The Days of Abandonment Summary & Study Guide

Elena Ferrante
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The Days of Abandonment Summary & Study Guide Description

The Days of Abandonment Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante.

The following version of this book was used to create this guide: Ferrante, Elena. Days of Abandonment. Europa editions, 2005.

The book opens with Olga, a 38-year-old married woman describing the day her husband, Mario, age 40, left her. This is not the first time Mario has left the marriage. Years earlier, he cheated on Olga with a 15-year-old girl named Carla. At first Mario does not admit to having an affair and tries to explain his abandonment with the excuse that he had a troubled upbringing and was fundamentally flawed, but eventually he confesses when Olga confronts him on the issue. At first, Olga is in denial of the abandonment and believes Mario will come back. When she reflects upon her marriage she vows to respond differently than the poverella, a women she knew from her childhood thus named because she was left desperate and alone when abandoned by her husband. Despite not wanting to be like the poverella, Olga finds her fortitude lapsing when she begins to have fantasies of Mario and Carla having sex. One night when Olga tries to demonstrate her strength and loyalty to Mario by cooking him a dinner, the night goes awry when Mario chews on a chipped piece of a sugar bowl that Olga accidentally broke while she was cooking earlier that day. At this, Mario storms out of the apartment.

As time progresses, Olga loses her composure and grows irritable and starts using expletives. She withdraws from her friends. The first occasion when her children recognize that their world has changed occurs when a lizard crawls into their house and Olga kills it instead of carrying it outside. Olga copes with insomnia and feelings of desperation by fervently writing letters to Mario at night. As a result of this schedule, Olga sleeps days and abandons the practice of picking her children up from school. One day her children think she is dead when she does not answer the door upon their arrival home. Olga tries again to win Mario back one night when he comes over to collect his things by cleaning herself up and wearing a pair of earrings that had belonged to his grandmother. He objects to reading her letters, though, and Olga grows furious. The two fight. Mario leaves the house with some of things, and Olga calls after him desperately, recognizing afterwards that she has become like the poverella.

Olga finds out from a mutual friend, Lea, where Mario has relocated. She decides to visit his new neighborhood one night while the children are sleeping. Upon returning home, she finds her neighbor Carrano’s driver’s license on the ground but does not return it because it is too late. The next day Olga finds that ants have invaded her house and goes about spraying insecticide. While getting some air during the fumigation, Olga goes to her balcony and then sees Carrano, calling to him. He does not hear her, at which point she has sour feelings toward him, suspecting that he is impotent and compensates for it by womanizing younger women.

Later, Olga takes Otto to the park and grows furious when he barks at a young mother and her baby. She whips him with a branch. Returning to the house she finds her children, who tell her that the doors were open. Olga inspects the house and finds nothing gone but Mario’s grandmother’s earrings. Suspicious that her house was broken into by thieves, she calls locksmiths who come and make sexual innuendos as they are working. Instead of expressing offense at them, Olga reciprocates with more innuendos, but the men find no pleasure in her advances. Olga further demonstrates questionable judgment when she leaves Ilaria and Gianni at a park. When she returns she finds them in a memorial cannon. Olga’s instability reaches a nadir when she runs into Mario one day while on an errand and beats him soundly, causing him to bleed all over his shirt. That night she contemplates suicide and has a sordid sexual encounter with Carrano.

Olga goes home and sleeps, only to wake up and find that Gianni is ill and vomiting. Otto is barking violently, and Olga realizes she has not walked all night, so she takes him out to the park wearing her pajamas. While there, she lets him off the leash and she herself defecates and urinates in the woods. Upon returning she finds that Gianni has thrown up again. The children accuse Olga of hitting them, and Olga denies this, demonstrating for them what a hit means by hitting herself in the face. While cleaning herself up, her thoughts grow more and more fragmented, as she moves from images of being seduced by Mario to conjecture that she herself is emitting dangerous spores to her family, making them ill. At this time, Otto is also demonstrating signs of illness, and Illaria is caring for Gianni by putting coins on his head. Olga goes to the office and finds a notebook filled with quotes from Anna Karenina in her handwriting. Illaria informs Olga that she suspects Otto is ill because he has eaten poisonous dog biscuits from the park, at which point Olga tries to contact someone on the phone; however, the phone is broken.

The night grows more and more nightmarish as visions of the poverella appear, Otto dies, and Olga tries to go get help, but unsuccessfully, as the locks will not open. In an effort to stay focused and care for Otto and Gianni, Olga tells Illaria to poke her with a paper cutter, which she does at one point so hard that she wounds Olga. Despite Illaria’s assistance at staying focused, Olga’s thoughts recede into frightful hallucination and memory, with a moment of enlightenment when she realizes while married to Mario she did not feel alive. As a result of this moment, she sees Mario as a good man once again and forgives him.

In an effort to get Carrano’s attention, Olga swings a brick over her balcony and breaks a window of his apartment, but to no avail. Eventually, Otto dies, and Olga drags his body to the balcony. As a result of drops that Olga gave Gianni, his fever goes down, and after some time Carrano appears at the door with a rose that Olga puts in a vase that Mario had given her. Olga rinses her wedding ring down the drain, and a doctor eventually arrives and intimates that Gianni’s illness is psychosomatic as a result of emotional turmoil caused by the divorce.

Some time passes, and Olga does her best to mother her children properly again. One day she sees a dog in the park and decides to ask a veterinarian about Otto’s death. The veterinarian she visits tells her the illness sounded like strichnine poisoning. Lea later tells Olga that Mario wants to see the children, and they eventually start having regular visits with him.

Carrano brings a bottle of wine to Olga, and she rebuffs him once again Carrano responds angrily this time and accuses Olga of being a self-centered opportunist, as Mario was. The children have grown closer with Carla as a result of their visits to Mario, and Olga becomes jealous when they start expressing a preference for Carla. Olga discovers that Illaria showers with Carla. One day coming home from school Gianni gets into a fight with boys, and Carrano breaks it up. He tells Olga the children are too young to be caring for themselves. One night, Olga attends a concert with Lea and sees Carrano playing cello onstage. His talent and dynamic presence impress Olga, and she is bewildered that she never suspected him of this kind of energy.

Olga finds a job at a travel agency and one day sees Mario in the waiting room, voicing a complaint about the poor service he was provided. They arrange to discuss the separation. When they speak, Mario expresses the need to change the schedule, as his marriage is suffering from the stress of the children. Olga calls him an opportunist and self-centered and does not express the forgiveness she had felt on the night of Otto’s death. Olga revisits the notebook with the Anna Karenina quotes and realizes how different she is from the tragic heroine now.

Weeks pass, and Carrano begins to leave trinkets in front of Olga’s door. Olga accepts them without expressing anything, but suspects Carrano of trying to build up within her a sense of security. Eventually one morning, Carrano leaves the top of an aerosol can, a measure, Olga believes, to exculpate her and him from Otto’s death. Although she is dubious about this conclusion, she visits Carrano to thank him. She opens up to him about her ordeal, the two embrace, and the novel ends with Olga describing how after that moment they began a true relationship.

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