Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is the third book in the Neopolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante. Once again narrated by Elena (a fictional character who happens to share a first name with the author), it tells the story of Elena and best friend Lila’s lives as they move through their 20s and into their 30s.
Elena has a degree from a prestigious college and is a famous author who has written a shocking book, while Lila is working at a sausage factory. At a time of political unrest in Naples, Lila finds herself the unwitting poster child for the local communists. As tensions escalate in the neighbourhood, many of their old friends are involved in the fighting on both sides.
Elena is now living away from Naples and the claustrophobic and incestuous atmosphere of their old neighbourhood. She goes months without speaking to Lila, but they still find themselves drawn back in each others’ lives.
As time moves on, the tables start to turn. Lila finds herself an exciting new career, while Elena becomes a wife and mother, struggling to write her second novel. She may have moved up in the world, but Elena finds marriage every bit as hard as Lila and the women from the neighbourhood had found it.
As Elena wonders where her life is going and who her real friends are, a face from the past comes back into her life. The thrill of seeing them again leaves her more uncertain than ever about her future.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is another brilliant read by Elena Ferrante. It could be my favourite book from the Neapolitan Quartet to date. As you may have guessed from my review, it is a fairly heavy read and wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you like a read which is a bit more challenging, I can’t recommend the Neapolitan Quartet enough. They are some of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read.
While Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay could work as a stand-alone novel, it works far better as part of the series. The series definitely needs to be read in order too as the stories all follow straight on from each other. Each book has a useful introduction to all of the characters at the front, which gives a little bit of back story for each of them.