I’m not alone in my dislike of the characters in this novel but it seems a lot of my fellow readers didn’t dislike the whole book because of it. I was surprised at the mixed reactions of our group when we got together to discuss The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante. We wanted to read this one because Time Magazine lists Ferrante as one of the most influential people. She’s also called the ‘best known least known’ writer in Italy. Despite her popularity, no one knows who she is, only that she lives in Naples. She’s credited with linking the old Italian writing style with a new style. I’m going to have to give her writing another try.
One of the women who attended our group was a guest to us. She’s active in other groups in the area but hadn’t been to one of our meetings before. She decided to come because she lived in Italy for a part of her childhood before moving to the US and had wanted to read one of Ferrante’s books. She read a few more after this one before our group met and loved them all. She said she wanted to know what American-born readers thought. Listening to her talk about her experience with the book made me like it more, to be honest. There was a lot about modern Italian culture that I didn’t pick up on because I’ve never lived there. We couldn’t picture the people and setting very well because it wasn’t something familiar to those of us who didn’t grow up in Italy. We didn’t understand the class and regional differences in the writing. Leda was brutally honest, but the focus of her wrath was not always very apparent to us.
Part of what I didn’t like about the book was that Leda was so selfish and unlikable. Yes, she was honest, but to most of us, that could only go so far. She seemed damaged by her own childhood with a mother who continually threatened to leave her. Leda had the nerve to do what her mom always talked about and actually left. We found it odd that she made a point of being meticulous in her pregnancy (page 122) but once her daughters were born, seemed to neglect them. It was hard to read (listen) to her talk about not comforting her children when they cried. She wanted people to like her and understand why she did what she did, which was hard to do. She wanted Gino to like her and think she was right and she grew so mad when he didn’t agree. It was like when she flirted with her daughter’s boyfriends and was mad when they didn’t return her affection. She was so selfish.
The doll said a lot about Leda. She wanted to be the hero to the Neapolitans on the beach, the lower class people who Leda thought should look up to someone educated like herself. She seemed jealous of Elena and Nina. They were close like her family never was and was likely to never be again. She wanted to make them suffer, to be as unhappy as she was. Once she had the doll, she kept trying to fix it, to make it pretty, but what was inside it was so dark and dirty, coming out over and over unendingly. We felt she inserted herself into their story so she could be a part of it just to feel important.
There was something I caught that some didn’t so I wanted to see if anyone else caught it. Nina’s family was part of the Camorra, the Italian mafia based in Naples. It’s implied when Gino talks about them being bad people. Did anyone else catch that? Only some of our group did.
A few people pointed out that if you reread the first few pages after finishing the book, you can see that the whole thing is told in flashback after Leda gets into a car accident. She has a pain in her side and wakes up in a hospital seeing her family around her. The pain is a reference to her stab wound but we couldn’t decide if we thought her family had come from Canada to see her or if she was hallucinating. My vote was for hallucinating. Thoughts?