Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.
Europa Editions Love: Ferrante’s “The Days of Abandonment”
For the past several weeks, we have been sharing picturebooks published by Europa Editions for our Literatura Europa reading theme. This time around, I will attempt to share my thoughts about an adult novel, for which this particular publishing house is known for.
I read Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet last year, and have been avoiding writing my thoughts about it. The novels live and breathe for me that it seems almost sacrilegious to taint the intimacy of my connection with Lila and Elena by writing something as commonplace as a review. Perhaps, I’d get around to doing it eventually – not a review but a candid sharing of my experience with the novels, especially since I brought the books with me while traveling in Europe last year. However, I digress. This is about Ferrante’s other novel, The Days of Abandonment.
I started reading this book on the overnight bus from Munich to Milan and finished it two days later when we were on the train from Verona to Milan. Books always have a different flavour to them when there are train stubs inserted in between the pages, reminding me of where I have been, who I was, at the exact time that I was reading the novel.
There is something compulsively readable about Olga’s pain, even while it lacerates a woman’s being. It is not unusual – it is an age-old story: philandering husband, abandoned wife, children who act out their loss by throwing tantrums – innocent casualties in the wayward inevitabilities of marital woes and infidelities. However, it was Ferrante’s writing that undid me. Take a look at her first paragraph. This could be used for a writing class as a demonstration of what a “hook” means in narrative fiction.
Literary craftsmanship aside (of which I have no authority really to write about), it was the simple truth of the gradual unraveling of Olga that spoke to me viscerally. There is fury here that attempts to pacify, even as she tried to win her husband back in the beginning, then a ferocious wrath that seeks only to wound as the 38-year-old mother of two saw the man she thought she knew and spent her life with, on the streets with his younger woman. There is a rage here that is almost self-annihilating, as she also destroys parts of herself in her attempt to excise her husband from her skin, her sight, her every sense. The same husband whom she devoted a great part of her existence to nurture has simply decided that he has had enough. His motivations are superfluous, his identity negligible, his character a nebulous wraith to which everyman could put his face in. He could be any husband – he is every husband.
There was a metallic taste in my mouth where Olga bit the key to open the door, I smell the putrid odour of the dead dog, and sense her hysteria when the lines around her life dissolved slowly, her withering away such a stark reality, that I begin to think about the many women friends I love who would appreciate this book’s honesty. The vulgarity was part of her purging, so much bile in her throat that she had to spit out, like the years of deception for the sham of a marriage that she thought she had. I only regret that I didn’t bring Troubling Love with me while I was in Europe. No matter, I have plenty of time now that I am back in Singapore. Olga’s silent rage would remain with me for a long time to come, and one that I’d probably return to, like a yellowed photograph from another life: because these are battlescars every woman will remember for the rest of her life.