Sunday, March 29, 2020 | ePaper

How should we react to a betrayal?

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Sheila Kohler :
I have recently been reading two books about betrayal: Elena Ferrante's "Days of Abandonment" and Domenico Starnone's "Ties." Interestingly these are stories of betrayal by a husband told from the wife's point of view in "Days of Abandonment" and in "Ties" told mainly from the husband's point of view. In "Ties" we do have the wife's desperate letters, and the third part of the book is told from the point of view of the children. I won't give away too much of the intricate plot as I highly recommend this book.
Though Elena Ferrante's identity has been hidden for a long time, it has been discovered that these authors are an actual husband and wife.
In both the books the wife has a desperate and emotional response to her husband's betrayal. She falls apart completely in "Days of Abandonment" despite her initial attempt to deal with the situation with restraint. She tries desperately not to lose control, but she does, in a big way, which is of course very suspenseful as there are young children and a dog in her care. At one point she manages to lock herself in the apartment with the dying dog ( she may have poisoned him with insecticide) and the little boy who has a fever of one hundred and four.
In Starnone's version, we have the delights of the young woman he falls in love with, the difficulties he faces each time he tries to see the enraged and uncomprehending wife and his children; his desire for freedom.
All of this was particularly interesting to me as an author. The question one asks, of course, is: Who wrote these books which seem so similar, particularly as many of the themes in both the books are found in other work by Domenico Starnone: themes of entrapment and liberty? Could it have been the husband who was already an established writer, or the wife, or perhaps even more extraordinarily the couple? In the husband's version, they do finally get together though seem unhappy in their old age, shackled together despite all their rage and guilt. Could the couple have written these books together?
What added to my interest was my own story of a betrayal, a husband who left telling me honestly he had fallen in love with another woman. This seemed entirely possible to me, and I followed the sage advice given mainly by my mother-in-law: I accepted his comings and goings without drama, put up with all for the children's sake, for my own sake, unable to face life alone. Eventually, I did leave, of course, years later. I ask myself now, of course, what was the better course: rage and confusion for the children or the appearance of saintly wisdom, understanding which cannot be sustained for long?
There is perhaps no perfect answer to the question, no easy way out. Hate and anger between husband and wife are dangerous for the children, of course, but how can one accept betrayal without some kind of real reaction? The cost of betrayal, however, we react to it, is disastrous for all involved.

(Sheila Kohler is the author of fourteen books most recently a memoir "Once we were sisters" published by Penguin and a novel "Dreaming for Freud").

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