I haven’t covered the entirety of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels — in fact, I only wrote about the third — and I kind of expected to leave it at that, as while each novel is remarkable, the first three are rather remarkable in the same way: they’re all about the push-and-pull between two friends growing up together in Naples and their power dynamics and their multi-faceted journeys through life.
Consequently, I didn’t expect the final novel in the series — THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY — to stray much from the path, and I certainly didn’t expect to be penning this, but here we are.
THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY escalates matters far more than the prior novels. Time passes rapidly. Lenù and Lila age significantly. The undercurrent of the mafia bubbles up to the surface. Technology becomes foregrounded. Families are ripped asunder. Stagnation sets in for some, while others find solace in wildness.
This is a true epic of lives lived, and as always Ferrante deftly handles it bluntly, but also artfully. Ferrante’s prose is so succinct and exacting; she is so dialed into the inner voice of Lenù that you feel like you’re inhabiting her as the scales fall from her eyes.
While I feel that Ferrante could have drawn all of this out further, going more in-depth about Lenù and Lila as they navigate their older years, this seems like a fittingly spry end to their tale. It’s satisfying, poignant, melancholy, and often even angry. In other words, a perfect encapsulation of the Neapolitan novels.