The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

If you’re already reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, you know why this author is considered a literary sensation by readers worldwide. Her books are shattering and enthralling, intimate and vicious. If you haven’t read the first three books in this series, I really must insist you go and do so immediately.

With The Story of the Lost Child, Ferrante brings the reader full circle to the beginning of book one, My Brilliant Friend. This final instalment did not disappoint. From the opening pages I was once more immersed within the world of Elena and Lila. The Neapolitan Novels are the kind of books that swallow me whole. As soon as I pick one up, I don’t want to breathe or move lest I break the spell.

At the end of book three, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena makes a life-altering decision that sees her returning home – to Lila and to the complicated ecosystem of their neighborhood in Naples. Ferrante’s depiction of this neighbourhood is utterly compelling: claustrophobic and deeply marked by violence, a place where the political and domestic are inseparable from one another. Having left for another life, Elena’s position in this neighbourhood is tenuous and her homecoming lacks the bittersweet quality often associated with such a return. Meanwhile, Lila has grown into a powerful figure among their friends and families, not without putting herself at risk. The bond between the women is as fraught as ever, by turns taut and then slack, always oscillating between fear and desire that one or the other might drop their end of the rope.

The confessional tone of these books and the author’s own mysterious absence from public life inevitably suggest these works are autobiographical, and none more so than The Story of the Lost Child. Here, Ferrante explicitly looks at the act of writing and how it impacts on life. The power of words is a recurring theme in the series; from the copy of Little Women the two girls buy in book one, through to Elena’s ambition as a writer now. This emphasis on the power of words is fitting for these books, whose own words have wielded their power over me. The Neapolitan Novels are among the most important in my reading life. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Bronte Coates