The circle of an empty day is brutal, and at night it tightens around your neck like a noose.
Olga’s husband, without notice, leaves her and the children. Olga then descends into what becomes clearly an emotional breakdown, one of which Ferrante describes in uncomfortable detail.
I wanted to shake this woman (it didn’t help that this character is exactly my age) and wake her up from her delusion. She seemed pathetic to me. There were signs of a mother stripped of her identity through marriage and children. Thinking back on the early years of marriage, Olga recalls “the ambitions of youth losing their grain like a worn-out fabric”. There is a constant feeling of isolation now that she is ‘abandoned’, she notices the mothers when she takes the dog for a walk:
At that hour the mothers – compact groups of chatting mothers – stayed in the shade of the trees, enclosed in the circle of carriages like settlers in a Western.
I felt the disconnection Olga was experiencing; at times, it seemed like this character was so disconnected that she could watch her own horrid and irrational behaviour. Thinking it would be funny, Olga’s children hide from her in a public place. Olga is hysterical and when she finally discovers them, yells at them for being so thoughtless:
The child stared at me in disbelief. With the same disbelief I looked at myself. I saw a woman standing beside a flower garden…At that moment I didn’t recognize her. I was frightened because she had taken my heart, which was now beating in her chest.
It took me quite a while to think this apparent mad woman would be an unreliable narrator. But it wasn’t as straightforward as saying ‘Don’t trust this mad woman’. My thoughts turned to the elusive estranged husband; I figured who could blame this man for running for the hills but I’m not so sure. Small hints from guest appearances scattered throughout the novel, maybe the guy is a horrible excuse for a human being and he’s poisoned the family he walked out on.
The first person narrative is effective, an intimate account of a woman who faces her own identity, or what is left of it. Ferrante is very clever in setting most scenes in a very claustrophobic apartment. This was uncomfortable to read from beginning to end but one I couldn’t put down.