There are taboo subjects when it comes to motherhood – things that mothers might think about but rarely, if ever, talk about. Having favourite children; fantasisng about simply walking out and leaving the family to look after themselves; resenting children for robbing you of career or life aspirations; feeling jealous of your own children and their opportunities; judging other women’s’ parenting; loving your children but not ‘liking’ them very much. Mothers, are you squirming?
“The hardest things to talk about are the ones that we ourselves can’t understand.”
Elena Ferrante delves into the ‘unspokens’ of motherhood in her novel, The Lost Daughter.
The Lost Daughter is a short but intense story about a woman named Leda. She’s middle-aged, divorced, and alone for the first time in years when her daughters leave home (in Italy) to live with their father (in Canada). Leda’s initial, unexpected sense of liberty turns to ferocious introspection following a seemingly trivial occurrence while she’s on holiday in an Italian seaside town.
“No one depended anymore on my care and, finally, even I was no longer a burden to myself.”
When fiction makes you pause and really, truly consider your own lot in life, it’s good fiction. The story is written in the first-person and Leda’s stream of consciousness is unflinching, uncensored and incredibly real. Ferrante writes in such a way that it makes it very difficult for the reader to be judgmental – is any mother ‘perfect’? No. Are there things you would do differently if you had your time again? Yes. Ferrante exposes a brutal, emotional side of mothering and whilst many readers may (uncomfortably) identify with bits of Leda’s story, the plot takes Leda to darker places.
Despite The Lost Daughter being a short novel (125 pages), it has some beautifully crafted plot twists that force you to rethink the character of Leda (for that reason, avoid reviews that have spoilers). Furthermore, despite being short, Ferrante has included an interesting generational story (which in turn is a play on the title) – essentially Leda does all that she can to escape her own upbringing, strives for something quite different, only to question what she has –
“…despite my breaking away, I haven’t gone very far.”
Which prompts a question that I have often considered – do we parent in the same way that we ourselves have been parented? I had this discussion with someone many years ago who vehemently claimed they were breaking the mould (whether they did remains to be seen) but I think for better or worse, we often repeat what we have observed growing up.
4/5 Unexpected and unnerving.
There are a few foods mentioned in this story, the most significant being fresh oranges. To go with Leda’s seaside setting, try this refreshing orange granita from Grub Blog.