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on 10 November 2017
As usual, Elena Ferrante writes vividly. Her characters leap out from the page.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 3 December 2015
An early novel by the celebrated, if mysterious, Italian author, this novella has both the hallmark style of honesty and candour and confession that she's well known for and for some of the themes that are developed in her famous Neapolitan quadrilogy; it also has her page-turning quality (I read it through in one sitting). Compelling it might be, but it is also rather odd, reflecting the nature of the central character.

Leda is a middle-aged divorcee with two grown up daughters, a Professor of English. The book in part explores her profound ambiguity about her roles as wife and mother; it asserts her need for an independent existence. She takes herself off to the coast for a vacation and to find a peaceful place to prepare her courses, staying alone in a villa. On the sand she meets a young law student, working as an attendant for the summer, and in the hands of other novelists this might had developed into a seaside romance. More importantly, she meets on the beach a large, noisy, chaotic, slightly menacing Italian family. Elena, a young child of the family, owns a much loved doll which goes missing, which causes as much anxiety among the clan as if the child was missing herself. By an obscure, wilful, irrational act, which she never explains nor excuses, Leda is directly implicated in this loss; it draws her uneasily and deeper into the family. The missing doll and how it might relate to Leda's own unconscious is one of the intriguing themes of this oddly unsettling novel. It links this novella with the first book in the Neapolitan series, ' My Brilliant Friend', where a much loved doll goes missing and takes on a symbolic significance, as it does here.

The novella could have developed into a tense thriller; instead, it kept to its main focus, the exploration of motherhood, of daughters, of the frictions within families. It explores the need we sometimes have to break away from that which bind us, to strike out independently, to find a place where no one is reliant on you. Leda keeps in touch with her two daughters in Canada but they are so bound up in their own trivial concerns there is no real communication between them. She seems to have no friends either, which makes you wonder; at times she's restless and out of control. She tells us all this, about her everyday progress through this strange vacation, with complete candour, a ploy which all but disarms the reader. Perhaps we are all capable of irrational acts we can't explain and do not own up to, that exist like flaws in our own natures.

The book lacks the electric energy and the maturity of vision of the later series, and it keeps within narrow parameters, but that said it's still a powerful read.
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on 28 September 2016
This novel was a page turner despite most of the action being psychological.
The seeds of Ferrante's Neapolitan novels are to be found here. The rebellion against place, culture, family, convention, stifing motherhod and domesticity. Patriarchy and violence as the food and drink of working class Neopolitan life.
I found the writing a little less clotted than that in the quartet although it is still very visceral, at times almost painfully so in its raw honesty. There is the same emphasis on female experience and primacy is given to the body as a way of knowing.

Having said that, I also found echoes of Camus' The Stranger in the dreamlike heat of a beach setting and the unfathomability of human motivation. There seems to be an unnaturalness to some of the protagonist's behaviour....but ipso facto...no human behaviour is unnatural. And anyway don't we recognise ourselves in some of her desires and actions?

Suspension of disbelief may be required in order to fully enjoy the book. The reader may need to simply accept, without too much puzzling over it, the seemingly irrational central act of the protagonist.

If you enjoyed Ferrante's quartet, there is a good chance you will enjoy this too.
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on 6 November 2015
I can only say that it speaks to my sense of the neurosis (an unfashionable but still serviceable word) of the time, loss, anxiety, anguish, the pain over apparent trifles, the emotional dodges around a compelling accident - a doll lost by a snotty little brat, picked up and kept by the protagonist-outsider against all sound sense, and bringing a sense of doom over nothing. The taut relation with the real daughters. The threatening weight of something more that can never be found, let alone lost. I liked it, found it intriguing, the characters recognizable even to a non-Italian, the beach scenes convincing, the denouement troubling.
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on 8 April 2016
Very evocative and an honest perspective on motherhood and mother's for some women and their daughter's. A great novella with a believable protagonist and some interesting vignettes. Particularly moving for me as I am expecting my first daughter after having three boys. This was my first Ferrante but I will certainly read more.
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on 8 September 2016
Another excellent story from this amazing writer
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on 7 February 2015
Leda, a seemingly educated stylish Italian woman , takes a summer break from her solitary university career. Within a few weeks, she faces her own history, her life decisions and the impact those had on herself and her family, while watching another mother on the edge. Inadvertently, Leda is brutally honest in confronting herself for the first time: a brilliant account of a woman who did what many dream off, who is honest yet sensitive and who is still a mystery to herself.
A tale of `what might be` in seductive language and a psychological case study for anyone willing to enter into painfully awakened self examination- brilliant and a great read!
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on 19 July 2017
Brilliant!
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on 12 January 2016
I never understand why people insist on writing summaries of the plot as though they don’t fully understand what a review means or else they think they work for the examiner or something. We can all read that on the back of the book or in the “About this book” section of any online distributor. What matters in a review is whether you thought it's good or not, whether you enjoyed it or not. The details of the plot are largely irrelevant. Character, style more so but these still come down to whether you enjoyed it.

And I really enjoyed it and thought it was so well-written. I'm pretty new to the Elena Ferrante storm but I'm glad I've come aboard when I have. Elena Ferrante - penname, no one knows who it really is - has a superbly strong narrative voice and writes eloquently. It's immediately intriguing. She over-intellectuals but it doesn't make the text turgid and hard to read, rather she writes pleasing sentences about things you'd never bother to put into words because they exist on such an unconscious level.
She's quite like Javiar Marias but the writing isn't so old fashioned or long winded. She writes about simple and complicated things beautifully and easily.

I'm very impressed even though I did sometimes feel like I wasn't keeping up because I don't overthink to such a degree. That said, I couldn't have written something so interesting about a solo trip to the seaside (whoops plot spoiler), especially without any interaction from others. The unconscious mind hogs the limelight in her writing and forces you to look within while you're reading.
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on 20 November 2016
The narrator is a middle-aged Italian woman who appears to have some kind of personality disorder that makes her do strange things. I found this quite annoying, because she was obviously causing herself unnecessary anguish, which I as a reader was forced to share. I could have stopped reading of course, except that I couldn’t. So it must a be a good book, right?
As for the story, which only takes up a hundred pages or so, it concerns the relationships between mothers and daughters, and the wide range of feelings, the need to be loved, to escape and be free, yet never to leave; and if that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. But this is a terrific read, with a suspense out of all proportion to the mundane events our nutty narrator describes.
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