THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY by Elena Ferrante

From the Jacket

Set in the late 1960s and the 1970s, THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY continues the story of the feisty and rebellious Lina and her lifelong friend, the brilliant and bookish Elena.  Lina, after separating from her husband, is living with her young son in a new neighborhood of Napes and working at a local factory.  Elena has left Naples, earned a degree from an elite college, and published a novel, all of which has opened the doors to a world of learned and fascinating interlocutors.  The era, with its dramatic changes in sexual politics and social costumes, with its seemingly limitless number of new possibilities, is rendered with breathtaking vigor.  This third Neapolitan Novel is not only a moving story of friendship but also a searing portrait of a rapidly changing world.

My Thoughts

THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY is the third of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels.  I read the first two over the summer before taking a break to read other things, but Italy’s been (understandably) on my mind a lot lately so I decided it was a good time to return to the Naples of Lila and Lenú.  It took me a minute to reintroduce myself to Ferrante’s pages and pages of characters, but once I started reading, everything came rushing back and I immediately got sucked back into twentieth century Italy, the world of Grecos and Sarratores and Caraccis.

“Each of us narrates our life as it suits us.”

In my reading of the previous installment, THE STORY OF A NEW NAME, I remember being disappointed by such a heavy focus on Lila, given how much I prefer and connect with Elena.  Here in the third installment, there is a much more even balance, perhaps even leaning the opposite direction with a heavier focus on Elena’s story.  THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY introduces Elena as a newlywed, a young mother, and a published author.  Much of Elena’s story revolves around her inner conflict with dedicating herself to her family versus dedicating herself to her work, and with the conclusion of the novel we see Elena make a tough choice between the two.  She becomes obsessed with her novel, with who has read it and who hasn’t, who likes it and who doesn’t, to the point where it almost becomes insufferable.  In this third installment, Elena evolves from an admirably studious young girl to a frustratingly insecure adult, a metamorphosis that makes her a much more unlikable character in my eyes.

“How can I explain to this woman—I thought—that from the age of six I’ve been a slave to letters and numbers, that my mood depends on the success of their combinations, that the joy of having done well is rare, unstable, that it lasts an hour, an afternoon, a night?”

I love seeing these characters change over time; we’ve seen daughters become mothers, students become teachers, and apprentices become business owners.  THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY may be my least favorite of the Neapolitan Novels thus far, but I am still immensely looking forward to picking up the fourth and final novel.

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