Bold, intense, unsettling – Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante

It’s been more than a year since I read Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. I’ve read all four book in less than two weeks and I was impressed by her forceful elegance, the way she captures complexities and contradictions of Naples, and the unusual perspective on friendship. It got me wanting to read more of her work.

This week, I decided to read her debut novel, Troubling Love, an absorbing story that explores the complex relationship between mother and daughter. It is a bold, intense, unsettling and sad book that reads as a psychological thriller.

Delia, the protagonist and narrator, finds out that her mother Amalia, has drowned on her way to visit her, in Rome. The strange circumstances of Amalia’s death, set in motion a series of events that leads Delia in a journey back in time, in the poor and oppressive neighbourhoods in the ­periphery of Naples, where she was born and grew up. It is a journey motivated by memories of her own past, the dark background of the mother-daughter relationship, an exploration of the self.

Delia traverses Naples in search of clues, she tries to trace her mother’s final days and what led her to take her own life.  Revisiting As she moves from one place to other Revisiting places that used to be with her mother as a child and excavating her childhood, a sense of disgust, suffering and fear emerges. She relives, the violence, the sexual aggressions and the horrors of her family life. Through her eyes and through her body, we get the portrait of Amalia, a beautiful and vibrant woman, who has been abused and humiliated by a pathologically jealous husband.

“It wasn’t innocent blood. To my father nothing about Amalia ever seemed innocent. He, so furious, so bitter and yet so eager for pleasure, so irascible and so egotistical, couldn’t bear that she had a friendly, at times even joyful, relationship with the world. He recognized in it a trace of betrayal.”

The only way to evade the cruelty and daily violence in a society shaped by a viciously patriarchal culture, was to get away.