The Days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein) Originally published 2002 Contemporary, Literary Setting: Italy
[CWs: animal mistreatment/death, mental illness]
I picked this up to read while on holiday in Italy and I'm glad I did! This is my first introduction to Ferrante.
The novel is told from the perspective of an Italian woman, Olga, whose husband, and father to their two children, walks out on her suddenly. He has left her for a teenage girl and that's it, he's gone. She no longer even knows where her husband lives and quickly loses all direct lines of communication to him.
The narrative follows Olga's processing of this event as her life spirals apart around her. We observe as she goes through the stages of grief - hopeful denial, visceral and sometimes cruel anger, smothering depths of depression and an eventual acceptance. I see why Ferrante receives the praise she does as a writer; her way with words brings together a rich, complex character study. The narrator's tone becomes acidic, antagonistic and at times shockingly vulgar in an overpowering expression of emotion.
I found this to be a deeply interesting read from a psychological point of view. I initially felt an intense dislike of Olga as she lashes out at others around her and her emotions bubble and spill over, swirling around the other characters - her children, her kindly but awkward neighbour, even the family dog. She even begins to see herself in this way, as poison sapping the life from those she nears.
I began to realise I disliked Olga much more than her absent husband, and I don't think it was just her proximity to the reader. The novel made me examine my own subconscious bias; I blamed Olga for not taking care of her children well, more than her husband for leaving and not taking care of them at all. Although she does behave selfishly, neglectfully, even vindictively, her life has been brutally ripped from under her feet and she is left fighting to keep herself and her children afloat, in the flotsam of a broken marriage and resultant mental health crisis, alone. This is a story of the devastating effects of loss of self and stability. By the end, I was firmly by Olga's side, willing her to pull herself from the jaws of domestic collapse.