The Story of the Lost Child is the concluding volume of Elena Ferrante’s tetralogy, The Neapolitan Novels. However, it is possible to read it as a pitiless reappraisal. The architecture of the first three novels is pleasingly compact. In the last, the fictional constructions explode. Ferrante announces that unlike ‘great’ writers, she will not shore literary fragments against our ruin. Disconcertingly, we are the ones who are cast (out) into the world.
The narrator bears the first part of the writer’s pseudonym. Elena Greco seems to be telling her own coming-of-age story: from the porter’s daughter in a working class district of Naples to a successful author. Elena’s life is interwoven with that of her brilliant friend, Raffaella Cerullo, or Lina, or Lila, and Lila’s story defies categorisation. She appears in heart-breaking avatars through the tetralogy: an exceptional student, a Jacqueline Kennedy-like teenage fiancee, an entrepreneur, a mortadella factory worker, a single mother, a wizened eccentric woman. Helplessly, we watch her expend her brilliance in grappling with crime. Her story is about disassociation and a blurring of boundaries but mainly about a throbbing, aching absence. After her future is wrested away by a bizarre, but believable, dastardly act, she cuts herself out of family photographs and disappears, a woman warrior who wilfully rides into oblivion.