The Lost Daughter

The Lost Daughter

By Elena Ferrante

"Books, once they are written, have no need of their authors."


Nobody knows who Elena Ferrante really is.

An Italian writer, she (could be a he, but everyone assumes…) is mainly famous for her coming of age Neapolitan novels. Ferrante has been named one of the 100 most influential people of 2016 and believes that keeping her identity separate from her writing is key to her process.

With this information under my belt, reading The Lost Daughter became a much more delicious experience. While it is one of her shorter books, it came highly recommended as a good one to start with.

Leda, a middle-aged Neapolitan, has had a busy life as an English Literature professor and family woman. She’s had two daughters and one divorce, and the time has finally come for her stresses to simmer down, now her daughters have left home. She packs up and ditches Florence to spend the summer renting a beautiful house by the sea.

It’s a slow start for such a small book. Leda is an elegant, mature woman who drapes herself upon the beach from morning till evening, hardly eating and reading books. I’m almost lulled into boredom by the white washed wave and soft sand imagery, when the story picks up and a rowdy and unruly family arrives on the beach. Past the ideal Italian setting, the bliss of the sun and water, the beauty of the tourists that surround our main character, there is a discomfort in the language with which Leda talks about the people she observes.

At first she takes pleasure in spying on the relationship between a pretty mother and her daughter as they play with a family doll in the sand. But over time the two begin to irritate her and she doesn't know why, distracted by flashbacks of her own daughters, some of them not pleasant.

Eventually, drama breaks out because the child’s doll goes missing. The whole family turns the beach inside out, but it’s no use. Spoiler alert: Leda has the doll.

Strange right? Why would a grown-ass woman steal a little girl’s doll?

With this question in mind and some bad vibes at hand, we begin to understand her through her memories of motherhood. Ferrante creates a touching character, intelligent and distracted, cut off from her surroundings by her depth and anxieties. She looks back on small incidents that weighed a great deal to her, relating them both to us and the mother whom she meets.

This book is a good stepping-stone to understanding how our mothers feel or once felt. It is easy to forget that they are people with passions and problems as well as the nurturing figures we remember from childhood.

I can’t wait to read more of Elena Ferrante.

This article first appeared in Issue 20, 2017.
Posted 12:50pm Sunday 20th August 2017 by Jessica Thompson.