‘The Story of the Lost Child’ by Elena Ferrante


I’ve been writing for too long, and I’m tired; it’s more and more difficult to keep the thread of the story taut within the chaos of the years, of events large and small, of moods.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, Pg.24

As Elena Ferrante’s tetralogy comes to a heartbreaking close in The Story of the Lost Child, it is significant that present-day Elena interjects the narrative more frequently. As the above quote highlights, she is finding it increasingly difficult to follow the events of her own and Lila’s lives, which may have something to do with the fact that she is ‘close to the most painful part of [their] story’. 

‘Think about it. A woman separated, with two children and your ambitions, has to take account of reality and decide what she can give up and what she can’t’ – Adele to Elena.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, Pg.67

Elena has made a drastic change to her life, often considered shocking in a society that is finding it difficult to adjust. On top of meeting her own needs and desires, Elena again struggles to balance her role as a public author, lover and mother. In the end, it often comes down to her role as a mother that suffers the most amount of neglect but this also comes at a price. Elena wants to include them in her life, she ‘wants to have it all’, but in a society that is hostile to any digressions from the ‘norm’ this becomes increasingly difficult. However, she tries and she fights for her children with a fierce passion only a mother is able to sustain. And what’s more is that she succeeds eventually by returning to her hometown in Naples.

Lila is, again, on the rise from her spectacular downward spiral at the sausage factory. She is quick to adapt to changes in the workforce and quick to spot areas she can capitalise on. Due to this, she begins to live in relative comfort and moves back to the neighbourhood of their childhood. She addresses the ties with family that were severed before. She even goes so far as to mend relations with her former husband. However, like with anything Lila does, there are always enemies close by waiting to tear her down.

Look, I said to myself, the couple collapses, the family collapses, every cultural cage collapses, every possible social-democratic accommodation collapses, and meanwhile everything tries violently to assume another form that up to now would have been unthinkable.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, Pg.57

It is really hard, with this last novel, to avoid any spoilers but what I will say is that the climax of The Story of the Lost Child came as a surprise to me despite the ever-obvious hints Ferrante gives away, particularly in her deliberately named titles. I was so caught up in Elena and Lila’s growing relationship as women in their late thirties to early forties, in the dramas and gossip of their provincial neighbourhood that it was as if we were back in the safety of their childhood in My Brilliant Friend. The events that culminate in the irreparable distance between Elena and Lila and their friendship’s eventual demise, rocks the entire neighbourhood and shatters the safety associated with the familiar.

It is after these events that the narrative seems to accelerate through the years. We are only briefly informed of key events – Elena’s moderate success as a writer and novelist, her former-husband’s move to America, her daughters’ achievements, Lila’s decline in physical and mental health, Gennaro’s neediness, the passing of relatives, Elena’s eventual move from Naples. It seems that everything that happens after the climax doesn’t matter as much. It can be quickly brushed over. All of a sudden it is the present-day. Elena is an aged woman in her sixties writing this story and hoping that her lifelong friend will reappear from the nothing she has left.

Unlike stories, real life, when it has passed, inclined toward obscurity, not clarity.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, Pg.473

Instead of gaining an understanding of the past through writing Elena has failed in her task. She has failed to come to any conclusion or clarity and failed to write her friend back into the present. Though what remains is a heart-breaking and realistic account of a friendship fraught with ups and downs, hardships and successes. The Neapolitan series, full of raw and honest emotions, is stunning in its ability to universalise such a specific life, culture and history. Even though Naples is a huge magnetic force within the novels, the human interactions that occur are so relatable and true to the human experience. Even after completing the Neapolitan series a month ago, I am unable to get Elena and Lila out of my thoughts. They are so fully formed and flawed that it is hard to believe they are only fictional creations. I can’t wait to reread these novels at some point in the future. I think they will definitely hold up to a second, third and even fourth reading as there is so much to dissect and analyse in these novels. But, before I do this, I will be reading all of Ferrante’s available books (which I have already downloaded onto my Kindle). I sense an author wangling their way into my top favourites list!



3 Replies to “‘The Story of the Lost Child’ by Elena Ferrante”

  1. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan books were absolutely amazing, I pretty much binge-read the first three books in one weekend and then immediately read this final volume when it came out. I can’t wait to check out her standalone novels at some point, I heard great things about them too!

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