The first quarter of this book was as good as the last was bad. The opening two chapters were hilarious (and I don’t use that word lightly), but then my enjoyment started to deteriorate until it reached bottom with the introduction of THE GUN. Of course all existentialistic novels deal with death in some way or another, sooner or later, however to bring it up just like that, like nothing had happened, with a casual emergence of this silly object that just shows up and occupies all the minds of all the characters, is just too much. The little essence they haven’t lost up until this point is gone and all that is left are the mannequines of author’s copied philosophical ideas. I always hate when ideas become predominant and make the story itself unimportant and incoherent, yet it is rarely done in such a transparent way.
To condemn values of Victorian origin it is necessary to demonstrate that they cannot overcome some of their essential antagonisms. If a critique of questionable morals is the intention of this book, the second part is more vague, since it lacks any struggle worth struggling for. We get to meet a young woman without many redeeming qualities that lives only to charm man-kind. She fights for nothing but her right to annoy, which meets some reservations among others, readers as well. “All I want is a little fuss” she tells us and summarizes her motives.
If the author’s intention was to show that any person, no matter how superfluous she may be, deserves freedom and acceptance, it would be a wonderful book, with all the steady rhythm and clarity of style. But he seems to claim the opposite – all that lies under the petty social judgments are some innocent actions performed by harmless girls, and so such social standards are worthless. And although he tries to make a tragic hero out of her, he lets her stand out only in her poise, for her mind stays old-fashioned, as men remain her only interest. Maybe that’s how changes always form, first comes form and then comes the content. But I think it would be better if he just put less fantasy and more life into it.
The perfection of this novel lays only in its title, for a handful of dust is the exact description of the reading experience it provides and to some extent, its content. The fragile remains of the barely lively activity called reading this book would be swept away with the last page, if not for the purpose of writing this review. The book had so little impact on me that I, after finishing it last night, already have troubles remembering the theme.
It’s a story about privileged people of the last century, their deceits and similar troubles, built on lots of external happening, chattering and characters that are like the buzz in the spring – all over the place, but without knowing where they’re coming from or going to. Their final destination sure is surprising and constitutes one of the best parts of the novel, but before we reach it, gossip serves as the only tool to get in touch with them. As it is with gossip, it slips away with the change of perspective. It could be a witty conduct, but is just boring and unavailing.
I started reading this after finishing the Neapolitan novels, hoping to extend the exiting journey that Ferrante took me on. With such high expectations, I was bound to disappointment. It’s not that the book is bad, it just seems as a distant echo of her saga, with similar themes (closeness, domestic violence, clingy Napels), but without the captivating drive that would bind the reader to the pages. Maybe the problem lays in the outlines of her characters, which are too vague and dreamlike to give a novel a solidified reality that the author tries to convey. Or perhaps she grasped this reality in Neapolitan novels so thoroughly, that all her other work will feel as lacking something.
This kind of book is difficult to find – it moves with great ease and vibration, yet it doesn’t give you the nervous feeling of wasting your time with yet another contemporary exploration of the depths of everyday life (that are only the depths of boredom and complacency as it is with Knausgaard, with whom Ferrante is often compared).
Although this novel is written in an autobiographical way as well (it’s a story of two girls, growing up in after-war Naples), the author is aware that in order to produce something valuable, it is not enough to live and write about it. She knows how to transmit that life to her book, how to give it its own force. You end up sucked into the whirl of friendship and its tensions. It is as picturesque and noisy as a novel can get without turning the psychological insights and interpersonal dynamics into soap opera. In my opinion, it’s a perfect holiday book and you get two new friends out of it.
The book kept me captivated until the very end, I was, however, suffering the whole time. Even afterwards – I felt like I’ve inhabited the protagonist’s struggle to wake up from an alcoholic delirium with an unspecified feeling looming over me, as if something unknown yet distinctly horrible had happened to me. It didn’t help that in this case the reason was obvious (the book!) and that my memory of it was all too clear. The story is not only about a drunkard (and perhaps a murderer? No spoilers), but also written as if a drunk would have written it. Not a bad thing by itself, yet here only the limitation of such a state were shown. It was just a prolonged version of the numb, repetitive, disoriented anguish experienced in a drinking stupor. The reader is stuck in this womans head, a place where not a single sober thought points to the exit.