Book Review: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay…

Translated by Ann Goldstein

About the Book:

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 neighbourhood 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.

My Thoughts:

I abandoned this series after book two, at the beginning of last year, unable to bear anymore of Elena’s simpering and self-pity, along with Lila’s toxicity. What had shone in My Brilliant Friend had significantly dulled in The Story of a New Name. However, I recently watched the television adaptation of The Story of a New Name and really enjoyed it – far more than I had with the book it was based upon. It gave me a nudge to take up the series again, so I picked up book three, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.

While I certainly enjoyed this one far more than book two, I won’t be racing to book 4. Not with the way this one wrapped up – good heavens, has there ever been a more annoying character ever than Elena Grecco?! She’s just pathetic beyond all reason. So much so, that I honestly have begun to think that these books would have been so much better written as third person dual narrative instead of the first-person fictional memoir style it inhabits. There’s just too much of Elena circling around the same issues constantly, pitying herself endlessly and blaming either her mother or Lila for everything that’s ever gone wrong in her life. Plus, in this one, we also experience Elena’s ego in monumental doses because of her book being published; it was insufferable. Don’t even get me started on her obsession with Nino, who is seriously not worth the effort.

And yet, I have given this book 4 stars. That’s because in this volume, Ferrante returns to the intricate tapestry of Italy’s political and social history. This entire book is quite political, sometimes in the most detailed of ways, but I really enjoyed that aspect of it. That’s one of the things that sold me so strongly on My Brilliant Friend, that series of snapshots of Italy’s social and political history in motion. And she doesn’t stick with just Naples in this one; we see, as Elena moves around and interacts with others, that what was happening in one province of Italy was happening also in others, likewise, in other parts of Europe. I couldn’t get enough of these sections of the book.

I also enjoyed seeing Lila emerge as a grown woman, taking charge of her own life, progressing forward, on a different path to Elena, but forward nonetheless. I’m still not convinced on the friendship between these two; Elena spends much of the novel wishing secretly that Lila would die while also feeling inferior to her. The two of them are careful with each other; they hold back the things they shouldn’t and wound each other with intent. This doesn’t change the older they get. I enjoyed following the lives of the other characters from the neighbourhood; again, more of this in preference to Elena would have been ideal. There were quite a few amusing moments throughout too, definitely more humour within this one than the previous two.

I look forward to seeing the television adaptation of this one (assuming there will be one), but I’ll hold off on reading book four just yet. There’s only so much of Elena I can take but Elena and Nino combined? No. Just no. I can’t do it.


About the Author:

Elena Ferrante was born in Naples. She is the author of seven novels: The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, The Lost Daughter, and the quartet of Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child. She is one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
Published October 2013

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