After reading that Elena Ferrante was named one of the Most Influential People by TIME Magazine, we wanted to read one of her books. The library chose The Lost Daughter for us. I have another of Ferrante’s books on my shelf that I’ve been putting off and I was excited to get this quick preview of the book.
The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante
Translated by Ann Goldstein
Summary from Goodreads:
Leda, a middle-aged divorce, is alone for the first time in years when her daughters leave home to live with their father. Her initial, unexpected sense of liberty turns to ferocious introspection following a seemingly trivial occurrence.
A short summary for a short book. The book was only 125 pages but the audiobook I listened to was still 4:57! I was not a fan of this book. I thought Leda was whiny and I didn’t like the constant flashbacks and the way she described the Neapolitans she met. A big part of that might have been how little I know about Italian culture (this will be covered in my upcoming Book Club Reflection). Leda was so unlikable that I couldn’t enjoy the book. I wanted her to be unhappy and she was but rather than feel vindicated, I wanted her to shut up and go away. It was a really frustrating experience for me.
As much as I hated Leda, I admit she was believable. There are people who will leave their children because they can’t handle being a mother and there are mothers who scream at their children over seemingly trivial things. There are adulterers and there are people who are flat-out rude. That doesn’t mean I like these people. I hated Leda and I honestly liked when she was hurt in the end. I’m not sure I would want to write a protagonist that was so unlikeable and I’m not sure I’d want to be the person who related to her, but she was believable.
Nina was my favorite character. Except that she was cheating, I didn’t like that. I thought she was believable, a woman who was pretty from far away but was seen as ugly up close. That was realistic to me. I thought she was a good mother to Elena and she was easy to like. I felt bad for her because her in-laws seemed so terrible and crass. I understood why she was in the situation she was in, but that didn’t make it easier to read about.
As much as I don’t want to say this, there were some parts of Leda I could relate to. I hope I’m not the only one who will admit to this, but I judge people in my head. Maybe not as harshly as Leda seemed to but I will make some snap judgments about people based on how they look, are dressed, or speak. I know this sounds terrible so let me give you an example. I was on the running trail with my husband yesterday and I saw a guy in some nice running shoes out by himself. My initial thought was, “You do this to get an hour to yourself on the weekends while your wife watches the kids.” If that’s true, I’ll never know, but that’s my judgment. I can’t be alone in this, right? (Please comment and tell me I’m not a terrible person.)
I liked the ending so this is going to be a spoiler. Skip to the end of the paragraph to avoid it! I was glad Nina was so mad at Leda for taking the doll. She should have been even angrier! Elena is miserable because she lost her doll and to think that Leda had it all along and could have given it back was maddening. I’m glad she got stabbed, too. It wasn’t a bad stabbing but she deserved to suffer for what she did. Yes, this is partially my dislike for Leda but also I’m glad Nina did what she did! I’m glad she didn’t use Leda’s apartment for her affair, too. She seemed inclined to cheat to get away from her crying daughter and enjoy herself for a few hours and if Elena would be happy with her doll returned and the apartment would keep Nina from enjoying herself because it reminded her of Leda, all the better.
I hated the flashbacks to when Leda left her kids. Even if Marta and Bianca were brats (and there’s nothing to indicate they were any worse than normal children), Leda was terrible to them and the things she thought about them were even worse. As someone contemplating having children, this was a terrible book to read because now I’m afraid I’d be as angry and bitter as Leda toward my children!
The audiobook I listened to was read by Hillary Huber. Huber had a good voice for Leda and conveyed all of her anger and bitterness well. My complaint is that she read it too slowly. A 125 page book should not be a 5 hour audiobook, it just shouldn’t. For me, it was too much and took away from my enjoyment of the book. I wanted to move on to something else!
I believe Leda is the lost daughter referred to in the title. She talked a lot about her mother and upbringing and how much she disliked her mother and was always being told her mother would leave her if she misbehaved. When she was old enough, Leda left home and turned her back on her Neapolitan family and background. In the book, she’s very rude to the Neapolitan family and thinks she’s better than them. She’s distanced herself from her past in a very major way.
Writer’s Takeaway: Not every character a writer writes will be likable. Hopefully, it’s not the main character as Ferrante did in this book. I think Leda is a good study of how to make a character unlikable but I don’t think it’s a good example to make the unlikable person the protagonist.
I really did not enjoy this book. Two out of Five stars.
Until next time, write on.
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