After reading the first three novels in Elena Ferrante’s tetralogy (the fourth will not be published until September 2015), I decided to read all her novels, so began with the first, Troubling Love (1992).
The tone is much different from My Brilliant Friend. Although still a compelling read, it is much darker and sordid. It is almost repellant. Delia, the protagonist, returns to Naples following her mother’s death by drowning, an apparent suicide, or perhaps an accident. Possibly even a murder, we don’t know for sure. The family had been very poor. Delia’s mother had had a troubling affair with a man by the name of Caserta, only that is not his real name. It seems that the affair was never consummated, but Delia’s father believed it had been, mostly because of what Delia said as a five year old and because her mother was in fact a bit of a flirt. Caserta, who is now senile, is a fetishist rather than a lover. While he actively sought her mother’s company and bought her presents she could not resist, Caserta really desired her underwear. However troubling this love may have been, the love of Delia for her mother is even more troubling; it is also a love that has never been fulfilled. As Delia manages to reconstruct her mother’s steps leading up to the drowning, Delia comes to understand her mother better. There are a series of strange incidents involving Caserta and his son, once Delia’s playmate, which eventually lead Delia to experiencing incidents similar to those her mother must have lived through. As sordid as they are, they make Delia feel closer to her mother. By the end of the novel, Delia realizes that despite not having wanted to become like her mother, she has assumed her identity.
The novel was made into a film entitled Nasty Love in 1995.