The Days of Abandonment is a novel about that cliché of all clichés: the wife whose husband has left her for another (younger) woman. Of course, it’s Ferrante, so what she makes out of this trope is a narrative that is stunning in every sense of the word.

The wife in question here is Olga, and from start to finish she is the backbone of this slim but potent novel, every inch of the story deeply and viscerally tied to and animated by her state of mind. The novel is not about Olga so much as it is her. With the first line of the novel–“One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me”–we witness this rupture in her life, and then the rest of the story is left to pick up the pieces in the wake of this rupture. And reader, it is not a pretty picture: this novel works precisely because it is so unrelenting in its depiction of the absolute intractability of Olga’s thoughts and feelings. To say that Olga is “sad” because her husband leaves her is to do a disservice to the unflinchingly brutal way in which Ferrante crafts her perspective. Olga is not merely “sad,” she is unmoored, she is dissociating, she is furious, she is crude, she is helpless, she is violent, she is desperate–throughout the novel, you can almost feel the pages warping under the sheer force of her emotions, their almost breathless quality. All of this is to say, Ferrante takes you to the lowest of the lows of this woman’s life, and then makes you stay there. There is this middle chunk of the novel that takes place over a single day and it is just brutal; chapter after chapter of Olga struggling to get a hold of herself, to ground herself in something, to escape what feels like an inescapable situation.

“Something in my senses wasn’t working. An interruption of feeling, of feelings. Sometimes I abandoned myself to it, at times I was frightened. Those words for example: I didn’t know how to find answers to the question marks, every possible answer seemed absurd. I was lost in the where am I, in the what am I doing, I was mute beside the why. This I had become in the course of a night. Maybe, I didn’t know when, after protesting, after resisting for months, I had seen myself in those books and I was in a bad shape, definitively broken. A broken clock that, because its metal heart continued to beat, was now breaking the time of everything else.”

If it’s not clear already, The Days of Abandonment was a difficult novel to read; indeed, finishing it felt like coming up for air. Despite this, though–or rather, because of it–it was a novel that was well worth the read. Ferrante’s writing transforms the cliché of the abandoned woman into something that is as compelling as it is viscerally affecting: Olga knows she is cliché, Ferrante knows she is a cliché, we know she is a cliché–and yet Olga is devastated all the same, and we are left to witness all the tangled and painful fallout of that devastation. And I think that’s exactly the point: The Days of Abandonment is not really interested in reinventing this cliché so much as depicting its bloody aftermath, zeroing in on all those ways (psychological, emotional, intellectual, financial, logistical) in which marital abandonment is not simply an uncoupling–wife detaches from husband–but a violent tearing apart.

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  1. Excellent review that reminds me of the intense lived experience of reading this novel, one stifling hot summer.
    I remember then reading ‘Ties’ by Domenico Starnone ((translated by Jhumpa Lahiri) Andrew having this sense of deja vu, it reads like a response.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you so much! i read it in the winter so it very much matched the gloomy winter atmosphere where i was, but i can imagine how it would also suit a stifling summer day. “stifling” is the perfect word to explain the atmopshere of this novel!

      Liked by 1 person

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