The Story of the Lost Child

by Elena Ferrante

Other authorsAnn Goldstein (Translator.)
Paper Book, 2015




New York, N.Y. : Europa Editions, 2015.


The Neopolitan quartet traces the friendship between Elena and Lila, from their childhood in a poor neighbourhood in Naples, to their thirties, when both women are mothers but each has chosen a different path. Their lives are still inextricably linked, for better or worse, especially when it comes to the drama of a lost child.

Media reviews

Ferrante evokes this unforgiving and opaque culture with great power. Its malevolence affects almost everyone.
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Ferrante’s accomplishment in these novels is to extract an enduring masterpiece from dissolving margins, from the commingling of self and other, creator and created, new and old, real and whatever the opposite of real may be.
[Ferrante] has charted, as precisely as possible, the shifts in one person’s feelings and perceptions about another over time, and in so doing has made a life’s inferno recede even as she captures its roar.
Elena brings up every objection to the entire endeavour that a reader might have. If it is so-called auto-fiction then why is it not a mess, like life? If it is the story of a friendship then isn’t every word a betrayal to that friend? If it is sincere and authentic, why is the author’s name on
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the cover a lie? Borders between autobiography and fiction dissolve, just as the edges of Lila (both her sanity and her body) blur, and Elena provides a continual commentary on this process. Rather than this being annoying and meta, the effect is to make the writing feel alive.
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Ferrante is no Balzac or Dickens or Trollope; she is not Zola or Tolstoy. Her narrator does not have the storyteller’s wider vision. Unlike War and Peace, Ferrante’s big book has a narrow lens, and her idea of friendship is more about shared experience than affection.
Ferrante’s writing seems to say something that hasn’t been said before – it isn’t easy to specify what this is – in a way so compelling its readers forget where they are, abandon friends and disdain sleep. It would be enough to have books in which we recognise the truth of women’s lives
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in all its darkness, but the Neapolitan quartet also has an almost deranging narrative pleasure, delivered in a style that’s more of an admission that the author cares too much about the truth to bother with style.
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Like the tough mothers in her books who refuse to coddle their babies, Ferrante might not give us the neatly wrapped finale we crave, but the one she delivers manages to satisfy, even while leaving us wanting more: more details, more closure, more of this fascinating, beguiling Story.
What words do you save? Here's your chance to bring them out, like the silver for the wedding of the first-born: genius, tour de force, masterpiece. They apply to the work of Elena Ferrante, whose newly translated novel "The Story of the Lost Child" is the fourth and final one of her magnificent
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Neapolitan quartet, a sequence which now seems to me, at least within all that I've read, to be the greatest achievement in fiction of the post-war era.
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I am not sure I have read a more frightening account of a friendship, or a more unsentimental view of the uses that human beings have for one another, even in the presence of mutual attachment. “I loved Lila,” as Elena writes. “I wanted her to last. But I wanted it to be I who made her
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With the three earlier installments of the quartet (“My Brilliant Friend,” “The Story of a New Name,” “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay”) and this stunning final volume, “The Story of the Lost Child,” Ms. Ferrante has turned the stories of Lila and Elena into an extraordinary epic
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that bridges six decades and unfolds into a portrait of a neighborhood, a city in transition and a country lurching through the second half of the 20th century into the next.
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This, Ferrante seems to say, is what happens in the world of women, and though much of the book is devoted to women’s more frequently discussed problems—such as how they are supposed to go out to work and raise the kids at the same time, and, if they do have work, work they care about, how come
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this still seems to them secondary to their relationship with a man?—it is the exploration of the women’s mental underworld that makes the book so singular an achievement in feminist literature; indeed, in all literature.
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The series is a unique achievement that marks its pseudonymous author as one of our most audacious, interesting novelists.
Lost Child does not stand independently and despite the summaries in the Index the uninitiated reader will struggle to understand the story, which begins in medias res, as if Elena were beginning a new sentence rather than a book. Elena herself is not an engaging narrator.
Now, in the final piece, “The Story of the Lost Child,” Ferrante has two mature lives to work with: weddings, divorces, children, affairs, bitter rivalries, successes and failures, regrets, grudges, fears and a few remaining hopes. Learning from the multivolume sagaists who have preceded her,
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she shows much skill in writing those enormous histories into this narrative about two grown women choosing the paths their adult lives should take.
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The breadth of vision makes this final installment feel like the essential volume.
While avid devotees of the Neapolitan series will be gratified by the return of several characters from earlier installments, the need to cover ground in the final volume results in a telescoped delivery of some plot points.
This stunning conclusion further solidifies the Neapolitan novels as Ferrante's masterpiece and guarantees that this reclusive author will remain far from obscure for years to come.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lit_chick
2015, Blackstone Audiobooks, Read by Hillary Huber

In this final Neapolitan novel, Lila and Elena are in their mid-30s to mid-50s. Life’s whims and joys and disappointments have been experienced – and when tragedy strikes in this final installment, they will know great loss. Still, their
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friendship remains a central staple in both of their lives, in spite of the different paths they’ve chosen. Elena, who moved to Florence when she married, has now returned to Naples, where she continues to enjoy success as a novelist. Lila, who has become a successful entrepreneur, has never succeeded in freeing herself from Naples, but her personality is somehow mirrored in her proximity to the city: perilous, unmanageable, seductive. As they age, the women continue to clash, drift apart, reconcile, only to clash again – and in the process, Ferrante reveals new facets of their friendship.

In my review of the previous novel, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, I commented that whatever attracted the two women to Nino Sarratore completely escaped me. So I found it humourous and satisfying to see the women’s thinking at last align with mine. Lila, for her part, ignores Sarratore, and even finds his political embarrassments amusing. Elena has this to say (LOL!):

“Then Nino arrived and all he did was talk loudly, joke, even laugh, as if we were not at his mother’s funeral. I found him large, bloated, a big ruddy man with thinning hair who was constantly celebrating himself. Getting rid of him, after the funeral, was difficult. I didn’t want to listen to him or even look at him. He gave me an impression of wasted time, of useless labor, that I feared would stay in my mind, extending into me, into everything.” (Epilogue, Ch 2)

I thoroughly enjoyed The Story of the Lost Child, and commend Ferrante for a fine conclusion to her quartet. I recommend the series highly, and endorse the audiobooks for those who like to listen: Hillary Huber is fabulous!
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LibraryThing member Larou
The Story of the Lost Child is the fourth and final of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. It circles back to the first volume in at least two regards: it finally catches up with the frame narrative that started off My Brilliant Friend and in it both Raffaella / Lila and Elena / Lena return not
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only to Naples but to the neighbourhood where they spent their childhood and adolescence.

While the previous novels each spanned several years, this final one spans decades, roughly from the eighties into the 21st century, this incorporating both middle and old age of its protagonists. This shows how close Ferrante’s narrative nestles up against experience, and I mean not only in its content but in the specific way it is told – here, it mirrors the way time passes at varying speeds during different ages; a year is a very long time for a child who has not lived through many, but it passes almost without being noticed for someone who has experienced a considerable amount of them. I think everyone has noticed how time passes faster as we grow older, and Ferrante lets her series of novels reflect that structurally by giving her protagonists’ early years more room than their later ones. I am trying to avoid spoilers here, as this novel still is fairly recent and it continues to deploy a soap-operatic narrative strategy to keep the reader hooked, so I won’t be giving away any details of what is happening in The Story of the Lost Child (not that I am big on plot summaries in any case), and confine myself to saying that the feminist / political element is receding almost completely into the background (almost, but not quite – and the reader should be so sensitized by the previous novels to sense its presence even when the narrative does not shine a spotlight on it) in favour of the private circumstances of and relations between Lila and Lena.

That relationship has been at the core of the novels throughout, of course, and not the least impressive thing to admire about the Neapolitan Novels is how it has been changing constantly. Weirdly, that is something where soap opera and psychological realism meet – the first because it needs to keep the story going and thus can’t allow anything to remain static: basically, soap operas are in constant flux, there are continuous reveals of supposedly hidden sides to a character’s personality which in turn determine their various relationships. While that kind of layer cake psychology (as I like to call it) is not exactly realistic, it might end up looking very much like realism once you follow a relationship over decades as it happens in Ferrante’s novels, a period during which extreme changes in any kind of relationship are realistically almost inevitable. The difference between the two is of course that psychological realism is bound to stay within the bounds of plausibility while a soap opera emphatically is not limited by that – but this difference certainly is gradual rather than absolute, and it may be argued that in the final analysis plausibility is just another literary trope. From whichever perspective you view it, the friendship between LIla and Lena never ceases to fascinate, the way their lives revolves around each other, both drawn to and repelled by each other like twin stars, the way each mirrors the other’s hopes and desires, one always seeming to have attained what the other is lacking, and finally the way the course of this friendship traces the developments in Italian from the 1950s into the 21st century.

Like the previous volumes, The Story of the Lost Child pays close attention to language – the way it is used to not only mark geographical but also class distinctions, and how command of language, knowing how to write or talk well, can give some degree of power which is not bound to social status or financial wealth (although attaining that command will of course be greatly facilitated if one’s family is influential or wealthy). A power which can also be used to hurt – something that paradoxically not the writer Lena but Lila appears to be more aware of, maybe because, as the narrator keeps reminding us, the Neapolitan dialect Lila is speaking is inherently aggressive. So Lila attempts to erase herself out of existence like a failed novel while Lena finally finishes the memoirs of her friendship which she started at the beginning of A Brilliant Friend and publishes them, knowing this will hurt her friend’s feeling even as it might revive her failing career as an author, and so the book comes full circle in yet another regard, as that book is possibly the one we have been reading, this causing the series to metafictionally turn back upon itself. Or does it? The book Lena publishes is a referred to as a slim volume, and slim is something the Neapolitan Novels certainly are not. The circle does not quite close, there is a gap left, and in a way it is that gap which all four novels (all but the first of which are designated as “Storia” in their original Italian titles, by the way) has been revolving al the time, spinning its tale of friendship and power, of love and violence in that small but unclosable space between reality and fiction.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
The final book of the Neapolitan series of Elena Ferrante.
I'm glad I read this series, and I enjoyed the books, but my enthusiasm was waning a little by the end. While the core of the series is the relationship of the two friends, and plot is not central, I was disappointed by the lack of plot
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finalisation in this book. I can't help thinking that if plot was to be optional, then the plot scene setting at the start of the first book (Lila gone missing) should have been omitted.
But I quibble - great characterisation (and the novelty of Lila is marvelous) and great moody background of Naples, the culture of honour, and Italy more generally.
Read Jan 2017
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LibraryThing member _janson_
A breathless sovereign capstone.
LibraryThing member mjlivi
What an astonishing achievement this series of books is.
LibraryThing member SarahEBear
The final in Ferrante's Neopolitan quartet does not disappoint. This book brings fills in the final stages of the story of the friendship between Elena and Lila into the 21st century and into their older years. It is a magnificent story covering women's interpersonal relationships, good and bad
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decisions, the political and social climate in Italy (particularly Naples) and the process of coming to terms with ageing. I'm devasted to have finished reading the series. A must read.
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LibraryThing member creighley
Elena, bookish and brilliant and a feminist, and Lila, fiery and uncontainable, are now adults with husbands, children, aging parents, and careers. Their friendship is the center of their lives. Both women fought to escape the neighborhood they grew up in. Elena manages to do so while Lila becomes
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ensnared in it. A wonderful story of friendship with all of its pitfalls, kindnesses, and wonders.
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LibraryThing member charlie68
I was trying to think of words to describe this book. Opaque, complex, femine, insightful, profound, complicated and at times long winded.
LibraryThing member asxz
Wow. Despite reading the three previous volumes, this was still an emotional gutpunch that took me by surprise. I don't think I will ever fully understand the relationship between these two complex women, Elena and Lila. I'm not even sure if we're supposed to think that the whole thing had been
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written by Lila in the end mimicking the voice of Elena. It was all tragedy and parenting and learning to love yourself in one enormous emotional bundle that felt essentially Italian and wholly of our time.

These books have been a revelation. Unashamedly soapy. Unapologetically about women. Determinedly literary. A hugely satisfying experience.
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