Thursday, April 8, 2021

Elena Ferrante - Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Since the publication of the acclaimed My Brilliant Friend and The Story of A New Name, Elena Ferrante's reputation has grown enormously. Her novels about the friendship between Lila and Elena, about the mysteries of human relationships, are utterly compelling.

In Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, the two protagonists are now in their thirties. Lila, married at sixteen, has left her husband and the comforts of her marriage, and has now joined the workforce. Elena has left the neighborhood in Naples, been to university, and published a successful novel, all of which has brought her into a wealthier, more cultured world. Both women are seizing opportunities to flee a life of poverty, ignorance and submission. Yet they are still very much bound to each other by an unbreakable bond.

Comment: I've been reading the Brilliant Friend series by author Elena Ferrante and I'm determined to finish, just so I know how it ends. I'll be honest, this 3rd installment was the one I liked less.

In this third part of the saga, the two protagonists are now adult women with responsibilities in their lives and they are also mothers. Their professional lives, as we know, have gone towards different directions but they still maintain contact here and there. However, each one has new interests, new things to focus on and even so, despite the things that consistently set them apart, they still have a connection we have followed since their childhood and the question remains, how strong is their friendship after all...

This was the installment I struggled with the most because the story is moving towards a path whose tone I don't find appealing. Instead of elements which could show us how much of a connection the two protagonists can have, even in the face of adversity or considering the geographical distance between them, no. The story is moving further and further into jealousy and mean spirited feelings and I can't help but wonder what the purpose of the overall plot is. To show us how mean people can be? How some are easily influenced, how easy it is to give in to templates and social expectations?

I write this because it seems the narrator, Elena, never strays from this path: she doesn't seem to find redemption, in the sense, that she doesn't grow up, she doesn't let go of self expectations and self doubt and keeps up being the same person. I suppose this is what reality is, how difficult is for anyone to let go of prejudices and failed dreams or whatever, but from the point of view of a reader, I want some kind of self awareness, of understanding, of improvement in the protagonists. Elena is becoming a whiny, annoying character and no matter ho well portrayed, she is still someone I don't feel like I would want to root for.

The plot of this book is a follow-up to what happened in the previous one, of course. The characters are now in their 30s, so living adult lives but we get to know, even if Elena is the one describing things, how everyone is feeling and dealing with being an adult. To be honest, like other readers have said, I'm finding it hard to sympathize with these characters. The ones that seem to be the "good ones" are only there to be a contrast to the others and I'm not overly fond of this tactic. What's the point if they don't change or if they don't try to be better (emotionally speaking)? They keep repeating the same experiences their parents and grandparents have done... I understand, it's also a social and cultural issue, but... for me it's getting to exasperating levels...

There's only one book left and I will read it because I want closure on this saga but I can't say I have been dazzled by these characters. Lila is a fascinating one and I can see why the author chose Elena instead, to be the narrator, otherwise what interest could we have in her, but at the same time, what a pity this isn't more centered on Lila... living her dreams and evolution (as slow as it could be, though) through Elena's eyes has been bothering me, because it feels like a waste.

I surely hope the end of the overall story is one of those we say "didn't see that coming", otherwise what a pity such promise was left buried under all the conventions of the time and place and the continuation of the same kind of lives the previous generations have already perpetuated.
Grade: 5/10

No comments:

Post a Comment