If The Days of Abandonment were a theatrical play instead of a novel, it would have to be performed in one act. Once begun, it is impossible to wrench oneself away from the extraordinary power of a this narrative of a 40-ish woman who navigates Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s four stage of grief (denial, anger, depression and acceptance).
In clear and non-pitying prose, Olga relates this: “One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me. He did it while we were clearing the table; the children were quarreling as usual in the next room, the dog was dreaming, growling beside the radiator…Then he assumed the blame for everything that was happening and closed the front door carefully behind him, leaving me turned to stone beside the sink.”
Ms. Ferrante is unsparing in her portrait of Olga, without turning this into a maudlin tale or a “poor pity me, the victim” type of story. First of all, the prose is precise and exquisite (examples: Olga’s husband blew away the past “as if it were a nasty insect that has landed on your hand.” Or this: “In those long hours I was the sentinel of grief, keeping watch along with a crowd of dead words.” Or this: “Starting at a certain point, the future is only a need to live in the past. To immediately redo the grammatical tenses.”)
As Olga falls into the void – the “absence of sense” – she falls into a frenzy of self-loathing and inertia. It take a strong stomach to read about her attempt to seduce a neighbor in a near-parody of what “making love” is really all about. During the end of that passage, it becomes clear that Olga’s “days of abandonment” are not caused by her husband Mario’s departure; rather, they are caused by her abandonment of herself. While she reaches rock bottom, she is also responsible for her young son and daughter and the innocent dog with “good dog eyes”, Otto. One feels their sense of confusion and betrayal as well – and commiserates.
I have never read Elena Ferrante before and have rarely read a book with such raw honesty and such ferocious power. I am, fortunately, happily married but anyone who has ever suffered feelings of betrayal (and all of us do, at some point in our lives, through husbands, family members, friends) will gasp in shock at the authenticity of Days of Abandonment. I believe it’s a masterpiece.