Review: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay & The Story of a Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

The first two books of the Neopolitan series, My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name, felt familiar to me. I had covered all the years that had thus far spanned Elena and Lila’s story, I understood all their anxieties and self-loathing, their happiness and success.

So when I moved into the years of their lives that I hadn’t traversed, it was both strange and wonderful. Suddenly characters who were at once themselves and me, suddenly became just them. We moved our separate ways, and I look forward to rereading these books in years to come, where more and more Elena and Lila’s life reflect some of my own.

‘In this third Neapolitan novel, Elena and Lila, the two girls whom readers first met in My Brilliant Friend, have become women. Lila married at sixteen and has a young son; she has left her husband and the comforts of her marriage brought and now works as a common laborer. Elena has left the neighborhood, earned her college degree, and published a successful novel, all of which has opened the doors to a world of learned interlocutors and richly furnished salons. Both women have attempted are pushing against the walls of a prison that would have seem them living a life of mystery, ignorance and submission. They are afloat on the great sea of opportunities that opened up during the nineteen-seventies. Yet they are still very much bound to see each other by a strong, unbreakable bond.’ GoodReads.


Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous and a world undergoing epochal change, the story of a lifelong friendship is told with unmatched honesty and brilliance. The four volumes in this series constitute a long remarkable story that readers will return to again and again, and every return will bring with it new revelations.’ GoodReads.

As usual Ferrante writes wonderfully, and I loved every second of reading. My only separation from the story came as the characters moved on in their lives to children and marriage, something which I know nothing about.

One strange thing these brought out of me was to put me off having children. I could see myself being a mother like Elena, who frustratingly often put her own happiness above those of her children and was punished for it in short and long term ways.

Elena so often insists to herself that she is nothing like Lila or this magnificent view of her  friend she has in her head. For Elena, their friendship is unmatched until Lila does something that seems sneaky, and then Elena goes over and over what the possible motive could have been. Lila is an unknowable, she hides behind so many layers no one truly knows her. This makes her both an attractive mystery and frustratingly aloof.

Their friendhsip, as always, is the center of the story, and as adults their lives take turns that seem even more heartbreaking than the horrors of their youth. We are present with events that conclude, and events that don’t – knowing only as much as Elena is allowed to know. Like Elena the reader is never quite a member of the community and are held at an arms length.

In the Neopolitan novels, Ferrante has created a glorious tale of friendship and life, and I cannot wait to read other books she has written (I’ve already devoured The Days of Abandonment).

7 thoughts on “Review: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay & The Story of a Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

  1. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this series, I really should get around to reading it. I like the idea of female friendship being so thoroughly explored over a long period. I feel like it’s a topic that sometimes gets sidelined in favour of romantic plotlines, which is a real shame.


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