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À mon chevet: 'La figlia oscura'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
He had never really believed that I could go without the children. Instead I left them to him, and was gone for two months; I never called. It was he who hunted me down, from a distance, harassing me. When I returned, I did so only to pick up my books and notes, for good.

On that occasion, I bought dresses for Bianca and Marta, and brought them as a gift. Small and tender, they wanted help in putting them on. My husband took me aside gently, asked me to try again, began to cry, said he loved me. I said no. We quarreled, and I shut myself in the kitchen. After a while I heard a light knocking. Bianca came in, very serious, followed by her sister, timidly. Bianca took an orange from the tray of fruit, opened a drawer, handed me a knife. I didn't understand, I was running after my own desires, I couldn't wait to escape that house, forget it and forget everything. Make a snake for us, she asked then, for herself and Marta, too, and Marta smiled at me encouragingly. They sat in front of me waiting, they assumed the poses of cool and elegant little ladies, in their new dresses. All right, I said, took the orange, began to cut the peel. The children stared at me. I felt their gazes longing to tame me, but more brilliant was the brightness of the life outside them, new colors, new bodies, new intelligence, a language to possess finally as if it were my true language, and nothing, nothing that seemed to me reconcilable with that domestic space from which they stared at me in expectation. Ah, to make them invisible, to no longer hear the demands of their flesh as commands more pressing, more powerful than those which came from mine. I finished peeling the orange and I left. From that moment, for three years, I didn't see or hear them at all.

-- Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter (translation by Ann Goldstein), p. 91
Elena Ferrante published this little book in 2006, on the heels of her extraordinary The Days of Abandonment. The two books feel like companions, both narrated by women whose marriages have unraveled and who struggle with ambivalent feelings toward their own children. It takes place largely on the beach, a place of openness and possibility in Ferrante's books, which brings it closer to some important passages in the Neapolitan novels. All the narrators of Ferrante's books have this clinical self-regard, this pitiless assessment of their own shortcomings, and the style is pithy and yet abundantly rich, making the experience of reading them quite gripping, with very few stretches where the reader's mind wanders. I also have this translation to thank for introducing me to the word tohu-bohu, which Goldstein sets in italics: if someone has the Italian edition, please let me know if the word, as I suspect, was used (it's on p. 120) in some form by Ferrante. It is a Hebrew expression, used in Genesis to describe the formless chaos of the earth before creation.

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