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Sunday 20 April 2014

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

The Days of Abandonment is a powerful, stressful book. It is a book that focuses on abandonment at a number of levels: firstly there is the direct abandonment, the abandonment of a women by her husband. Secondly there is her own abandonment, the abandonment of the self, the abandonment of self control and identity. It is a short but heady book that left me slightly exhausted.  
It is a familiar story. One morning Olga’s husband tells her he wants to leave her. At first she continues as normal, she thinks it is temporary, relates a story of how this has happened before, how her marriage had been in danger but the danger passed. This time will be just like before, she need only carry on patiently and calmly and eventually her husband will return and her life go on as it did before.

 Which of course it doesn’t. Gradually she uncovers more of the truth. Her husband is seeing another woman, though she doesn’t know who. She begins to lose control. She becomes angry, ungovernable, she questions her friends until they abandon her, she questions herself. She cannot look after herself or her children, every task becomes a mountain to climb.

It could be an ordinary, predictable story except for the intensity of the breakdown that Olga suffers. She embarks on a kind of affair with the sad man downstairs, Carrano, who her husband disliked. She flirts with workmen who come to fix her door. She obsesses about the women her husband has left her for, what their sex is like and how it differs to the sex he had with her.

It is a dark book, a book about loss of control, loss of self. It was, to me, a natural companion to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Woman Destroyed, which similarly deals with the loss of self, the anger and upset of being abandoned by a long-term partner. Where Ferrante’s book distinguishes itself is in the ferocity of the protagonist, the violence of the loss of control which seems destined to land in disaster. There is strength and honesty and passion in this book, it shows the loss of identity that follows the break in a relationship as a kind of sickness from which Olga may or may not recover.

Or the reader. There were times I felt I was going mad along with Olga. It is a book that carries the reader along at breakneck speed. It is very hard to put down.

Days of Abandonment receives a terrifying 8 out of 10 Biis. 

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