of others, what I have become or will become, and what I am no longer.

What if then the mirror was alive, an organic entity, that also changed as time went by? Would the mirror see in us its faults? Would the mirror idealize us or hate us?

In this series – I am writing this one single review for the 4 books as I felt them to be too interconnected to be reviewed separately – Elena Ferrante’s writing made me think of mirrors constantly. The 2 main characters lives are connected in a web of relationships, friendship, cultural and geographical background, aspirations, tragedy, envy, love and hate. They reflected each other’s lives and used such reflection as measurement of themselves, either being propelled forward by the comparison, or held back in a stated of continual resentment and hurt for what they did not achieve. We all have experienced this, I am sure. The facebook friend’s vacation that reminds us that we have not had a vacation in a long time. The high school classmate that looks so much younger, happier and richer than we do. Or the one that has been struck by personal tragedy and that reminds us that our own lives are blessed after all. All reflecting back at us, as true mirrors, our unfilled dreams, our shortcomings and, if we perceive ourselves being happy and successful, our pride and entitlement.

In the background of the main storyline, the lives of two women for more than 50 years, we learn of the neighborhood dynamics in this Naples shantytown, then of the political and cultural waves happening in Italy. We are exposed to motherhood, feminism, class warfare, family dysfunction, sexual awakening, violence, etc, etc, etc….

If I have one complain about Elena Ferrante’s writing is that it seems too long winding at times. She – whoever she may be, or he, as Elena Ferrante is an alias and although all the speculation about its true identy, we might never know – has a love for words and descriptions. We as readers can almost feel the pleasure she must have felt writing long and beautiful lines. I felt as drunk for her words as she must have felt writing them. But at times I wished that the narrator hurried on. The amount of detail seemed unnecessary and overly done. However I will forgive her, because when it was finally done, I felt sorry that she had not keep on going and lulled me along for yet longer.

I should mention that I listened to the whole series in audio and that Hilary Huber does a beautiful and nuanced reading of it.
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
Por fin terminé la saga #dosamigas de #elenaferrante. Creo que en las últimas semanas incluso me hice boicot para no desprenderme de los personajes.
Va a ser difícil olvidarme de ellas, de la muchas mujeres que son a la vez y más difícil decidir qué libro elegir para desaparecer de Nápoles y sus calles o nomás, pa volver a desaparecer...
El final no me mata y me parece que después de 4 libros deja algunas cosas inconclusas o sin profundizar. ( )
  GabbadelaMoraP | Apr 8, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 71 (next | show all)
Ferrante evokes this unforgiving and opaque culture with great power. Its malevolence affects almost everyone.
 
Ferrante’s accomplishment in these novels is to extract an enduring masterpiece from dissolving margins, from the commingling of self and other, creator and created, new and old, real and whatever the opposite of real may be.
 
[Ferrante] has charted, as precisely as possible, the shifts in one person’s feelings and perceptions about another over time, and in so doing has made a life’s inferno recede even as she captures its roar.
 
Elena brings up every objection to the entire endeavour that a reader might have. If it is so-called auto-fiction then why is it not a mess, like life? If it is the story of a friendship then isn’t every word a betrayal to that friend? If it is sincere and authentic, why is the author’s name on the cover a lie? Borders between autobiography and fiction dissolve, just as the edges of Lila (both her sanity and her body) blur, and Elena provides a continual commentary on this process. Rather than this being annoying and meta, the effect is to make the writing feel alive.
 
Ferrante is no Balzac or Dickens or Trollope; she is not Zola or Tolstoy. Her narrator does not have the storyteller’s wider vision. Unlike War and Peace, Ferrante’s big book has a narrow lens, and her idea of friendship is more about shared experience than affection.
 

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ferrante, Elenaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Damien, ElsaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldstein, AnnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Krieger, KarinÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laake, Marieke vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A partire dall'ottobre 1976 e fine a quando, nel 1979, non tornai a vivere a Napoli, evitai di riallacciare rapporti stabili con Lila.
From October 1976 until 1979, when I returned to Naples to live, I avoided resuming a steady relationship with Lila.
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There is this presumption, in those who feel destined for art and above all literature: we act as if we had received an investiture, but in fact no one has ever invested us with anything, it is we who have authorized ourselves to be authors and yet we are resentful if others say: This little thing you did doesn't interest me, in fact it bores me, who gave you the right.
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Here is the dazzling saga of two women: the brilliant, bookish Elena and the fiery, uncontainable Lila. Both are now adults; many of life's great discoveries have been made, its vagaries and losses have been suffered. Through it all, the women's friendship has remained the gravitational center of their lives. Both women once fought to escape the neighborhood in which they grew up-a prison of conformity, violence, and inviolable taboos. Elena married, moved to Florence, started a family, and published several well-received novels. In this final book, she has returned to Naples. Lila, on the other hand, never succeeded in freeing herself from the city of her birth. She has become a successful entrepreneur, but her success draws her into closer proximity to the nepotism, chauvinism, and criminal violence that infect her neighborhood. Nearness to the world she has always rejected only brings her role as its unacknowledged leader into relief. For Lila is unstoppable, unmanageable, and unforgettable. Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous, the story of a lifelong friendship is told with unmatched honesty and brilliance. The four volumes in this series constitute a long, remarkable story that listeners will return to again and again, and every return will bring with it new revelations.

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