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I’ve just read another two books about mothers and daughters. These short novels are rather different to the mother and daughter story in my last post though …

Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante

… is the first novel by one of Italy’s most acclaimed contemporary authors, a Neapolitan, who shuns publicity and is rather an enigma.

I found it very hard to engage with this book. The tale of a daughter returning to her home town after her mother’s death and discovering her mother had a secret life was interesting, however the author’s preoccupation with bodily functions and secretions made it a little too earthily blunt and somewhat sordid for me. However symbolic it was, I didn’t need to know every time Delia had to change her tampon!

The sultry heat of backstreet Naples did come through though, and combined to make an emotionally claustrophobic short novel that I recognised as being a great debut from this secretive Italian writer, but not one that I enjoyed reading. (5/10)

The Book of Proper Names by Amelie Nothumb

…was very different. It’s a comically disturbing and definitely absurdist ugly duckling story.

The story of Plectrude, an orphan born of a mother who murdered her father when he suggested a silly name for their baby. Her mother then committed suicide, leaving Plectrude to be brought up by her sister, who always wanted to be a ballerina. Plectrude has a difficult time at school, but then gets accepted by the ballet school, and learns to be anorexic before finally finding love and becoming a swan.

I hope that real ballet school is not all like that in this book, where the girls are ruled by a rod of iron that make them willingly starve themselves and drive their emaciated bodies to the absolute limits of their endurance. The vicarious pleasure that Plectrude’s aunt took in her charge’s body was also troubling.

Both serious and silly, this short little novel has plenty to say for itself, and I enjoyed it – racing through to see how Plectrude would fare in life, especially once she finds out about her mother… I would definitely like to read more by this Belgian author. (8/10)

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Source: Own copies. To explore on Amazon UK, please click below:
Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante, Europa editions paperback.
The Book of Proper Names by Amelie Nothumb, Faber paperback.

 

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