Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay: Book Three of the Neapolitan Novels (Europa editions, 2014) 418 pages
Lenu returns to her family home in Naples before the wedding, drowning in her mother's hostility and resistance to her modest, areligous wedding plans. Pietro must (and does) charm the Carraci family - the hostile mother, the under-confident father, the boorish siblings. (Later we learn from Lenu’s biting perspective that Pietro is only natural when dealing with his “inferiors.”)
Soon Lenu is summoned to Lila's bedside; Lila is ill and appears to be dangerously hallucinating. Lila speaks of her experience in the sausage factory where she works: the harsh working conditions, the sexual harassment of female employees, the interminable hours, the brutality of Bruno the owner and one time friend of Nino's. Meek, gentle Bruno has become the ruthless, abusive employer who invites female employees into a private room to sexually harass them and suppresses union activity.
As Lila becomes more politically active, she also immerses herself in the violence surrounding the labour conditions in the factory. Anti-union fascists clash with left wing activists - Lila notes with surprise old friends and neighbors on both sides of the political conflict – on the factory grounds. Lila is blamed as she had provided information about conditions at the factory. After being summoned to Bruno's office, Lila encounters her old nemesis Michele Solara who, it appears, has been paying Bruno to keep her employed. After suffering through his insults, Lila quits in a rage - an act of rebellion she can ill afford.
Lenu takes charge of Lila and her child using all of her power and in-laws' contacts to protect her friend - obtaining her final wages, seeing to her medical needs, caring for Gennaro. We see the advantage of class and connections that Lenu's pending marriage to Pietro affords - access to the best doctors, lawyers and political contacts. But an encounter with her old professor and her daughter Nadia, who has taken up with Pasquale, a construction worker from the old neighborhood, present a different slant on Lenu's involvement in the affairs of the factory. Conditions have worsened they say bitterly - those brave ones who agitated for reform were punished, those were remained silent rewarded. Worse, for Lenu, her professor appears to have more respect for Lila's efforts than Lenu’s writing and barely speaks of Lila's book. Ah, the ego of a writer. Lenu leaves mortified and angry.
Her brief sojourn in Naples reveals a group of unhappy and dissatisfied friends and family. What use are all the fine things that Lenu has purchased for her own family if she cannot bear to be with them? Despite her marriage to Michele, Gigiola bitterly complains that Michele is still in love Lila and treats his wife like a whore. Alfonso confesses he is gay and marries Marisa only to escape detection of his true desires.
Once married and living in Florence, Lenu immediately becomes pregnant regardless of her desire to put off bearing a child for a while. Lila meanly predicts difficulties ahead for Lenu and has somehow “jinxed” Lenu’s pregnancy. The child has trouble latching, likely has colic and Lenu is worn down caring for both child and household. We finally see what Pietro is made of - apparently not much. He resents Lenu's complaints of being overwhelmed, does little to help her and even complains when his mother comes to assist them. There is some sort of bitterness between mother and son – does he resent his mother's professional accomplishments? Would he prefer that Lenu remain a devoted housewife and mother whose career is secondary to his? It is a terrible realization for Lenu - no matter what your class or status - in this society, at this time, your needs are always secondary to your male partner's.
When Lenu learns that Bruno, the factory owner, has been savagely murdered in his office she first suspects that it is Lenu who was responsible – but the truth is more shocking than that. The leftist violence seems to engender a desire in her to leave and join the orgy of violence and percolating revolutionary strife rather than remain a wife and mother.
Reluctantly, Lenu bears a second baby. She appears to withdraw into a more domestic role, her confidence shattered. But unlike Lenu, Lila appears to be excelling - obtaining a career in the computer industry with Enzo, now her partner, and forging a relationship with Solaras’ businesses much to Lenu’s horror. Lenu cannot escape the old neighborhood when her sister begins to live with Marcello Solara, when the Solara matriarch is murdered, when she learns that Bruno was likely murdered by Nadia and Pasquale. Violence in the old neighborhood continues - old friends die or are beaten for their political beliefs. The subtext is ominous – she will never escape from these people, from the violence and treachery, from the sense of degradation and self-hate.
Lenu attempts a second novel. Pietro is uninterested in her progress. Her mother-in-law dislikes it and even Lila appears repulsed by its explicit content. Marriage appears a kind of nightmare which "stripped coitus of all humanity". Pietro disappoints, motherhood disappoints; she feels that her education has been for naught.
And then re-enter Nino, our presumptive Prince Valiant of the Naples slums who approves of her creative efforts and urges her to finish her second book (is there a more potent aphrodisiac for a progressive woman – a man who thinks you are smart and a talented writer?). Now married with a rich if vulgar wife and a son, Nino befriends Pietro only to betray him.
Shockingly (am I the only reader to think so?) Nino and Lenu start an affair. She demands that he leave his wife, he demands she leave Pietro. Both do and in the final scene they are aboard a plane to France. Is it possible that Lenu will finally be happy? On to Book Four …