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Troubling Love

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Set in Naples, Italy, this debut novel by New York Times bestselling author Elena Ferrante (My Brilliant Friend, The Days of Abandonment) tells a story about mothers and daughters and the complicated knot of lies, emotions, and shared history than binds them.

Following her mother's untimely and mysterious death, Delia embarks on a voyage of discovery through the chaotic, suffocating streets of her native Naples in search of the truth about her family. A series of mysterious telephone calls leads her to compelling and disturbing revelations about her mother's final days.

As the New York Times wrote about this novel, "the raging, torrential voice of the author is something rare." Troubling Love is indeed a rare look into the abiding preoccupations and obsessions that bring millions of readers all over the world to her fiction.

139 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1992

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About the author

Elena Ferrante

27 books14.6k followers
Elena Ferrante is a pseudonymous Italian novelist. Ferrante's books, originally published in Italian, have been translated into many languages. Her four-book series of Neapolitan Novels are her most widely known works.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,863 reviews
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
964 reviews6,816 followers
March 7, 2022
I felt that she imagined herself caught between two sets of pupils, expropriated by two gazes.

Patriarchal societies don’t exactly have a good track record for women to occupy their own space, including their own bodies. The agency of the female body is central to Elena Ferrante’s debut novel, Troubling Love, and in this case it is a dead body found floating in a lake. Amalia, the narrator’s mother, has been found in a fancy bra she shouldn’t have owned in a lake en route to see Delia in Rome. Released in 1991, Troubling Love immediately put Elena Ferrante—a pen name for the anonymous author—on the literary map as she was awarded Italy’s prestigious Elsa Morante award. The short novel is a tightly knit terror of memory under the shadow of obsession and the ‘impression of looming violence’ as the narrator, Delia, finds herself in her childhood hometown as she pieces together the final days of her mother’s life. The past never stays buried and Delia finds herself haunted by the abusive men that discolored her childhood as they still roam a city depicted only in rot and ruin. Ferrante paints Naples as a dark landscape and with Troubling Love she delivers a gritty examination of women’s agency, mother-daughter relations and the fragility of the psyche.
Anna Bonaiuto as Delia in the 1995 film adaptation.

To speak is to link together lost times and spaces,’ Delia states, and the novel finds her past flooding back into her present, at times creating slipstream scenes where the Amalia of the past haunts Delia’s waking reality.Among the resurfacing past are the abusive of her childhood and what quickly unfolds is a tale of violent jealousy and a love triangle around Amalia that forever ended the friendship between Delia’s father, a painter, and his friend and salesperson, a man who goes by the name Caserta. It takes the cliche of young love triangle stories and infuses it with violence and suspicion, with Delia’s father assuming every motion of Amalia is an act of betrayal and frequently beats her under the assumption it is what she wants and deserves. Among these men, Delia is stuck with her Uncle as her only companion a man who ‘For forty years he had continued steadfastly to declare solidarity with his brother-in-law’ instead of his own sister, and was part of an act of violence against Caserta, accused of adultery.

In the present, these men are ‘drowning in undigested emotions,’ such as her father who, after punching his own daughter when she returns to see him is revealed as ‘just an old man deprived of any humanity by frustration and rage.’ After Amalia leaves him, he frequently followed and harassed her. Even Caserta has remained in lust for her, and in Amalia’s final days likely spent a few days out of town with him. As Delia runs about town quite literally with her mother’s dirty laundry (well played, Ferrante), she begins to question and understand her mother’s actions and theorize why, exactly, she came to be found a suicide in a lake with a curiously young wardrobe left behind.

I remember the horror and I feel it again every time someone in this city opens his mouth.

The backdrop for the novel is a Naples drenched in descriptions of decay. Everything in the novel has ‘a strong odor’, the streets are full of lustful men touching her with groping hands or with leering eyes, and each scene is written to be damp and dirty. Nothing is pleasant and even the one sex scene, sex that was ‘compliance without participation’ is queasy and ‘without a moan, as if he were feeling no pleasure.’ Ferrante builds a tone of repugnance in every element of the novel, with bodily fluids being a frequent motif and metaphor.

For the body, particularly Amalias, is the central element in this book. We watch her body be dressed undressed, both literally and figuratively, as commentary on the male gaze and how Amalia was unable to escape from being only a sexual body to be exploited by those around her. Her own husband, in a toxic muse scenario, becomes a popular artist through a series of paintings oversexualizing his own wife’s body for profit. ‘[M]y mother bore inscribed in her body a natural guilt,’ Delia tells us, ‘independent of her will and what she actually did.

A patriarchal society denying women the agency of their own selfhood is a frequent theme in Ferrante novels, one that is curiously mirrored in the scandals around her own attempts at anonymity. While Ferrante insists everything anyone needs to know about her is contained in her novels, there have been frequent attempts to unmask her, one particularly uncomfortable attempt even being printed by Claudio Gatti who insists her attempt to be anonymous makes it fair game to expose her and delved into housing and financial records of women to claim he found the true author. This is a pretty weird invasion of privacy, but one in keeping with Ferrante’s theme of men denying women a space of their own, including their own identity. In an interview with Vanity Fair she discusses how the attempts to unmask her stem from a misogyny, particularly the frequent insistence that she is actually a man. Personally, I don’t care to know who the ‘real’ Ferrante is, and I like to see her anonymity as a sort of performance piece that functions as an extension of her already impressive work.

Returning to Troubling Love, this guilt over the body has passed into Delia as well. Early in the novel we find her desiring to remove herself from the mother’s body and ‘had wanted to eliminate every root I had in her, even the deepest.’ As the novel progresses, she goes from wearing the dress her mother purchased for her to wearing her mother’s own dress, metaphysically occupying her mothers body and thoughts. ‘I didn’t want to be “I,” unless it was the I of Amalia.’ She cannot separate herself, past or present, from Amalia.
My mother, who for years had existed only as an annoying responsibility, at times nagging, was dead. But as I rubbed my face vigorously, especially around the eyes, I realized with unexpected tenderness that in fact I had Amalia under my skin, like a hot liquid that had been injected into me at some unknown time.

The book becomes highly engaging here, with the mystery mostly wrapped up but an internal struggle just beginning. Something Ferrante excels at is undoing the genre in which she is writing writes in, as she says herself in In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing, detailing how as Delia tries to ‘adhere to the fixed rules of a small mystery story, until everything—the mystery genre itself&begins to break apart.’ We are left only with Delia’s version of events and guesses, the novel so firmly embedded in her flakey consciousness and no other version of the story to compare notes.

The story must be more fragile or more interesting than the one I had told myself.

Initially I was underwhelmed with Troubling Love. It can be a bit obtuse and drags in the middle, but as the short novel concluded and the pieces came together it began to really charm me. This is a cerebral thriller, one without many thrills beyond the psychological, and the more I pondered this novel upon conclusion the more I was charmed by it. Ferrante is a fabulous writer and this caustic little book was only her early promise of what was to come.


Childhood is a tissue of lies that endure in the past tense
Profile Image for Emily.
743 reviews13 followers
February 8, 2017
I absolutely love Ferrante's writing style, but even that couldn't save the bizarre content of this book. The concept had so much potential: a daughter trying to learn the mystery of her mother's death with only a few clues. In 140 pages (which seemed more like 500), we basically read about a woman on her period running around Naples with a bag of her mother's underwear. When I wasn't confused about what was happening, I was just disturbed. Ferrante is a terrific writer, but please pass on this one.
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,442 followers
February 21, 2023
3, 5*.

Într-un articol din The Guardian dedicat cărților ilizibile, John Sutherland întreba odată dacă 8 milioane de cititori se pot înșela cu privire la valoarea unui roman. El se gîndea la unul dintre romanele lui Haruki Murakami, 1q84. Și cuteza să răspundă: „Da, se pot înșela, cum să nu?”. Cred că toți împărtășim părerea lui.

Din această pricină, sînt mefient ori de cîte ori publicul cititor de pretutindeni e cuprins de extaz. Mă retrag din mulțime și mă opresc la un clasic, măcar pînă cînd trece zarva. Prefer, așadar, să citesc altceva, un volum prețuit numai de trei cititori sau de unul singur. Sau de nici unul. Elogiile fără măsură ale jurnaliștilor m-au constrîns o vreme să evit cărțile Elenei Ferrante. Ditirambii pot strivi un autor. Nici cărțile lui Faulkner, nici cele ale lui Bellow, nici cele ale lui Saramago n-au stîrnit exaltarea și stările mistice care au însoțit (și însoțesc) „Tetralogia napolitană”. Extazul m-a făcut prudent.

Am citit, totuși, Iubire amară. Să tot fie vreo patru ani de la acest eveniment misterios din existența mea, dar n-am scos un cuvînt. A sosit momentul mărturisirii. Îmi pun în cap patrafirul și încep. Voi fi sincer: mă așteptam la un roman mediocru. Am parcurs, în schimb, un roman decent, scris cu precizie și cruzime (mai ales, cruzimea mi-a plăcut). Analiza psihologică e necruțătoare.

După moartea mamei sale (nu știm dacă a fost sinucidere sau accident), Delia (45 de ani) merge în Napoli pentru înmormîntare și, în chip firesc, se întoarce în trecut. Își aduce aminte că a avut un tată violent și despotic, de o gelozie morbidă, pictor ambulant, și o mamă supusă și lipsită de orice inițiativă: „mama mea avea întipărită în trup o vinovăție naturală, gata să apară, la nevoie, în orice gest, în orice suspin, independentă de voința și de gesturile ei”. Delia este convinsă că între ea și Amalia nu a existat nici o afinitate (fizică sau spirituală) și că sînt două ființe complet diferite. Tot ce urmează îi va arăta că se înșală.

Întîmplările din Napoli (întîlnirea cu prietenul din copilărie, Antonio, o brută, urmărirea lui Caserta, tatăl lui Antonio, un maniac obsedat de Amalia, vizita în atelierul tatălui ei decrepit, la fel de ursuz ca întotdeauna) și anamneza o fac să înțeleagă un adevăr pe care nu voise niciodată să-l accepte: a invidiat-o pe Amalia și una dintre minciunile ei a avut consecințe dureroase pentru femeie. Și-a disprețuit mama din cauza propriei greșeli. Concluzia e una singură, în Delia nu e mai puțină Amalia decît în Amalia însăși:
„În timp ce-mi frecam faţa viguros, în special în jurul ochilor, mi-am dat seama cu duioşie neaşteptată că o aveam pe Amalia sub piele, ca un lichid cald, care-mi fusese injectat cine ştie cînd”.

Un roman mai bun decît m-am așteptat...

P. S. Iată și o metaforă minunată: „Bine instalat în scaunul maşinăriei, controla cum, din bidonul înclinat, curgea gudronul dens şi lucios al părului Amaliei care, întinzîndu-se pe pietriş, scotea aburi şi vălurea aerul. Părul mamei mele era smoală...”.
Profile Image for Agnieszka.
258 reviews932 followers
February 20, 2019

An unpleasant and disturbing read. Everything feels ugly here. Postwar Naples with its dirty streets and unkempt flats, overwhelming poverty and general aura of failure. Women subjected to all kind of abuse and domestic violence, men shown mostly as malicious and meanspirited individuals.

Ferrante seems to write the same story over and over again. I gave already up trying to understand the phenomena of her writing. I gather it's her unbending honesty, raw and unpolished, that unmitigated lack of sentimentality in portraying of surrounding reality endeared her so many ardent readers. She doesn't bother to be nice. The novel feels nasty. And love feels the same. Husbands are abusive, lovers lecherous and descriptions of internal scenes to put it mildly feel rather awkward.

The novel doesn't disappoint the readers accustomed to Ferrante's style and themes but to tell the truth neither enraptures them. Troubling love was her debut but it already heralds all motives the author pursues in further novels. Not sure it's the best place to start with her writing, though. It definitely left me with kind of uneasiness. Her style is not very refined, I find it quite clumsy in fact so fans of beautifully crafted sentences let better seek them elsewhere. But she has kind of magnetic power that still draws me in. Though I didn't decide yet what it is.
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,078 followers
July 19, 2018
It’s as if Ferrante were channeling Georges Simenon here, in her first novel, and doing quite a good job of it. Though the great fornicator never had this in depth take on women, being so terribly busy objectifying them.

A woman in her sixties is found in the ocean “at a place called Spaccavento, a few miles from Minturno.” She’s wearing nothing but an expensive bra, not her style at all, according to the narrator, the dead woman’s eldest daughter. This daughter, Delia, is not sound. She is assailed by a quasi-Modernist stream of consciousness. She has hallucinations during her waking hours, or is it her imagination running away with her? She also spends a lot of time detailing her dreams. The writing hurtles along. I was going to say it has a certain velocity, but that would understate matters. The profusion of images and detail is often dazzling. But who is the old man, Caserta, and what was his relationship to the now dead mother, Amalia? Who is the fellow Delia meets in the lingerie store, from which the bra was purchased? Why was Amalia’s crazy hack-artist husband driven to insane rages whenever another man would so much as look at her? Is that why she left him, taking her three daughters, 23 years ago? Was she, in fact, unfaithful, or were these the imaginings of a psycho spouse? And since Delia, our narrator, seems unhinged, too, well . . . I should add that meticulously worked into the narrative fabric is a harrowing story of spousal abuse. This should, hopefully, motivate you to get the book. At only 139 pages you’d think the reading would go faster, but it’s so beautiful that it slows this reader down. After all, one doesn’t gulp great wine.

Having read all 7 Ferrante novels, I now turn to her letters and essays, Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,489 reviews2,373 followers
April 23, 2020
I've heard marvellous things about Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels by many a reader, so what possessed me to want to read this as my first I really don't know. I found Troubling Love to be a nasty little novel, and I can't think of much that I liked about it at all, other than it's Naples setting.
At the expense of trying to tell a story, Ferrante seems more interested in constantly reminding the reader that her narrator is indeed a woman with lines like - "I undressed and took out the tampax: my period seemed to have abruptly ended. I wrapped the tampon in toilet paper and threw it in the wastebasket" Yes, of course these things happen, but do we really need to read about them. When was the last time you came across something like - 'I urinated into the pan, flushed, and washed my hands' or ' I brushed my teeth, flossed, and then decided to trim my pubic hair in the shower' Hardly ever I'd say. What's the point? How can we learn anything of a person through such things. Other than their mundane bathroom habits are the same as everybody else. Because of this, and other things, it felt like there was a putrid aroma hanging over the whole novel, with stained underpants being mentioned quite a lot, stale apartments, and even flowers and tap water are described as having a terrible smell. Every few moments I felt like getting up to go and scrub myself down. In there somewhere there is a sexual-psychological mystery going on, as Delia (the narrator) returns to Naples from Rome to not only attend her mother's burial, but to poke around into her suicide as well. This leads to childhood memories resurfacing, as she starts to gather details about her unpleasant father and her mother's late-life romance before she ends up floating in the sea.
I'm sorry, but I just found it all rather boring, and I struggled to find any feelings for any of it's characters. Even an explicit sex scene, Anaïs Nin style, about two-thirds of the way through, couldn't stop me from almost dozing off. It's a shame, as I do generally love Italian lit, and apart from the odd nice sentence that I admired here and there, overall, this really didn't do anything for me.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books816 followers
February 10, 2017
Based on the two Ferrante novels I've read so far (the other being The Days of Abandonment), I predict the title of this one will describe my relationship with all her works. Though I wasn't as drawn in at first by the narratorial voice here as I was with that of "Days", I ended up feeling much the same about both. They are not novels I can say I've enjoyed as they are so unsettling, but each has gotten under my skin and stayed there. Here too are abandonment issues: an anxious child unreasonably (perhaps) fearing that the better parent will leave her; the bad parent feeling abandoned by those he'd terrorized, including the anxious adult the narrator Delia has become.

An abusive, controlling husband and a obsessive lover (or is he?) are not the only ones Ferrante seems to indict. The "casual" misogyny is horrifying too: men who stare at, or even rub up against, girls and women on public transportation; men who follow teenagers on errands in their working-class neighborhoods, drawing close to the frightened girls to hiss obscenities, and laugh. Delia has heard these obscenities since she was a very young child and can no longer tolerate her local dialect, preferring to speak formal Italian instead, which in turn makes those in her hometown uncomfortable.

Though I feel anxiety doing so (I think this is what is termed an addiction), I've just requested The Lost Daughter from the library ...



I'd thought I was reading Ferrante's novels in publication order, but I discovered that this (1991) actually came before "Days" (2002).

I've noticed the same quirks in both books: instead of semi-colons, commas mostly are used to join complete thoughts; and the word "definitively" is used rather often.


Updated (Feb 11):

I'd wondered if the first 'quirk' I noted above was due to the translator's trying to get a sense of the Italian into the translation. This is from the translator herself:

'... what we would think of as a run-on. But of course Italian can do that, I mean, for one thing there are genders, so you can have an adjective not near its noun, because you know from the ending that it goes with that noun, but in English you can’t do that. Things have to be closer together or connected by clauses, like, “who is,” “that is,” “that was,” whatever. But they’re very full sentences ...'
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,172 reviews8,386 followers
February 10, 2017
3.5 stars While not my favorite of Ferrante's novels (it was her debut after all), I'm still impressed by her voice. Even from her very first published novel, Ferrante seems to be so sure of what she has to say—or at least confident in approaching touchy subjects and asking big questions. This book hits on a lot of major themes that resurface in Ferrante's later works: mother/daughter relationships, the male gaze, female bodies, identity crises, etc. And while it was a bit rough around the edges, literally and figuratively (Ferrante doesn't avoid 'crude' topics), Troubling Love—in Italian, L'amore Molesto, a very apt title—is thought-provoking, intense and riveting. Perhaps it is easier to appreciate after having read later works by the author, but nonetheless it's an impressive debut and Goldstein's translation is flawless.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews604 followers
February 9, 2017
Those images of us from so long ago were yellowed, cracked, like the figures of winged demons in certain altarpieces that the faithful have defaced with pointed objects.

There's something devilishly chaotic about this first novel by Elena Ferrante. Somewhere in this infusion of memory and psyche wrapped in a blanket of refined language, are hidden clues and a mystery to be solved. Somewhere in this mother-daughter relationship is a meshing of two generations of women and one quickly realizes that this is not only a story about the mother, that there are two stories occurring simultaneously. Memory is fragile, and oftentimes the past intertwines with the present and childhood recollections blends into a story told by an unreliable narrator. Sometimes it takes a visit from the past to bring forth truths and in this case, the story unravels as Delia seeks answers to a traumatic incident from her childhood, even if that incident is told in a fleeting paragraph that the reader must follow closely to uncover, even if that incident is hidden by the overriding story of a childhood with a father who was abusive to her mother. Things aren't always what they seem and as is her style, Ferrante elucidates a mood through stark imagery that at times is chilling. Yet unlike the structured messiness of The Days of Abandonment, the story arc here is a bit muddled, the inner workings of this narrator somewhat littered; however, if you want the brutal delivery of desire and emotion, this is it.
Profile Image for Auguste.
61 reviews171 followers
March 24, 2017
Ferrante has the unique ability to make you forgive - if not love - humanity at its most hateful.

Profile Image for Rae Meadows.
Author 7 books414 followers
June 12, 2016
Readers of Ferrante's other books will recognize familiar themes in her first novel--estranged yet intense mother/daughter relationship, violence in the home, violence in Naples, poverty, lascivious and aggressive men, disassociation from self, the body, the body, the body, particularly a woman's body. This book definitely suffered for me having read all her other work and seeing the themes better developed in later work.

Delia's mother has drowned in an apparent suicide, and Delia goes back to Naples in search of her mother's essence, the mystery that surrounds her final days, her later life that may or may not have been spent with a (lewd) man from the old neighborhood who courted her forty years before. As in The Days of Abandonment, Delia is coming undone, so the reader never quite knows what is her warped perception and what is actually the case. Men are violent, abusive, disgusting, and sexual predators who spew crude filth in dialect, but Delia is no victim. (After a sexual encounter with a man she'd known as a child: "But at the same time I was grateful for the small dose of humiliation and pain he had inflicted on me.")

Ferrante is never far from the "uneasiness of bodies" in this book (and in all her work). A memory Delia has of her father and mother:

"Once he was certain that a man in the crowd had touched her. In front of everyone he slapped her: in front of us. I was painfully astonished. I was sure that he would kill the man, and I didn't understand why, instead, he hit her. Even now I didn't know why he had done it. Maybe to punish her for having felt in the fabric of her dress, on her skin, the warmth of that other body."

"Our father did not appear to us at all exceptional, slovenly as he was, fat, bald, unwashed, his sagging pants smeared with paint."

On poverty and her mother:
"Once, the sewing-machine needle pierced the nail of her index finger, came out the other side, went up and in again, three or four more times. Well, she stopped the pedal, then started it up, but just enough so she could get the needle out, bandaged the finger, and went back to work."

I'm tempted to bump the review up to four stars because of Ferrante's singularity alone, but I can't say I loved reading this book. It is almost entirely without light, which makes for a difficult read.
Profile Image for Marko K..
137 reviews140 followers
August 29, 2021
Nešto između 2.5 i 3 zvezdice. Malo haotičan, vidi se da je ovo prvi roman Elene Ferante, ali opet sadrži sve ono što kod nje volimo. Teme u romanu su takođe ono što viđamo u njenim romanima kasnije - odnos roditelja i deteta, odnos prema ženama, Napulj, mučne ljubavi. S obzirom da ima 140 strana, okej je knjiga za sve koji vole Ferante, ali nije roman zbog kog ćete se zaljubiti u ovu spisateljicu. Sve u svemu, not great, not terrible.
Profile Image for Fiona MacDonald.
721 reviews172 followers
January 13, 2018
Elena Ferrante has such a beautiful and lyrical way of writing. This time she tackles the painful subject of the death of Delia's mother from suicide. The novel plays as a love letter, interspersed with past and present memories Delia has of her life and relationships with her mother, her father and siblings. I think to be honest whatever topic Ferrante writes about is just a pure joy to devour.
Profile Image for Susan.
121 reviews
February 1, 2017
Susan: Europa Editions, is Italy as depressing and confusing as it appears to be from a survey of your catalogue?

Europa Editions: Unenlightened Reader, what makes you think Italy is depressing? It is MAGICAL, as these two books, Troubling Love and From the Land of the Moon , clearly show.

S: Can you explain how confusing illusion for reality because of severe emotional trauma is not depressing?

EE: It’s not depressing because it’s a way of coping with ugly emotions and problems. Sure, you Americans feel comfortable writing about brutal rape and abuse and the like; you have your Oprah’s Book Club lists. But in the history-laden towns of Italy, these things cannot be mentioned. Instead they form parallel lives that live with the ghosts of ancestors. And that’s beautiful, not sad.

S: But isn’t Italy the same country that has a prime minister who paid women for sex at his “bunga bunga” sessions? How can Italy possibly be squeamish about dealing with these things?

EE: Pshaw. Bunga bunga sessions are for the youth, the 17-year-olds. Elena Ferrante’s novella was about the older generation of Italians. Good people who grew up in traditional families where fathers can abuse mothers and women can gasp at the decadence of buying new underwear.

S: Again, marital abuse and repairing underwear for forty years because you can’t afford to buy new…sounds rather bleak.

EE: Not really, because (a) marital abuse as the consequence is what makes romantic affairs so exciting, and (b) tattered and stained underwear is erotic—you did read the book, didn’t you?

S: Yes, I read the book, and I’m still disturbed by the old man’s fetish for the mother’s patched panties. It played completely into the Gross Old Man stereotype.

EE: But old people are unfathomable in their old people ways! It’s deep.

S: No, women who lie about their mother having an affair to deal with a Gross Old Man who molests her are unfathomable when they take a break from chasing their mother’s “lover” in order to jump into bed with the lover’s son. Especially when they’ve conveniently forgotten to mention that the sexual attraction is a perverted lingering feeling from childhood sexual experimentation at the same time as the molestation.

EE: See, it really is thought provoking.

S: In the “wtf?” sort of way.

EE: But you learned something from it; there were such intricately developed themes! It was SERIOUS LITERATURE.

S: True, I did learn some things: the whole book was sick, modern Italian literature published by you is dark and too stream-of-conscious to be fun reading, and 127 pages of this sort of thing feels as long as 500 pages of any other writer.
Profile Image for Anita Pomerantz.
660 reviews122 followers
February 10, 2017
A "1001 Books to Read Before You Die" book that should be on a list called "Books You Shouldn't Read Before You Die Unless Someone Is Paying You. A Lot."

Not sure how a 139 page book can seem so long and unnecessarily convoluted, but this one managed. It is the story of Delia, daughter of Amalia. Amalia drowns in the sea wearing only a beautiful lace bra, an item of clothing she would never wear. Sounds good so far, right?

And that's where the good part ends. The rest of the book is a mish mash of Delia trying to determine what has happened to her mother and flashbacks to a past riddled with domestic violence and other abuse.

I love a good dark story, but this book was just not good.

- First, it is laden down with description. I love beautiful prose, and maybe this prose is beautiful in Italian. In English, the amount of description just overwhelmed the story. Honestly, I didn't find it was helping me visualize the scenes well, and isn't that the whole point? Some of it was well done, but it was just too copious! The book felt like all it did was tell me things . . .it is all narrated and nothing comes alive. With the exception of one sex scene between Delia and a former childhood friend that is just kinda gross.

- Second, I didn't give a rip about any of the characters . . .I chalk that up to poor character development, and for me, if you don't get that right, the book generally is a failure.

- Finally, and worst of all, it is difficult to tease out what is memory, what is fantasy, and what is reality in this book. I guess that's the point, but I never felt as certain as I wanted to be about what was going on.

It is as though the writing was designed to obfuscate. And I can see why because the ending is truly not satisfying. This book is not written as a mystery where suspense and tension build and the end culminates in satisfying way. It's more of a psychological study of a mother/daughter relationship, but not in a way that you care about either the mother or the daughter.

This book had echoes of Atonement from a plot standpoint except Atonement was done about 20x better. And some would argue that Atonement isn't that great either. Stylistically, this book was far inferior to me, but it had a similar plot driver and also kept the reader at arms length.

I gave the book two stars because I think the idea of it had potential and because some of the description was very good even if there was way too much of it and much of it bored me. But in case it isn't clear, I really didn't enjoy it.
Profile Image for Michela De Bartolo.
163 reviews56 followers
August 27, 2018
L'AMORE MOLESTO e' un libro sulle pene dell'esistenza , una narrazione raffinata dell'incomprensione, del dolore, di un insano rapporto di protezione e di accusa , di rancore e di amore tra una madre e una figlia.L’autrice è molto brava a celare l'evoluzione del racconto, e' un romanzo in cui si avanza con cautela perche' un presagio infausto si avverte ad ogni riga di questa penna viva, psicologica, sottile e tremendamente concreta. L’amore più doloroso e difficile, più ambivalente è senza dubbio quello tra figlia e madre. E’ un amore minato dalla paura dell’abbandono, dalla sfiducia, dalla ambiguità della città figura materna e infine dal senso di colpa della figlia sia per la morte della madre che per la vita della madre. Il senso di colpa esplora anche il sentimento di gelosia per la madre, un sentimento maschile simile e quasi più forte della gelosia ossessiva paterna. Con la sua scrittura la Ferrante ,fulmina l'anima che si contorce come una serpe dalla testa mozzata, uno sbattere a terra nervoso che puzza di carne bruciata.
Profile Image for Fabian.
956 reviews1,623 followers
September 24, 2020
Woman here: portrayed as a loaded weapon. And as a sponge.

A powerful debut, "Troubling Love" expertly meshes personal drama with (Italian) national themes. Themes like mysoginy, turpid histories, violent families. Because the men are a certain way, women are a certain way... But unapologetically, Ferrante displays her protagonist in full splendor; even if the plot is not terribly strong, her Naples is a creature of beauty and danger; her Delia even more so!
Profile Image for Roula.
521 reviews147 followers
April 23, 2021
Έφτασε λοιπόν και για μένα η στιγμή να μπω στον κόσμο της Έλενα Φεραντε, ύστερα από ένα πολύ μακρινό κακό timing πριν κάποια χρόνια που ειχα πιάσει το πρώτο μέρος της 4λογιας της και πίστευα ότι δε μου κάνει. Η γυναίκα (?) αυτή είναι λοιπόν ένα φαινόμενο. Κανείς (?) δεν ξέρει ποια είναι, οι υποθέσεις πολλές, όπως και οι ειδικοί και μη που προσπάθησαν να αναλύσουν τα γραπτά της ε��ώ και πάρα πολλά χρόνια. Το αποκορύφωμα ήρθε όταν το 2016, μέσα από λογαριασμούς, εισπράξεις και φορολογικά, βγήκε το συμπέρασμα ότι η Φεραντε ίσως είναι μια μεταφράστρια που τυγχάνει να είναι παντρεμένη με τον συγγραφέα domenico starnone που έχει γράψει "τα κορδονια", ενώ αργότερα άλλες έρευνες πανεπιστημιακων στα γραπτά της, κατέληξαν στο συμπέρασμα ότι φεραντε και starnone, έχουν τόσα πολλά κοινά στα βιβλία και τον τρόπο γραφης, ομολογουμένως, που μάλλον είναι το ίδιο πρόσωπο (WHAAAAAAAAAAT?????).

Ο, τι κι αν συμβαίνει, σίγουρα όλο αυτό το θέμα της ανωνυμίας δεν είναι ο μόνος λόγος που ιντριγκαρει και γοητεύει το κοινό της. Συγκεκριμένα, εδώ, στο πρώτο της έργο, που δύσκολα κάνεις μπορει να διανοηθεί οτι ένα τέτοιο βιβλίο είναι το πρωτο βιβλίο μιας συγγραφέα, η Φεραντε θίγει ένα θέμα που όπως είδα, απασχολεί πολύ τα έργα της. Τη σχέση μητέρας κόρης. Μια σχέση δοσμένη μέσα από την αγάπη που φτάνει στα όρια μανίας, εθισμού και σε περιπτώσεις αδυναμίας να ξεχωρίσεις ποια είναι ποια. Η Ντελια χάνει τη μητέρα της από πνιγμό κάτω από αδιευκρινιστες συνθήκες και έτσι βουτάει κυριολεκτικά μέσα στο παρελθόν της, στα παιδικά της χρόνια, στη βία της οικογένειας της, προσπαθεί να δει τη μητέρα της πιο αντικειμενικά, ως ενήλικη πλέον, αλλά κάτι τέτοιο αποδεικνύεται πολύ δύσκολο μιας και δε μπορεί να διαχωριστεί από εκείνη. Η γραφή της Φεραντε είναι σκληρή, ωμή, σε πολλά σημεία χάνεσαι, μπερδεύεσαι, απαιτείται να τα ξαναδιαβάσεις, αλλά προσωπικά μου αρέσουν πολύ οι συγγραφείς που τολμούν να σκάβουν πιο βαθιά από το συνηθισμένο και να φέρνουν στην επιφάνεια πιο σκοτεινά συναισθήματα και εικόνες. Το βιβλίο αυτό αν και μικρό, τα έχει όλα :συναίσθημα, μυστήριο, αγωνία, βία, αλλά κυρίως έχει τη γραφή της Φεραντε που όσοι την έχουν γνωρίσει, τους έχει κατακτήσει και το ίδιο πιστεύω πως θα συμβεί στο εξής και με μένα..

"Τι αφελές και απερισκεπτο καμουφλαρισμα ήταν να προσδιορίσω ως "εγώ " αυτή την αναγκαστική φυγή από το σώμα μιας γυναίκας, παρότι του είχα αρπάξει κάτι λιγότερο από το τίποτα. Δεν ήμουν κανένα εγώ. Κι ήμουν μπερδεμένη : από τη στιγμή που εκείνη δεν υπήρχε πια και δε μπορούσε να με αντικρούσει, δεν ήξερα αν αυτό που ανακάλυπτα σιγά σιγά και έλεγα στον εαυτό μου μου προκαλούσε περισσότερο φρίκη ή απόλαυση. "
Profile Image for Carmo.
666 reviews472 followers
February 5, 2017

Não vale a pena fugir ao passado, quanto mais se foge mais ele nos persegue, até nos morder os calcanhares e nos moer de pancadaria, até o enfrentarmos e darmos de caras com a nossa própria cara. Às vezes, do que fugimos é de nós mesmos e o reencontro pode ser tão doloroso quanto necessário.

Escrita expressiva, de uma honestidade cruel que magoa e seduz.
Profile Image for Frona.
27 reviews33 followers
February 7, 2017
I started reading this after finishing the Neapolitan novels, hoping to extend the exiting journey that Ferrante took me on. With such high expectations, I was bound to disappointment. It's not that the book is bad, it just seems as a distant echo of her saga, with similar themes (closeness, domestic violence, clingy Napels), but without the captivating drive that would bind the reader to the pages. Maybe the problem lays in the outlines of her characters, which are too vauge and dreamlike to give a novel a solidified reality that the author tries to convay. Or perhaps she grasped this reality in Neapolitan novels so thoroughly, that all her other work will feel as lacking something.
Profile Image for Susana.
489 reviews149 followers
September 17, 2021
(review in English below)


Tirando uma ou outra passagem, em geral esta história não me cativou.
Juntando isso à sensação opressiva, quase claustrofóbica, que me incomodou durante a leitura deste texto tão denso, não consegui gostar propriamente desta primeira novela da autora.

(lido na coletânea Crónicas do Mal de Amor)

2.5 stars

Apart from one or two scenes, I didn't find this story captivating.
There was also an oppressive, almost claustrophobic sensation, that bothered me all the time while reading this very dense text.
All in all, I cannot say I liked this first short novel from Ferrante.
Profile Image for Marcello S.
531 reviews227 followers
February 9, 2017
L’Incipit finisce dritto nella categoria “se lo inizi in libreria difficile che non te lo porti a casa”.

Mia madre annegò la notte del 23 maggio, giorno del mio compleanno, nel tratto di mare di fronte alla località che chiamano Spaccavento, a pochi chilometri da Minturno.

Per essere un esordio (anche se di uno pseudonimo, quindi vai a capire) lo definirei una discreta bombetta. Meno rotondo e inquadrato rispetto a L’amica geniale. Nel confronto chiaramente non farei a cambio ma son due cose diverse.

Questo è quasi uno pseudo giallo sui generis con una morte piazzata lì all’inizio e un mistero da inquadrare meglio. Ci sono quel pizzico di disagio gretto e angoscia sottile, un rapporto madre figlia conflittuale, qualche immagine disturbante (si fa per dire, eh).
Il racconto si basa molto sulla fragilità della memoria che si trasforma in immaginazione e l’avidità di Delia di tirare fuori la storia a brandelli ci porta un paio di volte fuori strada.
A tratti i cambi di personalità lo rendono quasi visionario.

Perché alla fine le cose non sono (quasi) mai quello che sembrano. [72/100]

Dire è incatenare tempi e fatti perduti
Profile Image for Maria Yankulova.
736 reviews274 followers
July 1, 2021
Обичам стилът на Феранте! Това се оказа първата и публикувана творба. Мога да кажа, че не ми хареса особено - точно толкова, колкото и “Дни на самота”.
Летвата, която постави с Неаполитанската тетралогия е просто твърде висока. Въпреки всичко тя е от онези автори, чиито книги ще купувам веднага и без да се замислям.

Без коментар съм за безвкусната корица...
Profile Image for Ferdy.
944 reviews1,122 followers
February 6, 2017
Confusing, didn't know what the main character (Delia) was banging on about half the time. In the middle of scenes she went off on random tangents and delusions, I had to keep re-reading parts as it was hard to fully follow Delia's inner monologue and imaginings. By the end I still wasn't none the wiser as to what happened to Delia's mother or the part Caserta played or what Delia's weird feelings for her mother were. Worst of all though was the constant disgusting description of bodily fluids and various body parts, it added nothing to the story.
Profile Image for Marc.
3,109 reviews1,175 followers
January 20, 2019
This book is a real punch in the belly. I'm going to classify it with the works that dig deep into the dark side of men and women. The story is about the struggle of Delia, a middle aged woman, with the death of her mother, Amalia. Delia has fled her home town Naples in an attempt to break radically with her mother and (the separate living) father. But after the death (suicide?) of Amalia Delia tries to unravel the mystery around the life her mother has led. She finds no really satisfying answers, but instead is confronted with a lot of troubling experiences out of her own past.

The quest Ferrante describes not only presents a staggering image of the seamy side of Naples, but above all it illustrates the devastating effect of morbid jealousy, the impossibility to really communicate, and the inability to come clean with the past. The very cinematic approach makes the story rather easy to follow (there was a film made of this story). This novel was a surprising discovery (my first acquaintance with Ferrante), though not one that gives you happy feelings.
Profile Image for Hodove.
159 reviews170 followers
December 31, 2021
دلیا زنی ۴۰-۴۵ ساله بعد از فوت مادرش املیا به خونه‌ی مادرش می‌ره و این سرآغاز یادآوری خاطرات گذشته می‌شه. مثل بقیه کتاب‌های النا فرانته بازگشت به ریشه‌ها و کودکی تم اصلی کتابه.
کتاب گاهی روایتی سیال پیدا میکنه و تشخیص زمان حال و خاطرات راوی دقت می‌خواد.
ترجمه هم اونقدر که باید خوب نبود.

عشق پر آزار اولین کتاب النا فرانته ست.
کاش النا فرانته اسامی بهتری برای کتاباش انتخاب می‌کرد.
Profile Image for Jordi Silva.
Author 2 books127 followers
October 15, 2019
La primera novela de Ferrante es increíble. De verdad estoy impresionado por su manera de narrar una historia de violencia familiar y recuerdos infantiles. Aquí, la vida de Delia ha sido siempre un constante entender a su madre, Amalia, que el día de su cumpleaños aparece muerta, desde ese momento, Delia quiere entender las circunstancias que la llevaron hasta ese final, pero mientras más escarba el pasado de su madre, más comprende su propio pasado y porque siente ese odio y amor hacia Amalia.
Tiene pasajes muy surrealistas y otros demasiado incómodos por lo real de las situaciones, sobretodo en esas escenas de acoso a las mujeres y su naturalidad en la sociedad.
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,033 reviews1,186 followers
October 27, 2018
Oh, if only Elena Ferrante's books were written by somebody else. Not My Brilliant Friend and its companions, but the rest. She always writes about herself and she is truly the most boring person, with - for me - the least interesting problems, about whom I have ever read so many words. She gets away with it in the series because Lena is extraordinary, and because they are surrounded by people who are interesting. But in both this and The Days of Abandonment it becomes frustrating.

rest here: https://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpre...
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