I write this from Florida, where I’ve spent a week sitting in my parents’ backyard, reading. (I’ve done a few other things but not much. This is my idea of a good time.) Vacation, for me, is a time to read books that have nothing to do with work, and the first thing I wanted to do this time is catch up on Elena Ferrante, whom I’d never read. Instead of diving into the Neapolitan novels, I started with The Days of Abandonment, which is fairly short; it always feels good to begin a vacation with a feeling of accomplishment by zipping through a novel. Told in the first person by Olga, a woman whose husband announces one day, while clearing the table after lunch, that he wants to leave her—“then he assumed the blame for everything that was happening and closed the front door carefully behind him”—the book takes a sharp descent into darkness and perhaps insanity.
Unfortunately, Olga never made sense to me; she’s livid with rage at her husband, even physically attacking him in the street, but when he decides he wants their children to spend every weekend with him and his new girlfriend, she goes right along with it—and then when he tells her it’s too much for him, she goes along with that too, never even thinking there’s anything wrong either time. Ferrante didn’t convince me that such anger and such passivity could co-exist in one woman.
Then I turned to Still Life, the first of Louise Penny’s tales about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of theSûreté du Québec. I’ve written before about my search for a new mystery series to love, and I think I’ve found it. Gamache is wise and uxorious, like my other favorite, Commissario Guido Brunetti, but it’s clear there are complications in his background that have led his career to stall and that we’ll find out what they are later in the series. I may not be able to wait until my next vacation. —L.M.
Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.