Novel Comments

22 Sep

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is the third of Elena Ferrante’s (2013) four Neopolitan Novels. This novel further develops the central theme, the friendship between Lila and Elena. Elena, the main character, is both a writer and the teller of these tales. Elena leaves the neighborhood and the city, Naples, in which they grew up together as best friends. In her middle twenties, Elena becomes a renown novelist, lives in Pisa and Milan, and then spends her married life in Florence. Lila stays in or near the same working class neighborhood, where she leaves her abusive husband and then lives with a decent man and her son while she becomes a computer expert.

Elena and Lila are brilliant, creative, and unstable women with vague senses of who they are. They use each other to try to figure themselves out. Their relationship is at the very least always in the background of their lives. When their relationship moves into the foreground, usually for brief periods, it is intensely filled with deep attachment and ambivalence. They depend on each other but try not to. They love, hate, sometimes collaborate, and usually compete and criticize. Their lives interweave as each woman tries to define herself against the similarities and differences with the other.

Another major theme of this friendship is how to each of the two women relates to the men in their lives. In this novel, Elena tries a traditional feminine role as wife and mother, subservient to a man who does not truly see her. The man for whom she had competed with Lila in their youth comes back and, this time, chooses her. Leaving her husband and children, she chooses him. Lila chides her as a fool. I assume book four will explore this choice and its consequences.

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