What attracted me to Elana Ferrante’s short, debut, novel was her refusal to publicise her books and the belief that a –good – book would find an audience. It seems counterintuitive, but the purity of such belief is hard to argue with, even though if I hadn’t read about her in the Observer Review, I wouldn’t know who she was and would not have read or written this review of her book. Twenty or thirty films in English are being sold to us every week, with millions spent on advertising, sometimes as much as a third of the budget and, the poor relations, tens of thousands of books also waiting to be read and demanding our attention. But Ferrante has talked the talk and walked the walk, so you can’t argue with success. I admit a bit of Catholic guilt here, wishing it was me and not her, but hey, I’m no saint, and Troubling Love might simply be the realisation your book is no damn good.
A death is always a good starting point for a novel especially a mother’s death.
‘I had only an impression of losing altitude, like an aged Alice in pursuit of the White Rabbit…’ in pursuit of her mother, who has apparently committed suicide, her father, who was separated from her mother and her mother’s apparent lover – from the past – the dapper old man, Caserta, whom forty years before, when Deila had been five, had told her father she’d seen them having sex in the basement of Caserta’s father’s shop in Naples, which led to a Vesuvius eruption of recrimination and violence that haunted the little girl her whole life. The mystery of who we are and what we have become. A Bildungsroman in reverse gear.
‘I remember everything, or almost everything. Only the words are missing.’ Memory is a tricky beast, qualified by time and experience, ‘I remembered but I cannot tell myself’.
The question then becomes what is the unreliable narrator hiding from herself and the reader? A journey into the past becomes a journey into the present and the trouble with love is it is fickle and often unfaithful, welling up, but unwilling to be held.
Naples is not what it was, but Delia is native, surefooted in following her mother’s footsteps prior to her suicide, and unravelling her apparently strange behaviour in a denouement that arranges the whys to become the guilty secret of ‘I’.