I am bound to come across the most unexpected readings and unearth writers that elude the hasty eyes. At least, this is what I like to believe. In this particular case, I was also drawn by Elena Ferrante's shyness of going public. Once again, this comes to reinforce the belief that writing chooses you regardless of how prepared you feel to face the crowds and have them readers look into you with more inquisitive eyes.
Her work is published by Europa Editions and deciding not to take the trodden path of printed writers, fetishizing privacy, her identity is being questioned to the point of either having her impersonated by another writer or wearing the attire of a male in disguise. Should she be a man, chapeau bas - her unadorned, unaffected style and sensitive pen that clearly point to the responsiveness of a woman, would grace even more the likes of such character.
Olga is mother of two, 38, wife of Mario. She is a writer, yet she has put her ambitions second to her husband's professional career and needs. To what avail? She is told he has higher needs to fulfil and as it turns out, most of them are shaped by Carla, in her early twenties. Now, this comes as no surprise in terms of a plot; on the contrary literature bears a long line of abandoned women, from Medea, Dante, Boccaccio, Shakespeare, Flaubert to Kate Chopin, Fay Weldon, just to mention a few. What makes Olga exceptional in her portrayal of a forsaken, jilted wife, is the intensity of her contradictory feelings. It is the untamed account of her emotions, encounters, motherhood, wicked ways that troubles the reader and pulls him out of his monotony.
For when one is a compulsive reader, he simply thrives on the pleasure of books, on the hidden hope that every now and then, there comes a story meant to shake his entrails. The days of abandonment is such a book, and Elena Ferrante is that kind of a writer. She is fearless in her insanity and yet, the book exults of warmth and expressiveness. Olga hits rock bottom in her pain and goes through all stages of grief and acceptance, losing herself into her own pit of values, mentality and conventional truths. She gives a voice to exhaustion, pain, absence of sense and ultimately, strength.
The book feels hard to digest, it takes a lot of commitment to Olga. It forces you to walk along her, to stay close enough to smell her fear and despair, to watch her give herself to a man that throws her away, to face life on her own and come bruised and wounded out of all trials. At most times, this feels like your own battle; if you, the woman reader, have never tasted the bitterness of being spiraled out of control, at least you'll get a good look at how it smell, feels, crawls down your skin and burns. It is a lesson that comes outside the frames of the written pages and slaps you hard into the face. If Nora's Woman Upstairs wore the American ring of conventionalism around its middle finger, Olga's The days of abandonment gives you the finger. It is about the hunger, rebellion and fury that cannot be contained and burst into being.
"Mario entered loaded with packages. I hadn't seen him for exactly thirty-four days. He seemed younger, better cared for in his appearance, even more rested, and my stomach contracted so painfully that I felt I was about to faint. In his body, in his face, there was no trace of our absence. While I bore - as soon as his startled gaze touched me I was certain of it - all the signs of suffering, he could not hide those of well-being, perhaps of happiness."(p.38)
I had to make this introduction for Mario. All Marios out there thrive on abandonment, they are little pupas flowering into delicate butterflies, under the very eyes of the warming sun that sheltered their blossoming. All Marios start flying their new pair of wings into other delicate butterflies, little, young Carlas, They are the ones who draw the line between those who leave and those who stay. They get to come out young, reinvigorated, appealing, responsibility-free, ready to face the world with the younger version of the forsaken wife, coiled at their feet. I like how this outburst of liveliness is short-lived and how their spur at life written all over again is doomed to become flat-lined in no time. I stand by Olga, out of love for Elena's writing and because it is her doing: she pulled me in, made me witness and experience her writing in a deep manner. Great writers will do that no matter what and leave you richer that before. Her richness lies in the intensity of the character's voyage into herself and out and the ability to engage the reader into the story, the text, the narrative and the semantics of abandonment.