Books on GIF #79 — 'The Story of the Lost Child' by Elena Ferrante


Welcome to the latest edition of Books on GIF, the animated alternative to boring book reviews. This Sunday's book is 'The Story of the Lost Child' by Elena Ferrante.

I've been struggling for the last few days, and today in particular, to organize my thoughts about this book. I guess I'm supposed to rave about it, given that I've professed my love many times for Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels. Maybe you're expecting me to say this is a work of genius and a triumphant conclusion to an outstanding series of novels that, taken together, are probably the most outstanding literary achievement of our time. Yes, Ferrante has accomplished something truly extraordinary with her four books. The story about Lila and Lenù's friendship recounted through 'My Brilliant Friend,' 'The Story of a New Name,' 'Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay' and 'The Story of the Lost Child' is beautiful and complex in style and structure, and it's likely we will not live long enough to see anything else like it. But can I be honest? I don't know what to tell you guys about this book. I'm like:

Did I like 'The Story of the Lost Child'? Yes. Did I love it? No. I didn't love it because it felt too similar to the third book. The first two novels felt distinct, while the last two felt like one novel split in two parts that contained characters relentlessly shouting at each other. Being in the intense world of these characters for so long was enough to make me feel claustrophobic, and I admire Ferrante greatly for pulling that off. The book is well written and full of gasp-inducing moments, like when one of Lenù's friends kills himself and when she catches her lover inflagrante with the housekeeper. There's also murder, an earthquake and, of course, a lost child. It also contains a very powerful message about how women are forced to balance (or more likely sacrifice) their dreams of a career with raising a family without much help (and more likely open hostility) from men. I'm not going to recount every twist and turn of the story, because there are many. So much so, that by the end of the book, I was like:  

I guess what struck me most was how Ferrante explores loss and the various forms it can take. There's physical loss (disappearance), which is what happens to the child and, you may remember from waaay back in the first book, to Lila, who inspired Lenù to narrate this story after she: 
There's also loss as being prevented from reaching one's potential (oppression), as Lila's creativity and brilliance were ground down into grief, resentment and madness by poverty, children and the backward traditions of the old neighborhood in Naples. Lenù, by contrast, faced loss driven by success (ambition), as she achieved acclaim as a writer by casting aside her family and alienating her daughters. Many times, Lila rebuked Lenù by saying: 
By the end of the book, however, the reader will be wracked with pangs from all this loss and be left with several questions. The biggest question for me was why the two women remained friends for so long. I couldn't help but wonder: Do they even like each other? Do they feel empathy? Have they even tried to understand each other? I'm not convinced the answer is yes. Perhaps their friendship lasted because they feared losing something vital, as if their shared history and connection grounded and contextualized their lives. Maybe they stayed friends out of sheer habit. Maybe both. Is that what we value in our oldest friends: History and familiarity? Is that what the two dolls that resurface at the end of the book are supposed to symbolize? I don't think Lenù understood their meaning. I'm not sure I do, either. Does it mean that friendship only exists for children? Or that we should hold onto objects from our past as talismans to ward off the ennui of existence? What would Marie Kondo say about that? I'm telling you, this book's gonna get in your head and make you go: 
I'm sad I have no more Neapolitan Novels to look forward to. Maybe I'm struggling with this review because I don't want to let these books go. Alas, everything ends, and it's time for me to move on. I encourage everyone to read Ferrante's series. It's beautiful, wrenching and makes powerful statements about the struggles women face, the suffering that defines life and, of course, friendship. 

My rating for this book:
My rating for the whole series:

'The Story of the Lost Child' by Elena Ferrante was published in 2015 by Europa Editions. 473 pages.

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Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this review!

Until next time,