I have followed these books since My Brilliant Friend was published in the US in 2012 and I’ve loved them all but none of them matched that first and it carried me through the rest of the volumes.
On opening there is a multi-page “Index of Characters” organized by family and including brief histories. It’s very helpful because my memory of the prior books wasn’t so hot at this point and there are lots of characters. So after reading the first 40 pages or so of the book, . I had to go back and read that “Index” fairly carefully – and referred to it from time to time as I read.
In The Story of the Lost Child we have Elena Greco who has now left her upper class husband and children to be with Nino, her lover and a friend from childhood. Nino will leave his own wife and their child – or he says he will. The couple is planning a future together, but certain loose ends need to be tied up. Elena returns to the old Naples neighborhood at the insistence of Lila Cerullo, her best friend from elementary school, and we are re-introduced to the characters from the prior books. (This is where I went back to the “Index of Characters.”)
Nothing much happens in the first half or so, Elena is a single mom trying to manage her life including a married lover, her family, her old neighborhood friends and writing so she has some income. Elena has a good education plus a whiff of fame for her books and so she doesn’t easily fit back in with the old neighborhood so easily – or with herself either it would seem. But in the second half of the book the action picks up – and the pieces fall together as lives and the neighborhood fall apart no matter how hard Lila tries to keep that from happening.
The story is told, as in the prior books of the quartet, in the first person of an author named Elena Greco and Part 1 spans the years of her life between 1978 and 1985. Part 2 takes the reader from 1995 to 2010 or so. The setting is almost entirely an old deteriorating neighborhood in Naples and its changes over these turbulent decades which is described with an extraordinarily deft hand.
The Story of the Lost Child develops a lot of women’s issues as do the others in the quartet – but this time the women involved are middle age and older and the times have changed from Post WWII to Post-9/11 so their situations and ambitions change. But both Lila and Elena continueto want it all – marriage/lover, children and career, but is that really possible? She makes it sound wonderful in her speaking engagements and books. But in private Elena is falling apart behind it all, a high-pressure career, an uncommitted lover for whom she tries to remake herself, first two needy children, then three. She is viscously attacked by her mother-in-law as well as her own mother. And Lila is not always supportive – they grow apart and have difficulties in their own relationship as the two women go through their 40s, 50s and finally 60s.
Lila seems to have it all worked out and she never left Naples although she divorced, has a child, lives with her lover and a career – the same thing. Appearances are deceiving – the status of the education, authorship, world recognition, intimidate the enigmatic Lila. Even though she is beautiful, brilliant, charismatic and arrogant she has occasional episodes which she describes as the world falling into pieces with the edges blurring. She remains fiercely Neapolitan all her life. Lila is one of the most fascinating female characters I’ve ever come across.
Please start with Book 1 – My Brilliant Friend – and go straight through to the end. It’s worth every word.