10 Books Everyone Is Talking About This Fall
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
By Elena Ferrante
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is the third volume in Elena Ferrante’s deliciously addictive Neapolitan series. In an expansive yet intimate feat of storytelling, the three novels narrate the intriguing tale of a pair of women whose lifelong relationship is their touchstone and their burden. We meet Lila and Elena in the first book, My Brilliant Friend, as young girls living in a treacherous working-class neighborhood in Naples in the 1950s. Lila is dazzling—a stunning beauty, self-confident, volatile, at once seductive and dangerous. She shines at school, and the conviction in her small hands when she hurls rocks at bullying boys is unmatched. Elena, who lacks Lila’s fearlessness, crouches in her friend’s shadow. Both girls come from a long line of women held down by poverty and violent men and dream of escaping that fate.
Only Elena succeeds. In the second installment, The Story of a New Name, she starts to forge her own identity, receiving recognition for her writing and meeting her husband-to-be, a brilliant student from a worldly family. Lila, who has stayed behind, finds herself working as a common laborer. But in this third book the fulcrum shifts. Elena begins to feel wobbly and undefined and questions her own notion of success. She is tortured by the idea that Lila is more real, more worthy than she is. Yet she feels that she can never be fully herself until she is freed of the need for her friend’s approval. She imagines Lila’s resentment of her achievements, even though Lila encouraged her to leave Naples for both of them. These novels are thrilling in the way they probe how a childhood attachment can live on to shape, twist, and threaten to destroy us, even as our paths and personalities diverge. There is no escape. As Elena prepares to break from the life she’s known, Lila is there to warn, or haunt, her: “You’re a fool.”
— Sonali Deraniyagala