“I was not the woman who breaks into pieces under the blows of abandonment and absence, who goes mad, who dies. Only a few fragments had splintered off, for the rest I was well. I was whole, whole I would remain. To those who hurt me, I react giving back in kind. I am the queen of spades, I am the wasp that stings, I am the dark serpent. I am the invulnerable animal who passes through fire and is not burned.”
-Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment
Oh my God this book. I read it on the train to Oxford and finished it the next day. Elena Ferrante once again captivated me in her prose – not only her first person narrative is very realistic but her plot structure makes me want to devour the book. Each paragraph always leaves me with suspense.
Olga was a housewife with two children. Her life had been happy and content until one day her husband Mario decided to leave her. At first she believed that Mario was having one of those moments (It happened twice before) and would come back to her. But he never did. Later, Olga found out that Mario had a mistress.
When she heard this, she remembered her neighbour when she was a child. This woman, who had been happy, was abandoned by her husband. Because of the pain and grief, she changed. She cried all the time, neglected her children, didn’t bother to clean up, and tried to commit suicide. The neighbours then called her as ‘poverella’.
Olga promised herself that she wouldn’t turn into a povarella, that she would take control over her life. But slowly, as we see it from her point of view, she descended into a woman she hated. She used obscene language, she got frustrated with her children and her dog, she forgot things, she became obsessed over simple things. Her anger and grief changed her. She was frantic and out of control. Often she endangered her children and herself.
Reading Olga’s day-to-day routine is so painful. I had to stop every once a while to take a deep breath. Ferrante writes beautifully and harrowingly about a woman’s pain and how she rises from it. I have never had any experience like Olga’s, but I had a very unhealthy relationship for years. Obviously, nothing like Olga’s. I wasn’t married and there were no children involved but I can relate at how a relationship or a break-up can cause your life spiralling down out of control. There were some days of sanity when you thought you got everything in control and that you were better than this (this = sad woman who cried over a man and shut herself from the world), but then you lost it again. And then it just got worse (before it finally got better).
Olga was a smart educated woman. But then she turned into ‘that kind of woman’, full of spite and bitterness, angry, hateful, jealous and dangerous. Through Olga, Ferrante wanted us to see how big an impact of a rejection is on a person. When a couple break-up, the outsiders usually pity the woman. The man often left her for a younger woman and then overtime people start to symphatise with the man because the abandoned woman turned crazy and make everyone’s life difficult. It’s usually a nice gossip as well. However, this book will let us look deeper and probably understand these women better. Definitely a 5 star for me.
This edition of The Days of Abandonment is published by Europa, 2005.