The Days of Abandonment
Feeling like I may be on a roll given the relative success of my last few choices, I decided to plump for an author whose work gets so much praise yet whose books I was yet to read. Elena Ferrante adds mythical status to her beautiful prose as she not only uses a pseudonym but has managed to keep her (or his) true identity a secret since the publication of her first novel, L’amoro molesto, in 1992. A feat which is particularly impressive in today’s world of social media and insatiable thirst for knowledge in the search for ‘truth’, we were all intrigued to set out on our first foray into this author’s novels.
Ten years after her first work came out, The Days of Abandonment was published to much acclaim - even having been made into a film in its native Italy. The novel tells the story of Olga at a particularly traumatic period in her life: while washing up one evening (not the traumatic part) her husband, Mario, who is also father to their two children, announces he is leaving her. With no further explanation other than, essentially, the cowardly ‘it’s not you, it’s me’, Olga narrates the emotional, physical, and psychological twists and turns this abandonment entails for her as a woman, mother, and lover.
Ferrante’s gracefully fluid narrative style pulls you in, while her intimate, blunt and, in places, uncomfortable descriptions simultaneously force you to question your own reactions to the text rather than Olga’s actions.
We all felt that this relatively short novel was best read in one sitting and gave us a great first taste of Ferrante’s wider body of work. The emotions we went through while reading the text were firmly split down the middle, however, as two of us felt enthralled but escaped relatively unharmed by Olga’s experience while the other two had to have moments away from the destructive nature of the narrative. We all agreed that part of Olga’s experience was coloured by the city around her and firmly entrenched in Italian culture - particularly the patriarchal culture which, while existent in the UK, has traditionally been further complicated by the Catholic Church in Italy. Olga, we felt, was a woman who needed support but had no one to turn to, a situation in which our lives differ to hers.
To accompany this book, I ventured back to Italy. While the text is set in Turin, Turinese cuisine was surprisingly hard to find in London (although a small pasta place from the region has set up in Shoreditch). Italian cuisine as a whole is not hard to come by, however, and after much deliberation we booked ourselves into Caffe Caldesi in Marylebone.
After half a drink downstairs at the bar - where the service was very haphazard but the drinks were fine - we were ushered to the quiet, white-tableclothed upper dining room. Beautifully decorated with nic-nacs, heirlooms, photos, and an ornate map of Italy, we perused the menu in peace. Like the previous Italian restaurant we went to, this place perhaps suggests a more intimate meal a deux than an often noisy book club outing. Luckily, another table of 6 quickly sat down in the empty dining room so we didn’t feel too self-conscious.
The bread and the squid salad appetizer we were given to start with well-received, although the salad was a little bland. We went on to choose two pastas and two secondis between us, with a few sides of really delicious fried zucchini, and we found that these were simple dishes cooked very well, precisely what we wanted to transport our palates rather than our minds to Olga’s surroundings. This, combined with Caffe Caldesi’s elegant ambiance, meant we would recommend the restaurant for a nice evening meal out – perhaps with parents or relatives – in London.
The night ended as all City Lick nights end: summaries of the book (four thumbs up in this case) and the desperate search for a date that Katy is free for the next meeting sometime in the 21st century…
(I am clearly unimpressed by the outcome)
Chosen and Written by Liz