Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions)
Brief (139 pages) but one of the most riveting and intense books about mothers and daughters (!) I’ve ever seen. I liked her second novel, The Days of Abandonment (published in English first), which I had picked up at one of Heathrow’s book kiosks. That was one entire stream-of-consciousness rant of a very highstrung Neapolitan woman who’s just been dumped by her husband. Reading that, I thought Ferrante’s the most earthy, most urgent, most torrid writer I could think of working today. But this one’s even more deeply felt, more frenzied, more deranged, and it’s again set in a gritty Naples milieu where machismo and self-hatred (over peasant origins, dark skin and bristly black hair) color all daily actions.
The 45 year old heroine’s mother has been found drowned, wearing only her bra, and the heroine goes — again, in the course of just a few days — tracking down what happened. There was a lover involved. Relatives get drawn in. It’s part detective story, part Freudian analysis, part primal hysteria, all of it tainted in blood, soiled underwear and even stickier memories. Ferrante’s got a wonderful eye for everyday menace. Her alert (and winningly overwrought) descriptions of minutiae are as fiery as Nicholson Baker’s are cold — see especially her multi-page descriptions of tram rides and trips to lingerie stores. Of the coarse ladies “striped with stretch marks and dented with cellulite” trying on bras in gold or silver and chattering in a regional dialect, she writes: “They were women forced into a city-prison, corrupted first by poverty and now by money, with no interruption.”
Elena Ferrante is the pseudonym of the writer. Ann Goldstein (whose translation is remarkably fluid) is, apparently, an editor at The New Yorker.