Luke Horton reviews 'The Story of the Lost Child' by Elena Ferrante

Luke Horton reviews 'The Story of the Lost Child' by Elena Ferrante

The Story of the Lost Child

by Elena Ferrante

Text Publishing, $29.99 pb, 473 pp, 9781925240511

Over the last year, Italian enigma Elena Ferrante has become one of the most passionately advocated literary sensations of our time. Enigma, because 'Elena Ferrante' is a pseudonym and no one other than her publisher knows her identity, Ferrante had published several novels before the Neapolitan series, but it is this cycle of four novels, culminating in The Story of the Lost Child (Storia della bambina perduta, 2014) that has made her international reputation.

Comparisons with the other great serialised novel of recent times, Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, are inevitable. As stylists, Knausgaard and Ferrante could not be more different. With My Struggle, Knausgaard eschews literary conventions such as linear story-telling and refined prose in pursuit of more immediate access to lived experience. In contrast, Ferrante dives so wildly headlong into her story that you wonder how she can possibly keep it up over 1,700 pages of prose. And yet there are affinities too: both are presumed to be works of autobiographical fiction, both chart the developing consciousness of a writer, and both pursue their subjects with an abandon that makes for thrilling literature.

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Published in November 2015, no. 376

Luke Horton

Luke Horton is a Melbourne-based writer and bookseller. He recently completed a PhD in history at the University of Melbourne and his literary journalism has appeared in various publications.

Comments (3)

  • Leave a comment Luke Horton

    Thank you Lynda and Anda for your responses to my review. One of the great things about Ferrante is how passionately readers debate her work. The feminist awakening I refer to here is Lenù’s growing awareness of the aims of second wave feminism, which included the ability of women to have careers and live independently from bread-winning husbands. Ferrante captures this beautifully in Lenù’s struggle to become a writer and to free herself from an unhappy marriage. Lenù’s friendship with Lila is undoubtedly fraught. It is ‘worthy of note’ because it remains the central relationship in her life, fraught or not. That Lenù is compelled to write this tribute to their friendship indicates that she gets far more from it than Lynda suggests. By comparison, the men in her life are brief distractions. Also, there is actually very little vying for male attention. Lenù suffers silently while her best friend seduces the man she loves, but it is a strength of the work that Ferrante doesn’t shy away from the painful aspects of friendship.
    I’m not sure how much the allure of the ‘ethnic other’ plays into the success of these books. These people are bitterly poor and Ferrante does not romanticise their lives. These novels would be remarkable wherever they were set.

    Wednesday, 18 November 2015 15:24 posted by Luke Horton
  • Leave a comment

    Very interesting points of contrast between Luke and Ms Heims. If I recall correctly, Ms Heims is currently living in Sicily and I believe is writing a book about her various experiences there. I do hope this eventuates because I am certainly guilty of the Anglo fascination with the "Ethnic other"

    Saturday, 07 November 2015 21:23 posted by Anda Stolz
  • Leave a comment

    I beg to differ with Luke. There is not a whiff of 'feminist awakening' anywhere in 1700 pages. The alternative to 'life beyond marriage and motherhood' turns out to be the mere extension of women vying for male attention, and the analysis of associated anxieties and mistrust ( characterised by the blinding absence of female soldarity in any shape or form.) In English this would be known as a 'fair-weather' friendship, and probably remain unworthy of note. Stories about females (including the ubiquitous inclusion of a token trans) can hardly be touted as necessarily feminist anything. The more you suds it, the more soap comes out of these tomes.
    There is something about the whole washing flapping-above-dark-southern-vicoli that charms Anglo readers fixated on the ethnic Other. The problem remains for those who actually have to haul in the smalls before the pigeon shit gets to them.
    Last- and this may well slink in under radar- the specifically local nature of delinquent thugs is a worthy take home portrait, mercifully absent any tedious overstatement.

    Monday, 02 November 2015 01:01 posted by lynda heims

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