On Delia’s birthday her mother died, drowned wearing her expensive new bra, her engagement ring, and the ear-rings given to her by her estranged husband almost fifty years earlier. Desperate to make sense of the confusion surrounding her mother’s death, Delia embarks on a journey through her native Naples, seeking the truth about her mother, her family and herself.
Troubling Love (L'amore molesto), Elena Ferrante’s second novel to be translated into English, is a meditation on the inherent struggle between mothers and daughters. The struggle between the generations of women within a family is territory often explored by writers; Ferrante brings a freshness to the worn narrative by adding complexity and examining the nature and validity of memory. How valid is anger toward one’s mother if the memory of events isn’t even correct?
Ferrante explores the consequences of abuse within the family and attitudes toward domestic violence. Amalia’s brother Filippo believes she had no reason to leave her husband, even though he beat her in front of strangers and her children. Amalia's husband inflicted harsh punishments on her body for the crime of drawing attention to herself, "protecting her" from other men's eyes. The abuse was so pervasive that the children felt they must protect her from touch as well, placing their bodies between their mother and strangers, to prevent the violence from erupting at home.
Despite the beatings Amalia’s husband gave her, he repeatedly painted her as a half-naked gypsy. This inconsistency calls into question his reasons for the abuse. Logically, Ferrante must wish reader’s to view the violence as an issue of control, for just days before her death, Amalia’s husband visits her apartment to beat her once more.
Female children grow up wishing to become their mothers, having their mother’s body. In Troubling Love, Ferrante has created children drawn into complicity with their father’s abuse, guarding Amalia from his violence while at the same time believing it was justified. Ferrante asks, in this situation, can a girl grow up without destroying her mother? In the evolution to become a woman, must a girl, who feels she’s betrayed her mother, excise the mother from her life in order to live with herself?
For such a slender volume, Troubling Love is not an easy or quick read. Significant issues are raised which require contemplation and repeated readings. Ferrante’s writing is raw and earthy, describing bodily functions with a level of detail to which readers may be unfamiliar. Her blunt use of language communicates the urgency and disorder experienced by Delia, drawing readers with her on the journey of discovery.
by Janelle Martin