The Story of the Lost Child is the final of the Neapolitan Novels, a marvelous tetralogy by Elena Ferrante that tells the decades long story of a female friendship. Through these four novels, Elena Ferrante has told the life story of Elena (Lenú) Greco and Raffaella (Lina) Cerullo from their childhood to old age and through those sixty some years, she also told the story of their neighbors, of Naples, and of Italy.
Elena Greco is the narrator, telling you the story of her life-long relationship with Lina. The first novel began when the final novel finishes, with Lina disappearing and Elena not being terribly worried about it. In more than one way, this fourth novel brings us back to the first, closing the circle on this sixty year friendship between Elena and Lina.
Like the other three novels in this series, the writing is simple, direct and confessional. Ferrante is not trying to write epigrammatic sentences or highly stylized paragraphs that will be copied and pasted onto pretty pictures and shared in memes for the rest of the digital era. She is a naturalistic writer, her words seem like a conversation sometimes with the reader and sometimes with herself. Taken as a whole, this tetralogy is an amazing accomplishment, but even more stunning is the ability of each work to stand alone, a cohesive story in itself.
Elena and Lila are fascinating. Two brilliant women, Elena, the well-educated one, is a successful novelist and political thinker who writes opinion pieces, is on television discussion panels and active in literary and political circles of the elite. Lila never went past fifth grade, married young, worked in brutalizing jobs and struggled for years for self-determination and independence and dignity. And yet, Elena always seems to envy Lila and we can understand why. Lila has a life force that burns bright – with ambition, pride, anger, justice, passion. She is always living. Elena often finds inspiration in Lila’s ideas, too, though sometimes it seems that Lila thinks and Elena writes.
And Lila envies Elena sometimes, while also admiring her, pitying her, and feeling contempt for her. The one thing that they don’t feel for each other is indifference and their life is a constant orbit, sometimes closers, sometimes far apart.
This last novel tells of their mid life and later years. We learn of the great tragedy that is mentioned in this first novel and see the connections that Elena makes with that past. This life is as tumultuous and violent as their younger years, Naples is just as corrupt and it seems that everything is an endlessly repeating cycle.
I enthusiastically recommend the entire series. Many series begin strong and peter out by the end, but this feels like it was really just one book, written all of one piece, and then just broken up into four in order not to intimidate us from reading it. I love these two women and will miss them now the book is done. I want more.
- My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One
- The Story of a New Name: Neapolitan Novels, Book Two
- Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Neapolitan Novels, Book Three
- The Story of the Lost Child: Neapolitan Novels, Book Four