“One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me.” Thus began Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, a novel chronicling a wife’s desperate struggle to cope with her new situation. From the first page onwards, the wife tells us her story with this same lack of sentimentality and brutal honesty:
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. He told me that he was confused, that he was having terrible moments of weariness, of dissatisfaction, perhaps of cowardice. He talked for a long time about our fifteen years of marriage, about the children, and admitted that he had nothing to reproach us with, neither them nor me. He was composed, as always, apart from an extravagant gesture of his right hand when he explained to me, with a childish frown, that soft voices, a sort of whispering, were urging him elsewhere. 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. (p. 1)
And the wife is left alone to fend for “[t]he children, the dog, the shopping, lunch and dinner, money. Everything pointed out to me the practical consequences of abandonment.” Moreover, out of the loneliness, anxieties, and insecurities released by her husband’s sudden and unexplained leaving arose the more sinister abandonment of her senses.
At first there was incredulity. “It seemed to me incredible that all of a sudden he had become uninterested in my life, like that of a plant watered for years that is abruptly allowed to die of thirst.” Next was the search for the cause of her husband’s departure. She tried to impose “on myself a code of behavior and had decided first of all not to telephone the friends we had in common, I couldn’t resist and telephoned just the same.” Then she came close to madness, neglecting herself, her children, and eventually harboring a furious anger against everyone and everything around her.
Every time things begin to look up, her situation falls apart again. We, the readers, are led into the abyss of a distressed woman’s mind, following the ups and downs that form the tension sustaining the novel for around two hundred pages.
The Days of Abandonment had the effect making me doubly ashamed. First, about being a man and the insensitivity that my kind subject upon the other sex. And secondly, the humiliating lack of women writers in my readings which forms one of my central deficiencies.
A friend suggested I read Woolf but I still haven’t got a copy of her books from the local secondhand shops. I have around five untouched Austen and Bronte books in the shelf. I should have began with them but I heard they all ended in happy marriages and I didn’t feel up to such unrealistic constructions.
I highly recommend Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment. ■