I always thought ending a novel with a question mark was a technique used by authors to get their readers to think. That was in the past. Now, with so much commercialization of publishing, open-ended closings of a story make me feel there is a sequel in the offing. Not in the case of the Neapolitan novels though. Elena Ferrante comes through to me as a courageous writer with a great deal of integrity. So, if she chose to begin and end her Neapolitan novels with the disappearance of Lila Cerullo, she probably wished her readers to wonder about the fate of Lila Cerullo. I know I did and my mind began conjuring up several scenarios. I also thought it would be fun for readers of the Neapolitan novels to join in the conjecture. So, I am asking, “Do you know what happened to Lila Cerullo?” Here’s what I imagine.
Lenù (Elena Greco) tells Rino, Lila’s son, “Please, for once behave as she would like: don’t look for her.”
Lenù has her reasons. She believes Lila Cerullo has finally done what she always wished to do – disappear without a trace. As she narrates to her readers, “She never had in mind any sort of flight, a change of identity, the dream of making a life somewhere else. And she never thought of suicide, repulsed by the idea that Rino would have anything to do with her body, and be forced to attend to the details. She meant something different: she wanted to vanish; she wanted every one of her cells to disappear, nothing of her ever to be found. And since I know her well, or at least I think I know her, I take it for granted that she has found a way to disappear, to leave not so much as a hair anywhere in this world.”
Lenù is convinced she is right especially when she finds out that Rino can’t find a single trace of her in their house. Lila had even meticulously cut herself out of all the family photographs. Lenù’s conviction is finally shaken only when she finds on top of her mailbox, a package roughly wrapped in newspaper. There was no note, no addressee, nothing to indicate who sent it. Lenù, however, concludes that the package had to have come from Lila. After all, it contained Tina and Nu, the two dolls that had been thrown into a cellar almost six decades earlier by two young girls. As she thinks, “Maybe those two dolls that had crossed more than half a century and had come all the way to Turin meant only that she was well and loved me, that she had broken her confines and finally intended to travel the world by now no less small than hers, living in old age, according to a new truth, the life that in youth had been forbidden to her and that she had forbidden herself.”
Elena Ferrante ends her Neapolitan novels of 4, one long story as she says in an interview with Vanity Fair, with a cryptic paragraph, “I went up in the elevator, I shut myself in my apartment. I examined the two dolls carefully, I smelled the odor of mold, I arranged them against the spines of my books. Seeing how cheap and ugly they were I felt confused. Unlike stories, real life, when it has passed, inclines towards obscurity, not clarity. I thought: now that Lila has let herself be seen so plainly, I must resign myself to not seeing her anymore.”
In the movie, Finding Forrester, William Forrester complains, “The last thing I need is another person telling me what they think it is.” He speaks these words when Jamal tries to tell him something about a part of Forrester’s book.
Maybe, like Forrester, the last thing Elena Ferrante wants is for a reader to speculate on what happened to Lila Cerullo. After all, her narrator, Elena Greco, finishes the story of their friendship, resigned to not seeing Lila anymore.
But, what if that package containing the dolls, Tina and Nu, were not sent by Lila. Don’t ask me why but that thought rose to the surface of my mind and persisted.
What if, I asked myself, those dolls had been sent not by Lila but by her son, Rino? True, Lenù is rather scathing of Rino: “What a good son, a large man forty years old, who hadn’t worked in his life, just a small-time crook and spendthrift. I could imagine how carefully he had done his searching. Not at all. He had no brain, and in his heart he had only himself.”
Rino may not have had much brain power to speak of. But what if, he was truly distraught over the loss of his mother? What if, in his abandonment and isolation, he had read Lenù’s A Friendship. What if, after reading the story, the thought occurred to him that his mother may have disappeared into the subterranean cellars in the neighbourhood to look for her missing daughter Tina?
Maybe then, Rino went searching for his mother, Lila Cerullo, in Naple’s underground labyrinth. In his search, he didn’t find his mother but he did find the dolls, Tina and Nu. Having found them, Rino may have decided to restore them to at least one of the two friends, Elena Greco.
Imagine the possibility!
The only thing is my version still leaves room for the question, “Do you know what happened to Lila Cerullo?”
Featured Image: Cover Page of The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante – taken from the Kindle of the author of this post.