It pecked away at me - it reinforced the many small and big things I had seen and experienced as a young female and adult in an Italian family: the lowered expectations for girls of a certain class, the disrespect accorded them, the inordinate emphasis on physical beauty and sexuality, the achingly painful aspirations of the two girls Elena and Lila who wanted more, so much more.
Ferrante’s eye is unsparing and unsentimental towards Italian family life. Lenu’s mother is dreadful – mean spirited, cold and physically repulsive - she initially objects to Lenu’s small summer adventure. If she is unhappy why should her daughter be happy? This last item might seem a small literary distinction but to have an Italian born writer cold-heartedly analyze the patriarchal nature of working class life and wade through the treacly stereotype of maternal love in Italian culture is truly revolutionary for this reader.
I admit that I was lukewarm on the plot until the wedding scene. Lenu observing Lila at the church:
"As a child I looked to her ... to escape my mother. I had been mistaken. Lila had remained there, chained in a glaring way to that world from which she imagined she had taken the best."Lila is now trapped in her role at sixteen. Inspired by Nino's intelligence and seriousness, Lenu vows to escape her family, her neighborhood, her life.
What follows for Lila is horrifying ... and must be discussed in book 2.