Lidija Haas at The Times Literary Supplement:
At rush hour on public transport, you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone around you has resorted to the same sort of bland escapism. There’s a flurry of fat paperbacks, each boasting a sentimental family snapshot complete with a seascape, seen through a slight haze of baby blue or green or pink. It’s not only the covers that make Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (really one vast novel, chopped into four) look approachable: built around a central friendship between two women growing up in post-war Italy, they are seemingly realist tales full of family intrigues and love affairs and rivalries. Yet the whiff of soap hasn’t fooled the critics, who for several years now have been spilling superlatives all over Ferrante. Her name (a pseudonym) is fast becoming a Bolaño-style talisman.
The Story of the Lost Child is the fourth and final instalment in a series the author says originated in “the most daring, the most risk-taking” of her previous books, La figlia oscura (2006; The Lost Daughter). That book does indeed contain many elements of the Neapolitan novels in microcosm: vivid evocations of heat and dirt and bodies; fraught, ambivalent intimacies between women; families in which the possibility of violence feels routine; a runaway wife and mother; a lost doll; a lost child. There’s even a narrator who, having escaped her impoverished Neapolitan origins in favour of “bourgeois decorum, proper Italian, a good life, cultured and reflective”, constantly fears that she or her daughters might “slowly sink into the black well I came from” – Naples itself “seemed a wave that would drown me”.