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“Nothing quite like this has ever been published before.”—The Guardian
“One of the best books of this or any other year.”—The Independent
“Nothing you read about Elena Ferrante’s work prepares you for the ferocity of it."—Amy Rowland, The New York Times
“My Brilliant Friend is a large, captivating, amiably peopled bildungsroman.”—James Wood, The New Yorker
“Everyone should read anything with Ferrante’s name on it.”—The Boston Globe
"The real world can drop away when you’re reading her.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Some of the richest, loveliest prose I’ve read in many years.”—Seth Maxon, Slate.com
“Her prose is crystal, and her storytelling both visceral and compelling.”—The Economist
"[Elena Ferrante] is one of the most talented writers working today.”—William O’Connor, The Daily Beast
“Ferrante’s sentences have an incantatory power."—Pasha Malla, Slate Book Review
"Utterly brilliant."—James Daunt, Waterstones
"A satisfying and devastating culmination to a series that has grabbed readers’ hearts."—Buzzfeed


World Premiere

A two-part stage adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet of novels

Adapted for the stage by April De Angelis | Directed by Melly Still

Sat 25 February – Sun 2 April

To book call 020 8174 0090 or visit: https://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/whats-on/my-brilliant-friend


Elena Ferrante

A Writer’s Journey
Out November 1

Elena Ferrante - Frantumaglia

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Ferrante Indie Bestseller



Elena Ferrante


Elena Ferrante is the author of The Days of Abandonment (Europa, 2005), Troubling Love (Europa, 2006), and The Lost Daughter (Europa 2008) and the four volumes of the Neapolitan Quartet (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of The Lost Child), published by Europa Editions between 2012 and 2015. She is also the author of a children’s picture book illustrated by Mara Cerri, The Beach at Night and a work of non-fiction, Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey.



#FerranteFever, join the conversation




News & Reviews


The New York Times Book Review

By the Book – Chelsea Clinton

Which writers—novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets—working today do you admire most?

In addition to the other writers I talk about in this space, I deeply admire che work of Colson Whitehead; Hilary Mantel; Masha Gessen; Haruki Murakami; Andrei Makine; Margaret Atwood; Erik Larson; Lin-Manuel Miranda; Marilynne Robinson; Elena Ferrante; Julian Barnes; Ian McEwan; Anne Applebaum; Timothy Egan; and more. I also hope Gita Mehta writes again. (…)

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Le Matin Dimanche

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La Croix


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Le Magazine Littéraire

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La Croix

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Le Point

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Le Figaro Magazine


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Likely Stories: The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

FEB 9, 2017

Intense adult story of a woman suddenly and inexplicably abandoned by her husband.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

I have been a fan of women’s literature for many years.  One such author has eluded me until a recent article discussed the Italian writer, Elena Ferrante.  My first actual encounter with Ferrante’s works occurred after a trip to the marvelous independent bookstore, Inkwood Books of Haddonfield, N.J.  I asked the clerk about Ferrante, and she suggested the “Neopolitan Quartet” of novels, which was sold out, but she did have a copy of the Days of Abandonment.  Across the street from the shop was a coffee bistro, so I went for a coffee and a scan of the novel.  About an hour later, I was hooked, and I accepted the fact this was a powerful novel by a writer I could not let slip by me.

Days of Abandonment tells the story of a woman abandoned by her husband, Mario, who takes up with a young woman, Carla, half his wife’s age.  The novel begins, “One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me.  He did it while we were clearing the table; the children were quarrelling as usual in the next room, the dog was dreaming, growling beside the radiator.  He told me that he was confused, that he was having terrible moments of weariness, of dissatisfaction, perhaps of cowardice.  He talked for a long time about our fifteen years of marriage, about the children, and admitted that he had nothing to reproach us with, neither them nor me.  He was composed, as always, apart from an extravagant gesture of his right hand when he explained to me, with a childish frown, that soft voices, a sort of whispering, were urging him elsewhere.  Then he assumed the blame for everything that was happening and closed the front door carefully behind him, leaving me turned to stone beside the sink”   This is the tiniest of sparks which will turn into a conflagration of immense power.

Readers, I want to make you aware this is an adult novel based on a single chapter when Olga vents all her rage, jealousy, and fury, in a scene of a rather explicit and volcanic nature.  A reader will know when it starts, so it is easy to skip.  This novel is the most incisive and detailed account of the agony a woman undergoes when she is abandoned by her partner.  The prose is mesmerizing and gripping.  I could barely put it down for a moment.  Here is a scene when Olga decides to seek revenge on her husband with a man from her building she despises.  [Carrano] “again brought his lips to mine, but I didn’t like the odor of his saliva.  I don’t even know if it really was unpleasant, only it seemed to me different from Mario’s.  He tried to put his tongue in my mouth, I opened my lips a little, touched his tongue with mine.  It was slightly rough, alive, it felt animal, an enormous tongue such as I had seen, disgusted, at the butcher, there was nothing seductively human about it.  Did Carla have my tastes, my odors?  Or had mine always been repellant to Mario, as now Carrano’s seemed, and only in her, after years, had [Mario] found the essences right for him” (80-81).  You can now skip to page 88.  Not for the faint of heart, this novel is a masterpiece of the inner workings of the mind of a woman.  5 stars.

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The Korea Herald

Elena Ferrante’s neorealist novels translated into Korean

The Italian Embassy in Seoul celebrated the publication of novels in Korean by renowned author Elena Ferrante at a book talk on Jan. 19.

The event at the embassy marked last year’s translated release of the first two of “The Neapolitan Novels,” a four-part series comprised of “My Brilliant Friend” (2012), “The Story of a New Name” (2013), “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” (2014) and “The Story of the Lost Child” (2015).

The books are published by Hangilsa Publishing Company Limited, which printed the bestseller “Stories of the Romans” novels by Japanese writer Shiono Nanami since the early 1990s.

As a neorealist bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, Ferrante’s novels portray two “perceptive and intelligent” girls, Elena Greco and Raffaella Cerullo, as they strive to forge their lives out of a poor, violent and stultifying neighborhood on Naples’ outskirts.

“The novels neatly fit into the Italian neorealist style, championed by writers Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante,” said Italian Ambassador to Korea Marco della Seta at the event. “The story is universal, depicting Naples, humanity and the friendship and struggle of two women from childhood through adulthood.”

Noting that Ferrante is the pen name of the real author, whose identity is cloaked in secrecy, the envoy argued that the novels were successful partly due to Ferrante’s mysterious character. Ferrante’s work also exemplifies the strengths of the Italian language, which is evident in culture, music, literature, cinema and food, he added.

“I’ve never met Ferrante and nor have you. But we like her writings so much and think as if we are talking with her,” said Kim Un-ho, publisher of Hangilsa. “At the Frankfurt Book Fair last year, I had a great time discussing and reveling in Ferrante’s novels with some 50 leading publishers from around the world. Her books are like rainbows and bridges connecting people.”

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)

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The Buffalo News

Editor’s Choice: Elena Ferrante’s ‘Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey’

By Jeff Simon

Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey By Elena Ferrante, Europa Editions, 384 pages, $24

By the end of 2016, this exceptional book had proved to be one of most controversial literary books of the year. It came out in November. What preceded its publication were news stories in which the true identity of Elena Ferrante — one of the most admired Italian writers since Calvino — supposedly was discovered by Italian journalist Claudio Gati and subsequently revealed in a blog by the New York Review of Books.

Whether Italian translator Anita Raja is the real identity of the pseudonymous Ferrante–or, for that matter, Ferrante, whoever she is, somehow created journalist Gati–the whole thing made for a gloriously enticing Hall of Mirrors which does a nice job of refracting images of a writer demanding even more American attention than she’s previously had.

The title of the book means “loose and disconnected fragments” in Neapolitan dialect, all of which — letters, interviews, whatever — reveal deeply the life and thoughts of a writer who appointed another name just in order to exist. The gist of the passionate objections to Gati’s investigative journalism is that Ferrante’s anonymity as a writer deserved to be as inviolate as, say, the private life that J.D. Salinger had and that Thomas Pynchon still has. At issue for some in the “unmasking” of Ferrante as Raja is the implication, in some eyes, that Ferrante’s much-admired works — including a quartet of Neapolitan novels — were influenced in some way by Raja’s husband, Italian novelist Domenico Starnone, a lesser figure who has also been accused of being Ferrante.

It all seems to come out of a combination of Nabokov, Henry James and Fernando Pessoa, the astonishing Portuguese writer and poet whose way of writing pseudonymously was to invent several separate but fully imagined authorial personalities along with their subsequent works. So this richly involving book of autobiographical fragments was published last fall amid a rainstorm of asterisks it didn’t deserve. What we have here are incredibly fascinating interviews and letters and such from a writer who says she has struggled to not lead a life “where the success of the self is measured by the success of the written page.”

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Rencontre avec Vincent Raynaud,
l’éditeur français de Elena Ferrante

« L’amie prodigieuse : un roman du 19e siècle à l’ère de Netflix »

La place d’éditeur de littérature italienne chez Gallimard est probablement devenue la plus enviée du milieu ! Le chanceux s’appelle Vincent Raynaud, il est entré dans la maison en 2005 et, s’il se réjouit bien sûr du phénomène Ferrante, il garde les idées claires et la tête froide, n’oubliant jamais qu’il se glisse toujours une part de chance dans ce genre d’aventure.

Connaissiez-vous les livres d’Elena Ferrante avant la parution de « L’amie prodigieuse » ?
Gallimard a publié son premier roman (« L’amour harcelant ») en 1995, le deuxième (« Les jours de mon abandon ») en 2003. Je me suis occupé du troisième, « Poupée volée » en 2009. C’était déjà un livre formidable, mais passé inaperçu. Le fait de n’avoir pas d’auteur à présenter ne facilitait pas la promotion. Ses ouvrages se vendaient à quelques centaines d’exemplaires, mais nous avons une politique de catalogue qui nous permet de continuer à publier des écrivains confidentiels. Cependant, pour avoir vécu en Italie où elle était considérée comme quelqu’un d’important, et avoir lu tous ses livres, je savais que ça marcherait un jour.

Lorsque vous avez découvert le manuscrit de « L’amie prodigieuse », avez-vous eu l’impression qu’il était différent des précédents ?
Nous savions dès le départ qu’il s’agissait de trois livres (en fait il y en aura quatre) et on se souvenait bien sûr des succès d’autres séries comme « Harry Potter » ou « Millenium ». Mais nous avions connu aussi de mauvaises expériences que je ne citerai pas. Dans ces cas, si le premier ne marche pas, c’est toute la suite qui est condamnée. J’ai donc trouvé cette histoire formidable, il y avait un souffle historique, un regard sur les femmes, sur la manière dont elles ont changé durant cette période allant des années cinquante à nos jours… Mais le cœur du livre se trouvait dans le lien entre les deux héroïnes, dans leur amitié… C’était un vrai roman du 19e siècle, à l’ère de Netflix. En le lisant, j’ai effectivement pensé qu’Elena Ferrante avait franchi un palier. Mais nous sommes restés prudents et nous avons lancé un premier tirage de 6000, 7000 exeplaires…

Il a tout de suite marché ?
Il a mieux marché que les précédents, mais cela s’est vraiment envolé avec la version en poche du premier volume dont le bandeau, « le livre que Daniel Pennac offre à ses amis », a contribué au succès. Aujourd’hui, les trois tomes sont les trois meilleures ventes de romans. Le premier s’est vendu en Folio à 600.000 exemplaires (et 30.000 en grand format), le deuxième à 100.000 en grand format et il vient de sortir en poche avec un premier tirage de 300.000 exemplaires. Le troisième enfin qui vient de paraître lui aussi débute à 80.000 exemplaires. Pour un auteur qui n’a pas d’existence publique et rien à raconter sur sa vie, c’est incroyable.

Est-ce que vous, vous savez qui se cache derrière le nom d’Elena Ferrante ?
Je n’en sais pas plus que ce qu’ont révélé les journaux. C’est une hypothèse crédible, mais finalement on s’en désintéresse un peu non ? Dès ses premiers livres, Elena Ferrante a écrit une lettre en demandant que l’on respecte son choix. L’enquête qui a été menée pour essayer de trouver quel auteur se cachait derrière ce pseudonyme est réservée en général aux criminels ! Depuis, elle a cessé de répondre aux interviews.

Il y aura donc un quatrième volume. Ce sera le dernier ?
Oui, et nous le publierons en octobre 2017. Puis en janvier 2018, un recueil réunira des lettres, des interviews et des textes courts. Elena Ferrante a remis l’Italie au centre de la littérature étrangère qui, jusqu’à présent restait plutôt à l’ombre des Anglo-Saxons et des Scandinaves. Il faut encore juste souligner la qualité de la traduction signée Elsa Damien qui a contribué elle aussi au succès.

Propos recueillis par Pascale Frey

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Le Figaro

Et les plus gros vendeurs de romans en 2016 sont…

EXCLUSIF – Si Guillaume Musso est largement en tête, l’inconnu Michel Bussi fait une très belle percée et devance Marc Levy. Chez les étrangers, Anna Todd écrase la concurrence, tandis qu’Elena Ferrante s’installe.

Pour la douzième année consécutive, Le Figaro publie le palmarès des auteurs à succès. 2017 est l’année du changement: on intègre les romanciers étrangers, afin de comparer Guillaume Musso, Michel Bussi ou Marc Levy avec Harlan Coben, Stephen King ou Mary Higgins Clark.

» À lire: L’intégralité du palmarès du Figaro Premium

Ce palmarès, établi en partenariat avec l’institut d’études GfK, est une photographie de ce que les Français lisent et achètent vraiment. Notre enquête a été réalisée durant toute l’année 2016. GfK a fourni les données de son «panel distributeur», récoltées auprès de 5.000 points de vente en France. On ne tient compte que des ventes réelles (les «sorties de caisse», c’est-à-dire les livres effectivement achetés par les lecteurs). Ce classement est le seul qui tienne compte à la fois des ventes en grand format (les nouveautés) et de l’édition de poche.

Voici les dix premiers en nombre d’exemplaires:

1. Guillaume Musso: 1.833.300 exemplaires

2. Michel Bussi 1.135.300

3. Anna Todd: 1.025.100

4. Marc Levy: 1.024.200

5. Harlan Coben: 797.200

6. Françoise Bourdin: 679 300

7. Laurent Gounelle: 675.400

8. Gilles Legardinier: 604.000

9. Elena Ferrante: 560.900

10. Mary Higgins Clark: 546.200

Petite révolution: dans ce palmarès annuel des auteurs qui vendent le plus, Michel Bussi, professeur de géographie à l’université de Rouen, chercheur au CNRS spécialisé en géographie électorale, et romancier à ses heures, dépasse Marc Levy, l’un des plus célèbres auteurs de best-sellers, révélé par Et si c’était vrai… adapté sur grand écran par les studios de Steven Spielberg. Michel Bussi a vendu plus d’un million d’exemplaires; ce quasi inconnu il y a à peine trois ans prend la deuxième place sur le podium, avec ses polars sur fond régional (le plus souvent la Normandie). Même s’il est premier et loin devant, Guillaume Musso, avec plus de 1,8 million d’exemplaires vendus, devrait se méfier du sympathique universitaire qui a commencé sa carrière de romancier en étant publié par une toute petite maison d’édition normande…

Musso creuse l’écart

Cette année encore, Guillaume Musso creuse donc l’écart avec ses poursuivants. Il a rencontré un immense succès avec son dernier thriller, La Fille de Brooklyn, paru en mars 2016 et numéro un des romans en 2016 selon GfK, et il réalise une belle performance avec l’édition poche de L’Instant présent, son précédent titre, numéro deux, juste derrière Harry Potter.

Le Figaro établit ce classement des auteurs de best-sellers depuis 2005, et on a rarement observé un tel chamboulement – tout va très vite: un romancier chasse l’autre, des nouveaux éditeurs dament le pion à des maisons centenaires (qui pouvait imaginer Hugo & Cie à une telle place avec une romancière âgée de vingt-sept ans, Anna Todd ?). D’autres ont l’art de dénicher les fictions qui vont séduire le grand public en fouillant sur Internet chez les auteurs autoédités. Michel Lafon, avec Agnès Martin-Lugand (treizième du Top 20, mais huitième romancière française), est passé maître dans cette veine-là.

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How to be a Writer

The Emily Awards 2016

The Godfather Award for Best Sequel: The Story Of a New Name – Elena Ferrante

I really liked My Brilliant Friend but I loved The St0ry of a New Name. I felt as though MBF did all of the grunt work of establishing place and characters (so, so many characters), so that TSOANN could really get going with telling a focused, atmospheric story. Lena and Lila are some of the most complex and fully realised female characters I’ve ever come across, and I felt myself copying Ferrante in everything I wrote, for a good while after reading this. Whoever the real Ferrante is, she gets female psychology. And she gets that it’s not always men we’re mooning over.

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The Daily Star

The unsolved mystery of Elena Ferrante

Joe Treasure

Elena Ferrante is an Italian novelist in her 70s who has been producing published work for about 25 years. But it was only four years ago with My Brilliant Friend, a novel about growing up in a poor and sometimes violent neighbourhood in Naples, that Ferrante achieved international fame. At the heart of that story is a bond between two girls in which love and enmity mingle in constantly surprising ways. Three further novels have traced that relationship through adolescence and into adulthood. The last of this series, The Story of the Lost Child, was judged by The New York Times one of the 10 best books of 2015.

Ferrante is a pseudonym. What little is known about the author has been gleaned from interviews, and a volume of correspondence with editors which appeared in 2003. She insists on anonymity, explaining that she finds it necessary for her work. In an email interview with Vanity Fair in 2015 she said, ‘I feel, thanks to this decision, that I have gained a space of my own, a space that is free, where I feel active and present. To relinquish it would be very painful.’

In spite of this, two controversial attempts to unmask her were published during 2016. The first drew on internal textual evidence to prove that Ferrante was in fact Marcella Marmo, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Naples. The author of this paper, a Dante expert, said that he had conducted a philological analysis ‘as if I were studying the attribution of an ancient text’. Even in the face of such scholarly evidence, however, professor Marmo insists that it isn’t her.

An investigation by Claudio Gatti for the Italian newspaper Il Sole received wider circulation when it was reprinted in the New York Review of Books. Using investigative techniques that might be more usefully applied to exposing the corruption of politicians and corporate executives, Gatti followed a trail of payments from the publishers to a freelance translator of German texts, Anita Raja. Raja has also denied authorship.

Bizarrely, Raja’s husband Domenico Starnone, a screenwriter and journalist, has previously been identified as the real Ferrante, as has the male writer and critic Silvio Perrella, as if only a man could show such a confident grasp of late twentieth-century Italian social and political history. But to anyone who has actually read the 1,700 pages of the Neapolitan quartet – a slow-burning study of female friendship and rivalry and the struggle to achieve autonomy in a patriarchal society, punctuated by intense love affairs, abusive marriages and intimate explorations of the trials of pregnancy and motherhood – the idea that this is an extended act of male ventriloquism must seem implausible.

A recent convert to the Ferrante cult having just read this series, I find the author’s identity the least interesting question about it. Sprawling, loosely constructed, with too large a cast and too many tangled plot lines, it shouldn’t work but it does – magnificently. That’s a mystery worth investigating.

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Reader’s Diary: Elena Ferrante’s ‘The Lost Daughter’

What distinguishes the novella from the novel is not length, but the pursuit of intensity rather than breadth. A novella is devastating or it is nothing.
Barry SchwabskyJanuary 1, 2017

What distinguishes the novella from the novel is not length, but the pursuit of intensity rather than breadth. A novella is devastating or it is nothing; it must administer — as the title of one of my favorite examples of the genre, by Marguerite Yourcenar, has it — a coup de grâce. And the masters of the genre (I think first of Henry James or Thomas Mann) are always masters of form, for only the most fiercely controlled form can yield this effect of overwhelming intensity. The Lost Daughter was the third of Elena Ferrante’s published works of fiction, and the last before the celebrated “Neapolitan quartet” that’s brought her such acclaim (and which I still haven’t read — I’m taking her in chronological order). Like Ferrantes’ first two novels, The Days of Abandonment and Troubling Love, The Lost Daughter is narrated in the first person by an emotionally troubled protagonist, here named Leda, the better to enclose the reader in a claustrophobic disquiet you can see coming from the very first words: “I had been driving for less than an hour when I began to feel ill.” Naturally, the ailment in question is not entirely organic. Leda’s sense of disconnection from herself, her family, and everyone around has left her unmoored. On a seaside vacation in southern Italy, she becomes the obsessed observer of a family whose behavior brings back unwanted memories of the unrefined Neapolitan milieu in which she grew up and from which she escaped to decorous Florence. Little by little she is drawn into their lives…and that’s all I’ll say about the events depicted in the book, which are so simple, so seemingly inconsequential that only Ferrante’s great art can elicit their significance. Not sharing that art, I’ll forebear to recount the anecdote. Can a work of consequence really be constructed around an event no more momentous than a toddler’s loss of a doll? — but never mind, mum’s the word. Instead, I want to point out the incredible force of Ferrante’s prose (beautifully translated by Ann Goldstein), which harbors so much perturbing nuance beneath a surface of such apparent directness. I’ve often heard poets and writers talk of writing the body. Ferrante really does it. She excels at tracing the intimate monologue of the self, in which sensations become thoughts and thoughts become sensations, always vividly corporeal. Here’s Leda on her relations with her daughters: “I was always, in some way, the origin of their sufferings, and the outlet. They accused me silently or yelling. They resented the unfair distribution not only of obvious resemblances but of secret ones, those we become aware of later, the aura of bodies, the aura that stuns like a strong liquor. Barely perceptible tones of voice. A small gesture, a way of batting the eyelashes, a smile-sneer. The walk, the shoulder that leans slightly to the left, a graceful swing of the arms. The impalpable mixtures of tiny movements…” No one conveys those tiny movements like Ferrante. At the end, I find myself gulping for air.

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Verily Mag


If you missed this much-discussed book in 2016, now’s the time to revisit it.

This past month, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof posted his favorite reads in 2016 on his Facebook profile. The one book he criticized was Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, which he views as a “disappointment” and a book that “everybody in the world seems to love except me.” Even though I am a fan of Kristof and his work, I beg to differ.

Ferrante’s series, the “Neapolitan Novels,” which in chronological order include My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and the fourth and final novel, The Story of the Lost Child, are without doubt some of the most carefully crafted and painfully poignant novels I have read. I am not alone on this opinion, as TIME magazine listed Ferrante as one of 2016’s Most Influential People, and this past summer the literary world was shaken when the previously anonymous author’s name was revealed. Now, wherever the name Ferrante is mentioned, people have a word or two to share.

Ferrante’s master storytelling reveals a series of powerful themes, one of which is the story of female friendships. Throughout the series, Ferrante exposes the raw and unapologetic truth behind friendships between women, predominantly between the two main protagonists, Elena Greco and Raffaella “Lila” Cerullo. Elena and Lila are childhood friends from the same neighborhood outside of Naples, Italy in the 1950s. Both are born into impoverished families whose parents have elementary-level educations. Despite their backgrounds, Elena and Lila stand out from their peers alongside a select few of their fellow classmates. The two girls recognize their mutual talent and from the start of their friendship, they understand that they need each other in order to survive the patriarchal society they find themselves in which involve domestic violence against women and local political corruption. Throughout the story of their friendship, Ferrante exposes the highs and lows of Elena and Lila’s relationship, the moments of true love and absolute toxicity. It’s Ferrante’s gift of depicting the virtues and vices in female friendships that makes the Neapolitan Novels stand out from the crowd.

Ferrante shares this familiar feeling among women, the urge to compare and to resent when other women seem to have it better. Throughout the novels we see how the female characters discover that the grass is not greener on the other side, and often the two female protagonists were bearing heavy burdens and trials beneath the surface. Very rarely do we get to see the interior struggles that other women share and for this reason, Ferrante depicts this familiar psychological battle with precise accuracy.

Despite Lila’s deep resentment that she never completed her education, she champions Elena. In one of the most vital scenes from the first novel, My Brilliant Friend, Elena is in the middle of preparing Lila for her wedding while discussing Elena’s schooling. Lila insists that Elena must do whatever it takes to continue her education, because in Lila’s words, Elena is her “brilliant friend.”

During Lila’s wealthy period of life, she buys Elena’s schoolbooks and lets her study in her well-furnished apartment because in her own heart, Lila knows that if Elena excels in life, this will also be a symbolic victory for all the women of the neighborhood. Even though Lila struggles with her own inner demons, her love for Elena triumphs in the end and is the catalyst for Elena’s ultimate success as a writer among the Italian intelligentsia.

In the relationship of Elena and Lila, Ferrante illustrates her striking talent for showing how flawed characters can overcome their faults to love. We are all imperfect creatures so in turn, we love imperfectly. We all struggle with our own jealousies and insecurities that are the result of other broken relationships and inner struggles, but as Elena and Lila demonstrate, love is nonetheless the key to surpassing our vices.

At the end of the day, Lena and Lila love each other and it’s this love is what helps them overcome their flaws. As Italians say when they love someone, ti voglio bene: “I want you well.” According to St. Thomas Aquinas’s definition of love, to love is to want the ultimate good for the beloved. It’s this selfless love, conveyed so beautifully in the pages, that renders Ferrante’s novels incredible exemplars of the power of female friendships.

One of the major flaws of these female characters are similar to those of many women—a proclivity to envy. The primary source of jealousy between Elena and Lila is education. Although the two girls experience verbal and physical abuse at home, Elena’s parents consent to her advancement in education after elementary school; meanwhile, Lila’s father throws her out the window when she tries to argue with him. Both girls were at the top of their class, however Lila possesses a talent, a rare inner drive that intimidates Elena. Lila is aware of Elena’s insecurity and out of spite, Lila frequently mocks Elena with the fact that if she continued her education, she would have surpassed Elena. However, Lila’s quipping remarks are the result of her own ache knowing that she will never have the chance like Elena to realize her own potential.

Although most women may never reach the degree of asinine comments that Elena and Lila exchange throughout the course of their relationship, many women can understand the temptation to compare themselves to their fellow female friends. Think about the time when your friend got hired for that job, got to go on that European backpacking trip or finally got into that dream relationship…did it ever sting for you at all? This green monster is known all too well between Elena and Lila and constantly creeps into their friendship.

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I’m looking up at a coffee shop full of strangers, and I can’t help but think that we seldom welcome people as they are anymore—including me. The curation of our profile and personhood is just about the slipperiest slope out there.

The Days Of Abandonment. There are some reviews that consider the descent of main character to be clichéd. After a lifetime of familial dedication, Olga is abandoned by her husband Mario. She goes down, disrupted and scouring the depths of sanity.

While the signposts may be similar to those that have already appeared, the description and intensity of the Olga’s dive are incomparable. It’s a palpable pain that brings me closer to a grief-case I’ve grown accustomed to hiding from everyone, including myself.

Both disturbing and real—from here on out, I’m on a treasure hunt for everything that matters. A quiet quest for all that beguiling dirt beneath our shuffling feet.

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The Times

‘Elena Ferrante was more challenging than Tolstoy’

Timberlake Wertenbaker has adapted the Italian author’s hit novels for radio. She reveals why she took the characters from Naples to Manchester

It comes as rather a shock — like getting toad-in-the-hole when you were expecting linguine pescatore. First, floating over the airwaves, there’s Neapolitan folk music such as you might hear in a family-run pizzeria in Old Napoli. That, and a voice-over, introduces us to Radio 4’s adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s second novel in her bestselling historical saga known here as The Neapolitan Quartet. Then you hear the main characters — Naples-born childhood friends Elena and Lila — speak . . . in broad, flat-vowelled Mancunian. It’s hard not to giggle.

Not everyone will appreciate the BBC’s two-part take on The Story of a New Name, to be aired on January 15 at 3pm and again the week after. Naples has been transferred to the north of England again — the radio treatment of the first book in the series, My Brilliant Friend, which first aired in the summer to mixed criticism, also made the ragazze sound as though they were Made in Manchester.

Yet once you tune in to the accents — Monica Dolan, last seen as the maid in the BBC’s Agatha Christie adaptation The Witness for the Prosecution, is a wonderful Lena and Anastasia Hille gets a suitably turbulent Lila just right — the story possesses you. The precise dialogue, artful reduction and accomplished performances made me, a Ferrante addict, want to listen on and read the novels all over again. Phew, va tutto bene — as they say in Stockport.

The writer responsible for the adaptation is one of our premier playwrights, Timberlake Wertenbaker, best known for Our Country’s Good. That play about an Australian penal colony, which opened at the Royal Court in 1988, is still being taught in schools and was recently revived to acclaim at the National Theatre by Nadia Fall.

We meet in the National Gallery café in London — she has tickets to the Caravaggio exhibition (more representations of earthy Italians) and we have an hour before her slot. Wertenbaker, 70, who has wonderful Crystal Tipps hair, sparkly eyes and an elegant gait, read about Ferrante online more than two years ago and had a personal connection with Naples — she visited with a journalist boyfriend as a student and witnessed political discontent at first hand — so she was interested. “I got the first book and started reading it that night and didn’t put it down, and manufactured the flu so I could stay in bed and read it. It was 4am and I had to get up at 7am.” A classic diagnosis of Ferrante fever.

After she’d eaten up the novels, she pitched the idea for a radio play to the drama producer Celia de Wolff at Radio 4. “I was under the very naive impression that I had discovered her [Ferrante]. I said to the BBC: ‘It will be great! We will introduce England to Elena Ferrante!’ Of course, that’s a joke now. Now I feel that everyone has read it so it’s a different proposition.”

And their relocation to England? “I definitely didn’t want them to be from London or the southeast — that would be like setting it in Florence or Milan. Liverpool was right, but too distinctive an accent and place. We wouldn’t have dreamt of them speaking with Italian accents.” So they settled on “around Manchester”. “The only thing that has been a pain is getting the pronunciation of the Italian names right,” she admits.

Wertenbaker has adapted many great authors from Sophocles to Racine and, more recently, War and Peace, also for Radio 4. Ferrante was one of the most challenging, she says. “Tolstoy was easier, with Tolstoy you are going from A to B at a gallop and with Ferrante what makes it so difficult is that it’s circular, actually a spiral, and events might happen three times in one novel, and that’s difficult to write in a dramatic form of time.”

I definitely didn’t want them to be from London or the southeast

In Ferrante there are a lot of auxiliary characters — from shop workers to activists — who are nevertheless crucial to the plot. How did she ram them all in? “It’s hard, but it’s important. What I have noticed is that you leave a character out at your peril because that character will reappear at some point and will explain something.”

In Wertenbaker’s version Lena and Lila take it in turns to narrate. “It was the only way to give them equal weight.” So, Elena or Lila, does she have a preference? “I can’t have a favourite!” she laughs. “Being a dramatist you have to love everyone. Otherwise you can’t make them speak if you don’t like them, they won’t talk very well.”

The Story of a New Name packs an almighty emotional punch; from Lila and Stefano’s violent marriage-night scene to Elena and Lila’s holiday on Ischia. When I spoke to Ferrante’s translator Ann Goldstein recently she said that having your head stuck in Ferrante had an emotional consequence in one’s own life. Wertenbaker agrees: “The characters really get to you. You have to get inside them to make them speak.”

Her working method for adaptations is total absorption and no cut-and-pasting. Wertenbaker read the book a few times, learnt it by heart and then “tried to know it”. Then she reread it once again taking notes (she pulls an exercise book from her bag exposing her neat, slanty writing). “Then I go to my computer and start page one, then I go back to my notes.” She uses only the dialogue that she remembers. “In fact her [Ferrante’s] dialogue is very good, but it has to be cut. In a novel you can speak in a paragraph, but I have to take a line.”

Wertenbaker admits there is great pressure when you are adapting a writer with such a passionate fan base. She takes a sip of green tea. “I am worried about the Ferrante fans because they know the books better than I do. I had that a bit with the War and Peace fans, but there weren’t that many. You are not doing the book, you are doing an adaptation. You hope that those who haven’t read it will listen and read it or that it brings something back to those that have. I think it’s great to read after listening. It’s not like TV when you have the image printed. It’s very fluid.”

So what more does a radio play ever bring to a well-known story? “I don’t think it brings anything,” she says with true modesty. “It is another way of being reminded — in the same way that you listen to an adaptation of a Jane Austen you have read 25 times.”

(Read more)

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World Literature Today

Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey by Elena Ferrante

In 1992 Edizioni e/o published a first novel, L’amore molesto, by an Italian writer who called herself “Elena Ferrante.” Its provocative cover featured a stylish female figure in a red suit—without her head. Eleven years later, the elegant “headless woman” surfaced again on the cover of a collection of Ferrante’s letters called La frantumaglia (2003). Ferrante’s book covers all feature figures with their faces hidden, just as the novelist has hidden her identity for twenty-four years. Explaining her reasons for anonymity to a relentlessly hungry Italian press in 2003, she wrote, “The true reader, I think, searches not for the brittle face of the author in flesh and blood, who makes herself beautiful for the occasion, but for the naked physiognomy that remains in every effective word.”

Reading this collection of Ferrante’s interviews over twenty years (1995–2015), one is struck by her naïveté. Her seven translated novels found a rapt market in the US (1.6 million copies sold of the Neapolitan tetralogy alone), but she has never ceased to be a target for “unmasking.” Whether the secret scribbler is Edizione e/o’s German translator Anita Raja, her husband, Domenico Starnone, or Topo Gigio, her comments on her female narrators and her writing process is revelatory. She describes Neapolitan mothers she has known, for example, as “silent victims, desperately in love with males and male children, ready to defend and serve them even though the men crush and torture them. . . . To be female children of these mothers wasn’t and isn’t easy.” Those children are the ones she writes about, and their friendships are fragile, “without rules.” The “brilliant friends” Lila and Lenù fight and make up—for sixty years—but they are devoted to each other in a way neither is with her men.

Ferrante has much to say here about her birth city, Naples; her childhood; the origin of her plots; and her need as a fiction writer to be “sincere to the point where it’s unbearable.” I was disappointed at inconsistent or odd translations, such as “difference feminism” for il pensiero della differenza, not to mention rendering frantumaglia (her mother’s word for depression) as “a jumble of fragments.” On the whole, however, Ann Goldstein’s translation does justice to the 2003 original, a volume that serves as a “companion” to Ferrante’s fiction.

Lisa Mullenneaux
University of Maryland University College

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The Stage

Casting announced for Elena Ferrante stage adaptation

by Georgia Snow

Niamh Cusack and Catherine McCormack are to lead the cast of My Brilliant Friend, the stage adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.

Adapted for the stage by April De Angelis, My Brilliant Friend is directed by Melly Still and premieres at the Rose Theatre Kingston in February.

Running from February 25 to April 2, it will have a press night on March 11.

The new two-part production will star Cusack and McCormack alongside a company made up of Justin Avoth, Adam Burton, Martin Hyder, Victoria Moseley, Emily Mytton, Ira Mandela Siobhan, Jonah Russell, Badria Timimi, Toby Wharton and Emily Wachter.

It has set and costume design by Soutra Gilmour, lighting by Malcolm Rippeth, sound by Jon Nicholls and music by James Fortune.

Movement is by Sarah Dowling and casting by Charlotte Sutton.

The show is produced by the Rose Theatre Kingston.


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Novels and Non-fiction

Elena Ferrante’s #NeapolitanNovels – Book 2 Review – The Story Of A New Name

I love the first novel in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series My Brilliant Friend (you can read my review of it here), so I was very excited to read the second novel in the series – The Story Of A New Name.

Though I loved My Brilliant Friend, I was hoping to see Elena move out of her friend Lila’s suffocating sphere of emotional and psychological influence in Book 2, and I was not disappointed. Though Elena and Lila will always be connected, I thought that Elena really came into her own and established an identity separate from Lila in this second novel, which made me really interested to see how much further they develop separately in the third and fourth books as well.

The end of the book provided a pretty good cliffhanger in which one of the two protagonists is at the start of a great success and the other one has sunk into abject conditions. It really made me want to pick up Book 3 asap, even though I’m not reviewing it until early February. Meanwhile, read my review of The Story Of A New Name below.

The Story Of A New Name Book Review On Novels And Nonfiction

This is the second book, following last year’s My Brilliant Friend, featuring the two friends Lila and Elena. The two protagonists are now in their twenties. Marriage appears to have imprisoned Lila. Meanwhile, Elena continues her journey of self-discovery. The two young women share a complex and evolving bond that brings them close at times, and drives them apart at others. Each vacillates between hurtful disregard and profound love for the other. With this complicated and meticulously portrayed friendship at the center of their emotional lives, the two girls mature into women, paying the cruel price that this passage exacts.

What I Liked

Seeing Elena come into her own. In the first half of the novel, Elena is still living in her childhood neighborhood with Lila, though she does see less of Lila due to Lila’s marriage. At first, Elena continues to seem to be mentally and emotionally subjected to Lila’s influence even when Lila is acting in a way with which Elena does not agree or that hurts Elena’s feelings. By the end of the novel, however, Elena has spent several years away from their childhood neighborhood, forming a new though faltering adult identity for herself as a person distinct from her parents, siblings, childhood friends and former acquaintances. Elena still has moments in which she does not believe in the solidity of her new hard-won success and independence. However, I could tell by the end of this installment in the series that in the next books she would be able to depart from the impoverished social reality she grew up and experience more opportunity in her personal and professional life.

The fluid and complex portrayal of romantic relationships. For the first time in this novel we see the protagonists, Elena and Lila, grappling with the often unsavory realities of actual grown up romantic relationships, whether in first person or through the entanglements experienced by their friends. Across engagements, marriages, affairs, casual sexual encounters and every nuance of romantic involvement in between, Ferrante explores complex themes like the ephemeral nature of love, the blight of domestic violence, contradictory jealousies, traditional and atypical gender relations and the convoluted ties that exist between love, money and happiness. There are so many different kinds of involvements between the characters as they turn from teenagers to adults, and I really appreciated that Ferrante did not produce idealized and unrealistic romances that would have felt inaccurate due to the difficult reality in which her characters grew up.

The importance given to language in the form of dialect versus ‘proper’ Italian. Italy has a plethora of dialects and accents through which you can identify someone as coming from a particular region or even city. In this second novel in the series, we see both Lila and Elena struggling to speak ‘proper’ Italian in an effort to elevate themselves above their origins and the other people of their neighborhood. In particular, Elena experiences living in another city in Italy, among mostly middle class people who naturally speak the ‘proper’ Italian she has to consciously fake. She even struggles to hide her Neapolitan accent so as not to be ridiculed for it. Ferrante doesn’t only identify the use or avoidance of dialect with social class and education, but also with morality, in a way that I found riveting. Some of the most violent and raw scenes in the novel occur with the characters yelling at each other in dialect, as if there was violence intrinsic in the local language itself. The dialect becomes part of the desperation and lack of opportunity experienced by the characters – something they can’t hide that brands them as excluded from the changed and advancements of an Italy that is modernising around them and without them.

What I Didn’t Like

The length. I love Ferrante’s style of writing and I’ve grown attached to her characters, so I thoroughly enjoyed the second book in this series and am looking forward to the next two. However, I think that the portions of Elena and Lila’s life that Ferrante covers in this installment could have been addressed with equal depth and complexity even if the book had been say 100 pages or so shorter. Certain segments dragged or seemed relatively unnecessary both to further character development or to move the plot forward.

Final Verdict

In the series’ second book, Ferrante poignantly explores Elena and Lila’s late teens and early twenties, as their destinies diverge and they struggle to create a meaningful adult life for themselves out of their bleak origins.

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Financial Tribune

Ferrante’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Published in Persian

My Brilliant Friend’ (in Italian ‘L’amica Geniale’), a fiction by one of Italy’s best-known contemporary writers is now available in Persian.

The original book in Italian is translated by Sara Assareh and recently released by Tehran-based Nafir Publications, Mehr News Agency reported.

First published 2011 in Italy, it is written by a mysterious Italian writer who goes by the pseudonym Elena Ferrante.

However, from her interviews and letters in the past 20 plus years, it can be presumed that she grew up in Naples and has lived for periods outside Italy. “I’ve moved often, in general unwillingly, out of necessity … I’m no longer dependent on the movements of others, only on my own.” In addition to writing, “I study, translate and teach,” Ferrante said in an interview.

“A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of the two women. The book is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.

The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on the tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends.

“The two women are the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through their lives, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists Elena and Lila,” according to Good Reads (goodreads.com).

Austerely Honest

Ferrante is the author of several remarkable, lucid, austerely honest novels, the most celebrated of which is ‘The Days of Abandonment,’ published 2002 in Italy.

What she looks like, what her real name is, when she was born, how she currently lives, are all unknown, according to The New Yorker. In 1991, when her first novel ‘Troubling Love’ (L’Amore Molesto) was about to be published in Italy, Ferrante sent her publisher a letter in which she laid out the principles she has not deviated from since.

She will do nothing for ‘Troubling Love,’ she wrote to her publisher, because she has already done enough. She won’t take part in conferences or discussions, and won’t go to accept prizes, if any are awarded. “I will be interviewed only in writing, but I would prefer to limit even that to the indispensable minimum.”

“Books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t,” she said.

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BBC Radio 4

The Story of a New Name BBC Radio 4 adaptation

The programme will be broadcast Sunday 15th on January and Sun 22nd January.

From one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, Elena Ferrante, the continuing story of Lila and Lena, two bright young girls who have grown up in the tough, rough streets of post war Naples.

Striving to make a better life for themselves, they work hard at school but Lila is stopped in her tracks when forced to give up her education and work for the family shoe making business. It’s not long before their worlds are pushed apart and Lila ends up marrying a local businessman and son of the murdered local loan shark Don Achille.

Written by Elena Ferrante
Dramatised by Timberlake Wertenbaker
Producer: Celia de Wolff
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

Listen to the show

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Version Femina

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Le Journal du Dimanche

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For anyone who hasn’t already delved into Ferrante’s series, I won’t spoil the plot; but the tale of friendship between two smart girls, trapped in the economics and misogyny of a poor neighborhood of Naples, is some of the best character-building I’ve ever read.  I preferred this volume to the first (more sex, more violence, and the women are becoming real adults), but its definitely part of an ongoing tale and requires starting at the beginning.

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The Third Neapolitan Novel Ended How?! A (Spoiler-Filled) Reaction to Ferrante

By Phoebe Maltz Bovy

The first and second Neapolitan novels inspired me to write fiction of my own. The third had the opposite effect: If Elena Ferrante can write that well, why bother?

It’s hard for me to say whether Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is better than the previous two installments, or whether the issue was that reading the first two, I’d imagined I was reading semi-autobiographical fiction. This time around, however, I was reading after the revelations about the real person behind the pseudonym. Knowing that this was all invention is awe-inspiring. When I imagined the author was a real-life mix of close friends Elena and Lila, I was impressed but not, evidently, to the why-bother level.

But maybe the book really just is that good. It contains the best description of terrible sex in probably all of literature, followed by… I will just direct you to the last sentence of Chapter 62.

Now, the spoiler-filled bit:

After a brief interlude in more recent times, Those Who Leave picks up where the previous book left off: with Elena’s sudden ascent from impoverished Neapolitan child for whom attending middle school borderline miraculous, to celebrated novelist. The reader may anticipate an upward trajectory. In a very literal, physical sense there is one – the book ends with Elena on her first-ever airplane trip. But otherwise, not so much: She goes from celebrated young author of a risqué first novel to frustrated housewife in the Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary mold. Not all at once – there’s her stint as a politically engaged labor reporter – but she has one child, then another (earlier than she would like; her her supposedly secular husband opposes contraception), and home responsibilities pile up as professional successes wane. She’s got more material comforts than she did as a child, but is – after all that education, after a successful novel – occupied with household chores.

Meanwhile, Lila – of course Lila! – is at first doing terribly, struggling to support her (possibly) out-of-wedlock son while working at a sausage factory. Elena swoops in and rescues her from a job that’s made her ill and subjected her to intense sexual harassment… but by the end of the novel, Lila’s the great success, with a high paid computer job, while Elena’s all outtakes from The Feminine Mystique.

What’s most interesting about all the novels is (again, of course) the Lila-Elena relationship. But a close second is all that Nino business. Nino is that rare thing: a childhood crush who remains alluring into adulthood. But more than that, he’s deeply entangled with Elena’s other loves: Lila (who was his lover, and who may have born his child), and professional ambition as a writer. The Lila aspect isn’t all that explored, at least in Book 3 – early on in the book, Nino tells Elena that Lila had been bad in bed, but that’s almost it.

By the time he reappears in the novel, Nino could pretty much come into Elena and her dull husband Pietro’s living room, fart loudly, and she’d run off with him. He’s Nino, the hot intellectual ladies’ man. (Everything’s exciting when he’s around and empty when he’s not and Nino Nino Nino, sigh.) But that’s not what he does! No, Nino seduces Elena (if one can call it that, given her preexisting decades-long infatuation, this despite his liaison with her best friend) by appealing to her professional ambition. He does some swooping in of his own and declares – and he’s not wrong – that Pietro has asked to much of Elena in the domestic sphere, putting his own work first and leaving her to squander her (superior, Nino notes, again accurately) intellect.

So on the one hand, Nino sees Elena’s marriage for what it is, and appeals to her resentment at years of being treated like an intellectual inferior. On the other – as the somewhat hindsight-possessing older-Elena narrator is aware – Nino’s an expert at grand passion. He knows just what to say to women to inspire them to drop everything and run off with them, and has unclaimed children all across Italy to show for it. There’s this moment when it looks as if Elena will leave Pietro in favor of independence and being single for a while and that seems like an excellent idea, but when did great fiction ever limit itself to good decision-making?

Leaving Pietro for Nino isn’t really about creative self-realization… except it kind of is, because Nino inspires her to write. But does she care what Nino thinks about her work because she’s admired his brains since they were kids and respects his opinion, or because Nino Is Sex?

But turning back a bit, wasn’t Elena’s marriage to Pietro also a savvy career move? In exchange for tolerating an unexciting husband, Elena gained access to a volunteer literary PR person in his well-connected mother Adele. It’s not just that the marriage gives Elena a path out of her class, city, and neighborhood of origin. It’s also, more specifically, that Adele builds the path for Elena to have a writing career, first as a novelist, then as a reporter.

And maybe that’s what makes the Neapolitan novels so wonderful, apart from the obvious (that is, the combination of a sweeping portrait of society and intricate portrayals of the moment-by-moment emotional lives of the characters). Desires – for artistic achievement, material comfort, sex – exist in unpredictable, intertwined ways.

Yes, one can do the political discussion and talk about how the book is – among so many other things – a powerful refutation of the idea that it’s possible to for class struggle not to take gender into account. But it would be a mistake to reduce the book to a political manifesto, or, conversely, to believe that the strongest political points come from works with obvious political intent.

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The New York Times

Rachel Cusk: By the Book

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The Millions

Writing Without a Face: On ‘Frantumaglia’


At the first literary conference I attended, I was surprised to find that the advice I was given pertained less to craft and more to the management of public persona. Attendees discussed the nuances of the author photo and how to make their Twitter accounts appeal to a wide audience, and I was advised to have an answer prepared for when I am asked how much of my fiction comes from Real Life. After coming out of the modeling industry, where everything is quite explicitly about appearance, it was disheartening to discover that the literary world was no haven from these dynamics. Elena Ferrante’s desire to maintain the freedom of private life has always seemed quite sensible. In newspaper headlines she was called “The Writer Without a Face,” but why did she need one?

Enter Ferrante’s new book, Frantumaglia, which includes selections of over 20 years of her essays, correspondences, and interviews. The book, whose title translates to “a jumble of fragments,” has been available in Italian since 2003. While there is no comparable word to frantumaglia in English, Ferrante illuminates what the term meant to her specifically, comparable to Lila’s “disappearing margins” in the Neapolitan novels:

My mother left me a word in her dialect that she used to describe how she felt when she was racked by contradictory sensations that were tearing her apart. She said that inside her she had frantumaglia, a jumble of fragments. The frantumaglia (she pronounced it frantummaglia) depressed her. Sometimes it made her dizzy, sometimes it made her mouth taste like iron. It was the word for a disquiet not otherwise definable, it referred to a miscellaneous crowd of things in her head, debris in a muddy water of the brain. The frantumaglia was mysterious, it provoked mysterious actions, it was the source of all suffering not traceable to a single obvious cause…Often it made her weep, and since childhood the word has always stayed in my mind to describe, in particular, a sudden fir of weeping for no evident reason: frantumaglia tears.

This concentration on the suffering of women is appropriately potent throughout the book, as is Ferrante’s own professed fragility. She states her deep interest in feminism, but does not consider herself to be well versed in it. She is deeply concerned for her goodness as a human, she is deeply apologetic to her publisher when she does not complete an interview or make an appearance, explaining that it is both a choice and a personal necessity that she is not subjected to a more public literary life. She corresponds with Mario Martone, the director of the film adaptation of her novel Troubling Love, expressing that she has no idea how to contribute to the project. Often, she defends her choice to write under a pseudonym. Whenever Ferrante is forced to communicate about her work, her communication is laced with an intense self-surveillance. The book is restrained and self-protective, and I find myself protective of her as well.

Regrettably, the writing of this review is complicated somewhat by Claudio Gatti’s reveal of what is likely Ferrante’s true identity, a translator named Anita Raja. Gatti’s months-long probe was conducted with the tenacity of a criminal investigation, and served the purpose of radically violating the terms under which her work was created. He asserted that, given the publishing of a volume like Frantumaglia, the public had the right to Ferrante’s true identity. This reveal is significant to a book review only because Gatti pointed out several discrepancies between what Ferrante says of herself in the volume and what is known to be true about the life of the woman he says she is. For instance, Ferrante writes of having three sisters in Frantumaglia, while Raja has none. Ferrante writes luminously of her mother’s work as a dressmaker, while Raja’s mother was a teacher. Ferrante says that “Naples is a space containing all my primary, childhood, adolescent, and early adult experiences,” while Raja was born in Naples but moved to Rome at age three, and so on.

But the real Elena Ferrante is, quite explicitly, a fiction. In her new volume, Ferrante herself acknowledges that she sometimes resorts to lies “when necessary to shield my person, feelings, pressures.” In this way, the volume takes on a narrative of its own, though the plot, if there is one at all, is subtle. What is exceptionally clear is that the way Ferrante presents herself, however minimally, is too calculated, too realized to exist anywhere outside the realm of fiction. And why should it? As writer Nicola Lagioia wrote to Ferrante’s publisher, “If she wants to adjust, polish, clarify the argument, that’s fine of course. For me literary needs always take precedence over journalistic ones.”

I have always relished reading the journals, letters, and reflections of the writers I admire. When I got my hands on Susan Sontag’s journals as a teenager, it felt as though I was being allowed access to the formation of the sort of mind I hoped to cultivate myself. Frantumaglia, as might be expected, offers access to a very different sort of process, in which Ferrante both practices the exercise of her literary needs (in crafting the story of herself) and defending her right to do so. She spends a significant portion of the book repeatedly explaining to journalists, her publisher, filmmakers, and others why she feels the need to remain anonymous. It doesn’t seem difficult to grasp: she believes that books should be able to exist in the world without being tied to a personality. For this reason, it has been suggested that the assembling of this book is antithetical to her professed desire for anonymity, that it seems to fly in the face of her convictions. I do not believe this to be the case, given that Ferrante has stated, in a correspondence with her publisher, the function that she wishes for the book to serve as an afterword and companion to the novels:

In other words, I’m uncertain. I think a book like that might perhaps possess cohesiveness, but not autonomy. I think, that is, by its nature, it can’t be a book in itself. You’re very right to call it a book for readers of Troubling Love and The Days of Abandonment… Which is to say that, if you do decide to publish it, you have to do so feeling that it is editorially, as an appendix to those two books, a slightly dense afterword…

It seems very successful as such. Frantumaglia contains a similar construction of female identity that we see in her novels, and, as with her novels, the line between fact and fiction is unclear.

“The biggest mystery outside Italy about Italy is Elena Ferrante,” Gatti said in defense of his investigation and subsequent reveal of Raja. But he is perhaps incorrect — or at least, those who are readers and not fans of Ferrante’s are haunted by a much more compelling mystery, which is that of the female condition — how to exist in a world as a female body subjected to the trials and tribulations that seem to come with it. At a dinner party in Rome this summer, I spoke with Italian director Anna Negri about what could be fueling the American engrossment with Ferrante’s works. Negri believes that Ferrante is captivating in that she tells the woman’s side of the Italian machismo that Americans have grown fascinated with via movies and television like The Godfather and The Sopranos. Essentially, Ferrante warns us (in case the domestic abuse in these films and shows wasn’t convincing enough) — it’s not that great. Ferrante ends up addressing this phenomenon herself in one of Frantumaglia’s featured interviews:

The greatest risk now is female regret for the “real men” of bygone days. Every form of male violence should be fought against, but the female desire to regress should not be neglected. The crowd of women who adore the sensibility and sexual energy of the worst male characters in My Brilliant Friend illustrate this temptation.

The same kind of immediacy Ferrante exhibits in her fiction is most present and potent in Frantumaglia when she speaks of her concern for other women: “Even if we’re constantly tempted to lower our guard — out of love, or weariness, or sympathy, or kindness — we women shouldn’t do it. We can lose from one moment to the next everything that we have achieved,” she says when asked by an interviewed what she hopes readers will take away from her work.

In a literary culture that has elevated personality to currency, in a world where my beginning fiction students frequently assess the value of writing based off how “relatable” they find the author to be, there is much to be learned from Ferrante. Even if she is who Gatti says she is, she has created a body of work that lucidly and luminously shown us a very different kind of life. What is fiction for, if not for this? What does a female artist owe the world? Certainly not consistency; hopefully not “authenticity” or “relatability.” Ferrante’s true readers (as opposed to fans — she draws a sharp distinction between the two) will be grateful for Frantumaglia and the story it tells, which is exquisite, regardless of those who would fact-check her.

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Le Monde

Elena Ferrante, le bon filon de Gallimard

Par Nicole Vulser

Le succès littéraire de la mystérieuse auteure italienne Elena Ferrante ne se dément pas. Celle qui fuit et celle qui reste, le troisième tome des aventures d’Elena et Lila, deux amies d’enfance ayant grandi, aimantées, dans les vilains faubourgs de Naples dans les années 1950 avant de connaître des destins opposés, devrait combler les vœux de Gallimard. La maison, la seule à éditer en France depuis 1995 cette auteure italienne anonyme, a en effet tiré cet ouvrage à 100 000 exemplaires dans la collection « Du monde entier » et l’a mis en place à 80 000 exemplaires dans les librairies mardi 3 janvier.

« Des chiffres bien plus importants que les deux premiers tomes », assure Jean-Charles Grunstein, qui dirige les ventes chez Gallimard. L’Amie prodigieuse, le premier opus, sorti en octobre 2014, s’est vendu à 407 000 exemplaires (dont 370 000 en format poche) selon le baromètre GfK. « Ce sont les poches qui ont lancé l’engouement pour cette saga et ont permis de démultiplier les ventes », explique M. Grunstein.

Le deuxième tome, Le Nouveau Nom, dans lequel Elena, diplômée de l’Ecole normale de Pise, réussit à sortir d’un impitoyable déterminisme social, a été publié en France en janvier 2016 et s’est depuis vendu à 95 000 exemplaires, toujours selon GfK. La version poche sort cette semaine.

« Elle était inconnue en France encore l’an dernier », souligne Vincent Raynaud, éditeur du domaine italien chez Gallimard. Le succès d’Elena Ferrante a permis à la maison d’édition de réaliser plus de 6 millions d’euros de chiffre d’affaires en à peine plus de deux ans. « C’est une très bonne surprise », dit-il. D’autant que ses premiers ouvrages, L’Amour harcelant, Poupée volée ou Les Jours de mon abandon, bénéficient a posteriori de la notoriété de la saga.

Le quatrième tome, L’Enfant perdue, est déjà sorti en Italie mais ne devrait pas être commercialisé en France avant octobre.

Adaptation télé

Mêlant mafia, pauvreté et machisme, cette série est progressivement devenue un phénomène mondial traduit dans quarante-deux pays. Le mystère qui entoure cette écrivaine y est sans doute pour quelque chose. Seule auteure à figurer dans la liste des cent personnalités les plus influentes du magazine américain Time en 2016 aux côtés de l’Américain Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elena Ferrante n’a jamais révélé sa véritable identité.

Les suppositions sont multiples : s’agit-il d’un homme ? D’une femme ? D’un duo ? Si Claudio Gatti, journaliste pour le quotidien italien Il Sole 24 Ore, a affirmé en octobre avoir découvert, grâce à une enquête fiscale et à une analyse de ses biens immobiliers, que l’auteure était Anita Raja, une traductrice romaine, fille d’un magistrat napolitain et d’une professeure d’allemand, ni la principale concernée ni Sandro Ferri, son éditeur italien chez Edizioni E/O, n’ont confirmé. Et bon nombre d’écrivains se sont dits choqués par les méthodes de M. Gatti et par cette atteinte à la vie privée.

Une adaptation sur petit écran des aventures d’Elena et Lila est déjà en chantier, coproduite par Fremantle Media, Wild Side et Fandango Productions. Si Francesco Piccolo supervise l’écriture des trente-deux épisodes, le nom des deux principales actrices italiennes n’a pas encore filtré.

Gallimard a de quoi se frotter les mains. Après une fin d’année 2016 triomphante grâce au succès de Chanson douce de Leïla Slimani – le prix Goncourt s’est déjà écoulé à 363 000 exemplaires – et aux flots d’or dégagés par le huitième opus de Harry Potter, 2017 commence bien. Egalement sorti le 3 janvier, le premier tome d’une autre saga de Daniel Pennac, Le Cas Malaussène, a été tiré à 150 000 exemplaires.
En savoir plus sur http://www.lemonde.fr/livres/article/2017/01/05/elena-ferrante-le-bon-filon-de-gallimard_5057878_3260.html#z8x9Ufqi5llGKKDX.99

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Letícia Viana – Youtube

Livro Uma noite na praia (Elena Ferrante)| Letícia Viana

Uma noite na praia de Elena Ferrante fala de uma boneca que foi esquecida na praia. É uma história que cativa do início ao fim, a gente fica querendo saber o que vai acontecer em cada página. Espero que vocês curtam esse livro! Beijão

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Murder, she read.


As I got deeper and deeper into my PhD thesis I learned that there is more to reading for pleasure than crime fiction. After reading and writing about Scarpetta and Brennan for hours and hours, I found myself less likely to pick up a crime novel during my free time, and instead binge-watching crime television shows (an addict is an addict, right?). This is why I finally approached the Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child). The four novels, which are an international success, tell the story of Elena ‘Lenú’ and Lina ‘Lila’ from their childhood in the corrupt and violent Naples of 1950’s until our current times. At first I did not understand why the series were so successful, but one page in Ferrante’s writing will make you read the four novels in a row. More on Ferrante soon.

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The Phraser

Book Review: The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

This post, a review of the last of Elena Ferrante’s novels about Naples, Italy, was first published on 16 January 2016. I read all four books in this series while I lived on the outskirts of Naples. Thanks to Ferrante I was shown inside the city, inside what links us all.

The last of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels

This is a story about the dark places, and the fires, inside all of us.  It’s not new, it’s as old as Naples, but it’s told with the energy of possibility and through the eyes of women.

The Story of the Lost Child is the last book in a series of four – the Neapolitan novels.

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Tony’s Reading List


As promised in my recent post on Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, it’s time to focus a little more on the role of the doll in the novel.  However, that means reluctantly vacating the blogging chair to allow an expert to take over.  You see, today’s choice is supposedly meant for kids, and when it comes to children’s literature, there’s only room for one blogger in our house – here’s Emily🙂

What’s the name of the book, and who is it by?
The book is called The Beach at Night and it’s by Elena Ferrante (and it’s translated by Ann Goldstein).

What’s it about?
It’s about a doll who gets left behind by her ‘momma’ at the beach, who then goes on many adventures to try and keep herself safe and get back home to her mum, Mati.  First, she gets swept up by the mean beach attendant’s best friend ‘rake’.  Then, she gets scared she’s going to get a fever just like her mum always tells her.  Finally, she gets washed away by the waves until she gets picked up Mati’s pet cat, Minù.

Did you like it?  Why (not)?
It was OK, not my favourite book ever.  I didn’t really like how she said everyone was a living thing, like the waves and the storm.  I also didn’t like how the mean beach attendant kept on swearing and swearing (don’t tell my Dad!).  The pictures were nice, but a bit repetitive, just her lying in the sand or the water.

What was your favourite part?
My favourite part was when Minù picked up Celina (the doll) and took her to Mati🙂

Would you recommend this book to other boys and girls?  Why (not)?
I wouldn’t recommend it to younger children because it may be a bit scary for them – plus the whole swearing thing…

Emily, thank you very much.

The Beach at Night may have been inspired by the story of the doll from The Lost Daughter, but in truth it isn’t really that closely linked.  It’s more a reimagining of the doll’s time away from the little girl, with several differences including a change of names and the addition of a brother.  What comes across very strongly is the bizarre nature of the tale as we follow the lost doll through a worrying, lonely night.

Its status as a children’s book is also fairly dubious.  While I’m not overly concerned about the use of the word ‘shit’ (which comes up in a menacing song the beach attendant sings to himself), it’s true that Ferrante uses a rather dark tone throughout the short work.  If it’s a fairy tale, it’s certainly very grim(m):

I don’t like this cat Minù, in fact I hate him.  Even his name is ugly.  I hope he has diarrhea and vomits and stinks so much that Mati is grossed out and gets rid of him.
p.12 (Europa Editions, 2016)

As Celina is pushed around the beach, escapes a fiery demise and is finally washed out to sea, any child reading could well be forgiven for wondering, as Emily did, whether this is really for kids at all.

I’d certainly agree.  Yes, the language is pitched at a fairly simple level, but there’s a lot going on underneath, with many hints of themes from The Lost Daughter.  In the constant struggles of the Beach Attendant to steal the words, including her name, hidden in Celina’s stomach (represented in Mara Cerri’s excellent illustrations as a string of light being dragged out of the doll’s mouth), you sense a concealed feminist reproach, with the poor doll denied the comfort of keeping her words inside.  Hmm – I wonder if we can tie any of this to a writer you might know who refuses to make her name public…😉

More obvious, though, is the emphasis on the bond between mother and daughter, so prevalent in The Lost Daughter.  Throughout her ordeal, Celina is firm about her connection with the little girl, Mati:

It’s damp, I’ll catch cold.  Mati always tells me: “If you catch cold, you’ll get a fever.”  She says it exactly the way her mother says it to her.  Because Mati and I are also mother and daughter. (p.12)

In The Lost Daughter, Leda observes the way the child on the beach plays with her doll, behaving as a mother would.  Here, Ferrante shows that the doll feels the same way…

The Beach at Night is an odd little book in that I’m not completely sure who it’s actually meant for, the Ferrante-loving adult reader or the juvenile bookworm.  I’m actually tending towards the former as some of the major themes here are a little subtle for kids, and because the book actually works better when read in conjunction with the parent (!) text.  Still, it’s certainly worth a look, and it makes a change (for both Emily and myself) from the usual reading fare.  The moral of the story?  Pack up carefully when you leave the beach for the day – oh, and make sure you read books before you give them to your kids😉

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CBC News

2016’s most read books at the Vancouver Public Library

Justin Trudeau, Ian Rankin, Elena Ferrante top the list of most checked-out authors this past year

By Maryse Zeidler, CBC News Posted: Dec 30, 2016 8:00 AM PT Last Updated: Dec 30, 2016 8:00 AM PT

Some of the most checked-out books at the Vancouver Public Library this year include memoirs, thrillers and classic novels.

For some, annual holiday traditions include carols, cookies and crafts.

But for those of a literary persuasion, they may also involve stocking up on books and settling under a warm blanket.

This list is for you, friends.

VPL’s top 10 most checked-out fiction

  1. Even Dogs in the Wild Ian Rankin, 2015
  2. All the Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr, 2014
  3. A Few of the Girls, Maeve Binchy, 2012
  4. Life After Life: A NovelKate Atkinson, 2013
  5. My Brilliant Friend: Childhood, AdolescenceElena Ferrante, 2013
  6. Speaking in BonesKathy Reichs, 2014
  7. The MartianAndy Weir, 2011
  8. The Order of ThingsGraham Hurley, 2015
  9. To Kill a MockingbirdHarper Lee, 1960
  10. A Tale for the Time BeingRuth Ozeki, 2013
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Brazos Bookstore

We’ve told you about our 2016 #BrazosBest picks. We’ve all run down our individual top ten lists. But now, one final list to end of the year: the books that affected us the most, whether new releases or classics. We asked each member of our staff one simple question: What book did you read in 2016 that you’ll remember the best, that sums up the year?

2016 has been, um, complicated, for many reasons, but these books helped us get through the ups and downs.

by Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (translator)
ISBN: 9781933372006
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Europa Editions – September 2005

Why has it taken me so long to read Ferrante?? I’ve been meaning to start the Neapolitan novels for months now but, intimidated by the volume, I chose to start with THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT. What a ferocious, explosive novel! An instant classic for “nasty women” everywhere.

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The Post and Courier

Review: ‘Frantumaglia’ explains Elena Ferrante’s anonymity

FRANTUMAGLIA: A Writer’s Journey. By Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein. Europa Editions. 384 pages. $24.

What is a frantumaglia? Here’s how Italian superstar novelist Elena Ferrante (the Neapolitan Quartet) explains the title of her hodgepodge collection, the revised and expanded version of a book she published in 2003: “My mother left me a word in her dialect that she used to describe when she was racked by contradictory sensations that were tearing her apart. She said that inside her she had a frantumaglia, a jumble of fragments. … It was the word for a disquiet not otherwise definable; it referred to a miscellaneous crowd of things in her head, debris in the muddy water of the brain.”

Among her own fragments, Ferrante includes open-ended, exploratory writing about what it means to be an artist and a woman in the present moment. Whether she’s writing a letter that she’ll never send or answering questions for a “Paris Review” interview, Ferrante is unsentimental and thrillingly blunt. There is no one like her.

All of the collected interviews address a decision Ferrante made 25 years ago: to absent herself from the public stage. Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym. The opening letter, written to her editors before she published her first book, sets the terms of her public invisibility: “I’ve already done enough for this long story. If the book is worth anything, that should be sufficient.”

Ferrante’s refusal to be seen is interesting for the questions it raises about the covenant between writer and reader. Beyond their words on the page, what do writers owe us of themselves? Ferrante’s life is a lesson in balance, between offering and withholding. Lovers of her books — and I am one of them — will testify that she’s given us plenty. Why insist on more? Biography, as she says, “is just a micro-story on the side.” Even Tolstoy “is an insignificant shadow if he takes a stroll with Anna Karenina.”

Ferrante’s reasons for sticking with her decision change over the years. When she was a new writer, Ferrente was timid and anxious about the story she was telling, particularly its connection to her own life and the lives of her friends and acquaintances. Later, she became hostile to every form of publicity. The limelight, she says, “conceals rather than reveals.” We are, Ferrante believes, “in a permanent spectacle which…goes hand in hand with superficiality.”

She trusts her books and sends them into the world without protection. They live or die on their own strength, without benefit of their author’s picture. In some interviews, she brushes off questions about living a lie by reminding her interrogators that literature is a lie, too, “a self-contained world made up of words.” This is her world.

Throughout the collection, Ferrante credits invisibility with keeping her free. These days, she remains intangible because she values the creative space opened up by her absence. A 2014 interview, published in “Frantumaglia,” carries the headline “If You Discover Who I Am I’ll Give It All Up.” Intangibility for Ferrrante was rarely a cloak. It was always a declaration. She became overtly what we all are in some existential sense—unknown and unknowable. No one who reads “Frantumaglia” can doubt how important disembodiment is to the author.

How sad then to report, as many are already aware, that Ferrante was unmasked by journalist Carlo Gatti, in an article that appeared simultaneously in a number of publications, among them the “New York Review of Books.” According to Gatti, she is Anita Raja, a successful translator of German literature who is married to novelist Domenico Starnone, long considered a candidate himself as writer of the Ferrante books.

In the pages of “Frantumaglia,” Ferrante declares that she’d lie to protect her cover, and if (the big if) Gatti is correct, she has. While Elena Ferrante’s mother was a Neapolitan seamstress, Anita Raja’s mother was a Polish Jew who taught school and who married an Italian magistrate. Raja was born in Naples, but only lived there for the first three years of her life. Since then, her home has been in Rome.

There’s something deflating about Gatti’s methods — tracking down the money until it leads to a couple of Roman apartments and windfalls of cash. A similar conjunction between two worlds, the ordinary and the artistic, occurs at the ending of “My Brilliant Friend,” the first novel of the Neapolitan Quartet. In a scene at her wedding, Lila Cerullo, the shoemaker’s daughter, looks down to find the shoes that she lovingly designed and stitched are scuffing along the floor. Lila is both horrified and amused that the rich world of the imagination could make contact with ordinary earth: “The mind’s dreams have ended up under the feet.”

Reviewer Catherine Holmes teaches English at the College of Charleston.

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 By Nancy Schiefer, Special to Postmedia Network

Although she has written seven novels in Italian and is, in translation, all the rage among the English language reading public, Elena Ferrante remains mysterious.

The name Ferrante is a pseudonym and the wildly popular writer has tried to stay undercover and eschew the expected round of interviews and book signing tours.

That mystery was somewhat lifted in October, when Italian journalist Claudio Gatti claimed to unmask Ferrante as Anita Raja, a translator who lives in Rome.

Before that revelation, however, Ferrante agreed to the publication of Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey, a glance-back at nearly 25 years of authorial silence.

The volume, which appeared in Italian 10 years ago and now in English translation, is a scattered collection of letters, interviews, essays and miscellaneous observation which may, hopefully, shed more light on Ferrante and on her impressive array of work.

The Italian writer, for those not familiar with her reputation, is the author of not only three best-selling novels, The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love and The Lost Daughter, but of the internationally lauded Neapolitan Quartet, published between 2012 and 2015.

Her translator, Ann Goldstein, who has never met Ferrante, has also been widely praised.

Ferrante herself defines her recent book’s title, Frantumaglia, as a “tangle” as a term which may best describe the interconnectedness of the world, of the role still played among the living of those who have died, “all those others who were once in the world and who have acted or who now act through us. In the most absolute tranquility or in the midst of tumultuous events, in safety or danger, in innocence or corruption, we are a crowd of others. And this crowd is certainly a blessing for literature.”

Ferrante’s book is, in part, a catch-up, a narrative wherein the author, while remaining anonymous, consents to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at how she thinks and how she works.

Writing, she reminds us, is both a joy and a drudgery, a pleasure and a constant struggle, a minefield through which she is now willing to guide her legions of readers.

Or, at least, to fill them in on how the vagaries of the writing life have affected her personally.

Ferrante is interesting on writing as a sidebar to feminism.

As she sifts though the stages of a prolific writing career, Ferrante has much to say to an eager audience.

She covers, with aplomb, questions regarding “authenticity” in literature and cites, as examples, such favoured authors as Jane Austen, Virginia Wool and Alice Munro who have, she suggests, an outstanding degree of literary power.

“But its hard to acknowledge. For example, women writers are still compared only with one another. You can be better than other well-known women writers but not better than well-known male writers. Just as its extremely rare for great male writers to say they’ve taken as models great women writers.”

In another interview, Ferrante returns to this theme.

Great literature is generally thought to be literature penned by men, she points out.

“Apart from a few fine souls, men don’t read books by women, as if such reading would weaken their virile power. Educated, broad-minded men treat female thought with polite irony, as a by-product, good only as a pastime for women.”

Glimpses into Ferrante’s cast of mind include memories of childhood, of places she has lived, her thoughts on female friendship and how it has affected the writing of the Neapolitan Quartet, the adaptation of novels into film, the centrality of the mother-daughter relationship in her own life and on her perceived role as storyteller rather than as general writer.

The book offers an unusual mosaic of reminiscence and current musing and will be a welcome surprise to fans of Ferrante’s astonishing novels.

Nancy Schiefer is a London freelance writer.

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San Francisco Chronicle

The karaoke book club: where women talk literature, then sing

We began because we needed to talk about the fever. For some, it begins with “The Days of Abandonment”; for others, with “My Brilliant Friend.” But one thing is sure: Ferrante fever doesn’t break.

Readers around the world are riveted by Elena Ferrante’s portrayals of friendship, love and loss, and the social, cultural, political frameworks that have everything to do with desire versus possibility. Her books are gloriously and unabashedly about girls and women. Their covers, the subject of several articles, dare you to call the work women’s fiction. The author herself is famously pseudonymous, asking readers to focus only on the work.

And we do. Last year, Aimee Phan and I found ourselves texting about Ferrante. We agreed that reading her novels was an intense, immersive experience, and one that we wanted to talk about. We should have a book club, Aimee said, and before we knew it we did: a group of women, writers, living in the Bay Area and, as it happens, Asian American. Our first goal: the Neapolitan quartet.

It turned out that we also shared an enthusiasm for karaoke and the particular joy of singing ’80s and ’90s songs at top volume in a private room. And so our karaoke book club was created. We gather for dinner to discuss Ferrante, writing and literature, with a dash of gossip, and then we sing. If this sounds strange, I can only say: Try it. The pairing makes the gathering not just a conversation but an event.

It was already election season when we started our club, so it’s no wonder that many of our conversations were underpinned by the political climates in the Neapolitan novels and in our lives. How women were treated and viewed, and so often disrespected and dismissed. How often women faced punishment for their ambitions. How the governmental and social structures in Naples, circa 1960s and beyond, kept systems of sexism in place, and what it meant to challenge these.

The novels revolve around two women — Elena, the narrator, and her closest friend and sometime frenemy and sometime soul mate Lila — who navigate girlhood and womanhood under the watchful gaze of so many boys and men. Both Elena and Lila yearn to write, create, learn and become. It wasn’t just that all of us in our book club could understand that; it’s that on some level, big or small, we had felt and experienced the same.

Some book clubs are a reason to get together. Some have authors visit or Skype in. Ours feels like community and creativity, each holding up the other. Like when we talk about how Ferrante writes about writing and the feelings of self-doubt that come with it.

Or when we talk about Nino, the bad-boy figure of the Neapolitan novels (everyone knows or has dated a Nino). It happens, too, when we’re at karaoke, yelling out songs from the girlhoods that none of us, ever, really leave behind.

"Frantumaglia" Photo: Europa Editions

Photo: Europa Editions


Recently a few of us got together to discuss “Frantumaglia” (Europa Editions; $24), a recent collection of Ferrante’s interviews, letters and excerpts of some previously unpublished material. Below is an excerpt from our conversation, which began at a restaurant and carried over into email. The participants are Kirstin Chen, author of “Soy Sauce for Beginners”; Vanessa Hua, author of “Deceit and Other Possibilities” (and a columnist for The Chronicle); Beth Nguyen, author of “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner,” “Short Girls” and “Pioneer Girl”; and Aimee Phan, author of “The Reeducation of Cherry Truong” and “We Should Never Meet.” Also in the club are Reese Okyong Kwon (“Heroics”), Frances Hwang (“Transparency”) and Rachel Khong (“Goodbye, Vitamin”).

Aimee: I feel like I’m reading these books at the perfect moment in my life: I am in my late 30s, I have two children whose lives consume me (both positively and negatively), and I’m still trying to be a productive writer. Many of her protagonists are also at that moment in their lives: When they are overloaded with responsibilities, both mundane and profound, and they also have a strong sense of wanting to maintain their own individual identities. And at the same time, Ferrante moves beyond this particular reliability — it seems like she can go anywhere in her prose without any need for a transition. She can talk about politics, history, philosophy, sexuality, loneliness, and I willingly go with her, without ever questioning it. I don’t know any writer who can do that for me.

Vanessa: I was gripped by her portrayal of the complicated relationship between women, and what women face — and continue to face — when they attempt to move past traditional gender roles. As the daughter of immigrants, I was interested in the outsider narrative, Elena and Lila both striving to find their place in the world, but struggling to fit in for reasons of language, for reasons of assimilation and class. As a writer, I’m interested in how she approaches her craft, creating characters and circumstances that propel us through a lifetime’s worth of friendship.

Beth: “Frantumaglia” is a bit jarring, because it takes us out of the world Ferrante has created and gives us glimpses into the author’s world, and her process. Before this, I never wondered about Elena Ferrante’s life. I never really thought about it, because it was like she didn’t really exist as a writer you could access. But when I read this, I was like, now I know she writes on the second floor. She writes in a small space and there’s a balcony. She doesn’t like heights. She has two daughters. And then I started thinking about hey, what does she talk about with her friends in real life? Do they know who she is as a writer? Can they talk about their writing, or is it totally off limits? How does she negotiate her everyday life?

Vanessa: Yeah, her cover story is that she’s a translator.

Beth: But to have a cover story with your own friends — like a veil of secrecy?

Kirstin: She didn’t seem to have a clear answer for that. “Frantumaglia” isn’t really Ferrante’s, in a way. It’s a collection of her work, but it doesn’t seem guided by her. I mean, there’s no narrative arc.

"My Brilliant Friend" Photo: Europa Editions

Photo: Europa Editions

“My Brilliant Friend”

Vanessa: I thought about the mysterious founder of bitcoin. People don’t really know, but they want to know because it’s as if knowing the origin must mean or reveal something. I never cared or wondered about which theory was correct about who Ferrante actually is. It didn’t matter to me at all. I mean when we read books as kids, did we think, you know, I want to know everything about Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott?

Beth: This is why reading as a child is magical, because it’s so much about just the book.

Aimee: There’s something nice about speculating, when you’re reading Ferrante’s novels, how much is her? Without having an answer and without getting an answer. It makes it one’s own experience.

Kirstin: I was so interested in Ferrante’s deep love for Lila. That she was her favorite, unequivocally.

Vanessa: Yet she doesn’t tell the novels from Lila’s point of view.

Kirstin: Because Lila is too magnetic.

Aimee: There are lines when I thought I hated Lila and then — oh! Absolutely the opposite. At the same time, Elena is complicated, too. She’s the good-girl narrator and then she’s not. Which makes her, in a way, more deceptive than Lila. Lila’s life has so many highs and lows, because she’s living on her own terms and she refuses to capitulate.

Beth: I loved the frantumaglia idea, the way her mother described it. The jumble of fragments in your mind that can weigh you down. It made a lot of sense.

"The Story of a New Name" Photo: Europa Editions

Photo: Europa Editions

“The Story of a New Name”

Vanessa: The question of influence always comes up with writers. What are your influences; what is your origin story. But frantumaglia is interesting because there’s that note she adds about being disturbed by it, and she’s so disturbed that she has to write about it to get it out of her body. So the frantumaglia idea is a darker take on influence, which is fascinating.

Beth: Still, Ferrante does say several times that writing puts her in a good mood. Though publishing does not.

Vanessa: Ferrante is the kind of author who, once you read their work, you want to read all of it. I feel like that’s really rare.

Beth: She writes a lot about how her absence gives her this creative freedom that she could never have otherwise. Do you think that would be true for any of us, ever, if we decided we would leave social media and all that, and we would just write?

Kirstin: I’m not sure that’s possible for us anymore!

Aimee: Yeah, you’d have to be committed to it from the very beginning, as Ferrante was, in order for it to work. And then I wonder what it costs to keep that going.

Vanessa: I thought about these emerging nonfiction writers whose first publications are incredibly personal and revealing memoir pieces. They’re so confessional, like “I slept with my dad!” And they don’t realize that they can never get away from that.

Beth: Did you notice that whenever people asked about her literary influences, she would always cite Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf — and I don’t think she ever mentioned a single woman of color.

"Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay" Photo: Europa Editions

Photo: Europa Editions

“Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay”

Vanessa: Yeah, as usual, writers of color are pretty much never mentioned as influences — except by other writers of color.

Beth: So what do we think about that? What do we think about race and Ferrante? I mean, do we read her the way we read Jane Austen — you know, like it’s a period piece? I think that’s how I read them, and so I have a different level of expectation.

Vanessa: In the books, the characters are outsiders, trying to move from one social and educational class to another, and that’s totally relatable. The struggles are similar.

Kirstin: It’s funny; hers is a world in which it doesn’t occur to me to think about race. It’s so much about regional difference.

Vanessa: I thought it was interesting how Ferrante insisted that the translators not try to render dialect as sounding like dialect. Instead there are markers like, this character says that in dialect and this one said that in Italian. It’s a kind of equalizing move.

Aimee: I think we’ve been pretty critical about American writers when they don’t address race, when their stories are incredibly white. But we don’t put that same standard on Ferrante.

Vanessa: Minority readers can see a mirror in nonminority characters, in white characters, but people don’t always assume that the reverse can happen.

Beth: I think part of the enjoyment of reading period pieces, honestly, is that as a person of color I can be like, yeah, I don’t have to go through the whole racial negotiation.

Aimee: I do identify with Lila feeling so trapped in every decision she made. She’s super smart and she’s thinking so much about self-preservation. And no matter what she does — she’s stuck. What choices are really available to her?

"The Story of the Lost Child" Photo: Europa Editions

Photo: Europa Editions

“The Story of the Lost Child”

Kirstin: I see a lot of writers trying to get away from the inevitable “what about your book is autobiographical” by writing historical fiction.

Beth: Do you think all writers tend to write the same stories or subjects over and over, like Ferrante?

Kirstin: I think we write about what we’re obsessed with, and sometimes that obsession just stays. Ferrante even says she starts with the same voice each time, which seems amazing to me.

Aimee: I think the role of the translator is incredible. They know both worlds — they know everything.

Beth: The translation is another layer of remove, which is totally interesting. There’s the author, there’s “Elena Ferrante,” there’s the translator, and then there’s us.

Later, over email, we reflected on the origins of our book club and what it means to have karaoke be part of it:

Aimee: Usually when I read a really good book, I can gush about it to my partner, whether or not he has read it yet. But with the Neopolitan novels, I felt a need to discuss them not only with other women, because of the incredible way Ferrante handles female perspectives and confronts the overwhelming power of misogyny in this world, but because of what the books said about being a female writer and thinker, and making choices that are not complementary to wifehood or motherhood. Her characters felt so radical and brave, and yet incredibly nearsighted and selfish at times, which is how we all have felt. I liked how passionate these women were, and how Ferrante showed those consequences. As for karaoke — I love karaoke and I love reading. They are both outlets and inspirations, so they make total sense!

Kirstin: I appreciate Ferrante’s writing, first and foremost, I think, for the rawness and the rage. Everything I read in my creative writing classes throughout college and grad school was understated and elegant and wry. That’s what I understood good writing to be and that’s what I aspired to write. When I sink into one of the Neapolitan novels, it really feels like I’m drowning in Ferrante’s words (In a good way! Like drowning in chocolate or something). I’m very struck by Elena’s isolation in the Neapolitan novels, by how much she has to figure out on her own because she simply has no one to turn to. I’m so grateful for our book club. All of this — writing, publishing, academia — would be such a huge puzzle — and so much less fun! — if I didn’t have all of you. And there’s something about the campiness of karaoke that appeals. We all write literary fiction/nonfiction, and karaoke is kind of the opposite of that, almost subversively so.

Beth: The depth of Elena and Lila’s friendship, with all of its complications, and the secrets and secret ambitions both women keep — for me this is real talk, real life. Very often, the Neapolitan Quartet is realism doing some of the best work it can do, showing us that we are not alone. I love that Ferrante is a forthright feminist and that these books are so unapologetically about the lives of girls and women. I use that word “unapologetically” because I feel like, for too long and still, people feel the need to justify that, as if the experiences of girls and women aren’t universal or literary enough. Ferrante knows she doesn’t have to justify that, and I think something about our book club is similar. We don’t have to explain our Ferrante fever; we revel in the feeling of it. The karaoke, too. We go with the feeling (of the writing, of the song) and trust that it will take us somewhere we need to go.

Vanessa: When I first tried reading “My Brilliant Friend,” I couldn’t get much past the section on their girlhood. So many neighbors, so much infighting and squabbling. Yet I knew how passionately people devoured the series, and when Aimee suggested the book club, I was eager to try again. The second time around, the book resonated and I quickly finished reading it, and then the entire quartet. What seems like the minutiae of childhood, I grew to understand, is foundational to understanding the dynamic between the two women, and social and economic forces they are up against their entire lives. Over dinner and drinks, we talk about how the book moved us and made us think about the world as women, as writers. It’s a fun way to engage our intellect. By contrast, karaoke is pure emotion — the highs so high, the lows so low. We’re going back, way back, to the songs we sang along to at prom or played while cruising around with our friends. Likewise, Ferrante’s Lila gives us access to her innermost thoughts and feelings in her childhood and adolescence — all her life, she is raw and honest and restless, like any great karaoke ballad.


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Le Figaro

Celle qui fuit et celle qui reste: le retour prodigieux d’Elena Ferrante

La presse française se joint unanimement au concert de louanges ayant entouré la sortie de ce troisième volet en Italie.

Par Elena Scappaticci

REVUE DE PRESSE – Alors que se prépare l’adaptation sur petit écran de la saga napolitaine à succès, le troisième tome des aventures d’Elena et Lila sort ce mardi 3 janvier en librairie. La presse française salue unanimement le nouveau «grand roman politique et social» de l’écrivain italienne, qui souhaite conserver l’anonymat.

Celle qui fuit: Elena. Celle qui reste: Lila. Dans leur enfance, les deux amies issues des faubourgs populaires de Naples ont passé un pacte. À Lila Cerrulo, le brio et la beauté. À Elena Greco, le conformisme et la banalité physique. Pourtant, lorsque commence le troisième tome de la splendide saga romanesque d’Elena Ferrante, qui paraît ce mardi 3 janvier en France, c’est Elena, la moins douée, l’effacée, qui clôt de brillantes études à Pise, loin de Naples et de ses origines. Elle vient également de publier son premier roman autobiographique, et fréquente l’élite intellectuelle des années 70. Lila, elle, est restée. La jeune femme est désormais ouvrière dans une usine de salaison, harcelée par son patron. En l’espace de deux décennies, les règles du jeu social ont bouleversé le pacte initié dans l’enfance.

Arnaud Viviant, de Transfuge, ne s’y est pas trompé, qui salue le brio avec lequel le roman restitue l’engrenage impitoyable du déterminisme social. Le critique qualifie ce troisième volet de «grande œuvre sur la lutte des classes». Une lutte des classes toujours plus vivace, alors que l’Italie entre avec violence dans les années de plomb. «Chez Elena Ferrante, on vit à poings nus», lit-on ainsi dans le JDD.

Les faubourgs populaires de Naples s’éveillent au fascisme, et les amitiés d’enfance vacillent sous le poids de nouvelles crispations identitaires. L’occasion pour l’écrivain d’entrelacer «grande tradition romanesque du roman familial» et radioscopie «d’une Italie métaphysique», pour Michel Crépu, de la NRF, qui juge le résultat «époustouflant». Même constat pour Nelly Kapriélian, des Inrockuptibles, qui note l’extraordinaire subtilité avec laquelle l’auteur «mêle histoire politique du pays et histoire intime».

La journaliste salue également la puissance féministe du texte de la romancière italienne. Par son traitement littéraire révolutionnaire de la maternité, Elena Ferrante excelle à brocarder les contraintes qui pèsent sur les deux héroïnes, enfermées dans un autre déterminisme, physiologique cette fois, qui les fige dans leur rôle de mère. Dans une Italie qui chancelle, hésitant à opérer le grand basculement progressiste qu’Elena Ferrante appelle de ses voeux, la société semble encore très loin d’être acquise à l’égalité des sexes.

Les deux héroïnes «découvrent que la liberté n’est jamais acquise pour une femme», note le JDD, qui salue également «l’immense audace de l’auteur dans son analyse de la sexualité féminine et des liens parentaux.» Tous ces éléments convergent pour faire de ce nouveau volet «un grand roman politique et social», «d’une beauté et d’une finesse absolument incroyables», pour Olivia de Lamberterie, du ELLE.

La presse française se joint donc unanimement au concert de louanges ayant entouré la sortie de ce troisième volet en Italie. Une bonne nouvelle pour la mystérieuse romancière qui, en septembre dernier, subissait l’acharnement ridicule d’un journaliste, Claudio Gatti, convaincu d’avoir découvert sa véritable identité.

Nouveau nom derrière le pseudonyme

Le 30 septembre 2016, le journaliste italien, relayé par The New York Review of Books, le Frankfurter, Allgemeine Zeitung et Mediapart, affirmait avoir levé le voile sur l’identité de l’auteur à succès. Après 25 années de pseudonyme, celle qui disait avoir choisi ce «nouveau nom» pour «se libérer de l’angoisse qu’engendre la notoriété» aurait donc été démasquée. Il s’agirait d’Anita Raja, traductrice romaine de 63 ans, employée par la maison d’édition E/O.

Depuis, l’information n’a été confirmée ni par l’auteur, ni par son éditrice italienne. De nombreux écrivains se sont en revanche scandalisé des méthodes employées par le journaliste. Pour remonter jusqu’à la traductrice, Claudio Gatti n’a pas hésité à fouiller les dossiers financiers d’Anita Raja, quitte à ébranler le principe du respect de la vie privée. Avec pour conséquence de briser le mystère d’une auteure qui, pendant plus de vingt ans, aura fait fantasmé toute l’Italie… Bravo l’artiste!

Pour tous ceux que le mystère Ferrante continue de fasciner, on apprenait en février 2016 que la saga serait bientôt adaptée sur le petit écran, dans une coproduction entre FremantleMedia’s Wildside et Fandango Productions. Chacun des quatre livres de la saga sera décliné en huit épisodes, dont les droits de diffusion ont été acquis, en France, par le groupe Canal +. Les deux femmes seront incarnées par des actrices italiennes, détaille la production, qui précise également qu’Elena Ferrante a participé à l’écriture de l’adaptation.

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Tony’s Reading List


In my recent post on Elena Ferrante’s Frantumaglia (a collection of the Italian writer’s interviews and letters), I touched on the importance of one of her lesser-known works.  Her third novel can be a little overlooked, sandwiched between the early successes (Troubling Love and The Days of Abandonment) and the all-conquering Neapolitan Novels, but the more I read of Ferrante’s opinions, the clearer it became that it was a rather personal work, and perhaps the key to her writing.  I think that merits a look, don’t you?

The Lost Daughter (translated by Ann Goldstein, review copy courtesy of Europa Editions) introduces us to another of Ferrante’s strong women.  University lecturer Leda, long divorced from her husband, has just seen her grown-up daughters move to Toronto to be with their father, leaving her to enjoy her independence as she sees fit.  With the summer holidays arriving, she decides to head off to the coast for a month, where she intends to spend her time reading and generally relaxing at the beach.

After a few days, though, her routine is disturbed by the arrival of a large group of tourists, an extended family of rowdy Neapolitans, reminding her a little too much of her own younger years.  One of the family stands out, a young mother with a little girl (and a doll in tow), and despite Leda’s desire to be alone, she can’t help watching the young woman and wanting to make contact.  Gradually, as the story starts to swing between the events on the beach and Leda’s own family life, we realise that this need to connect with the young mother has much to do with Leda’s relationship with her mother – and her own daughters.

It’s evident early on that the claims made in Frantumaglia were on the mark, as The Lost Daughter has all the signs of being a very personal novel.  It’s an examination of the relationship between mothers and daughters and the way a beautiful bond can feel as if it has turned into something suffocating, tempting you to cut free.  There’s also, of course, the return to Naples, even if the novel isn’t actually set there.  No matter how far we travel from our roots, all it takes is a reminder of where we came from to plunge us back into that environment, dragging up all our fears in the process.

At the core of the present-day strand is Leda’s fascination with Nina, the young mother.  She stands out from the group, and Leda senses that she doesn’t really fit in, but doesn’t know how to reach out.  It’s then that fate conspires to throw the two women together:

I looked at Nina.  She made senseless gestures, she touched her forehead, she went to the right, then turned abruptly back to the left.  It was as if from her very guts something were sucking the life from her face.  Her skin turned yellow, her lively eyes were mad with anxiety.  She couldn’t find the child, she had lost her.
p.40 (Europa Editions, 2008)

Leda is the one who manages to track down the toddler by putting herself in young Elena’s shoes, something she’s able to do because of a similar experience with her own children…

As much as The Lost Daughter focuses on Leda and Nina, much of the novel is devoted to flashbacks to Leda’s own experience of motherhood with her daughters, Bianca and Marta.  She describes the struggles of being left alone with young children, failing to balance work and home duties, going on to show how the relationship doesn’t get any easier when the girls move into their teens.  The mistakes she makes when trying to welcome her daughters’ boyfriends drive a new wedge between the women of the family, and Leda can’t help but reflect on her issues with her own, beautiful, mother.

In Frantumaglia, Ferrante described how her protagonists are similar in the way they’re seemingly cool, calm and professional, yet often on the verge of falling apart.  Surprisingly vulnerable, they can snap easily, plunging swiftly into despair, and Leda’s frustration at wanting a professional life and not being able to pursue it because of her children is a perfect example:

I was twenty-five and every other game was over for me.  Their father was racing around the world, one opportunity after another.  He didn’t even have time to look carefully at what had been copied from his body, at how the reproduction had turned out. (p.37)

What follows is a surprising decision, one that rocks the reader.  From the first page, Leda has been the voice of the novel, our way into the story, but the decisions she makes regarding her family force us to reconsider how we feel about her, and her judgements.  Even in the present-day strand, we see her slowly falling apart.  Intimidated by the raw aggression of the Neapolitans, she becomes nervous and afraid to venture out, yet paradoxically this also causes her to alter her behaviour towards the men around her, flirting with the handsome twenty-something Gino and the ageing Lothario, Giovanni.

Perhaps it’s this confusion that leads her to take Elena’s doll, an action with far-reaching consequences.  While it may appear to be a random action, it gradually becomes clear that there’s a method to her madness as the writer introduces other dolls from Leda’s past.  First we see Leda receiving a doll, obsessively playing with it, and later, when her daughter defaces it with marker pen, she hurls it from the balcony in a fit of anger (let’s not forget how the image of the doll connects The Lost Daughter with the first scenes of My Brilliant Friend…).  It’s hard not to attribute allegorical qualities to the doll, with the filthy water oozing out of its orifices when Leda attempts to clean it symbolic of the darkness within Leda herself.

The Lost Daughter is a story where the past is just as important as the present, and even if the balance isn’t always perfect (the ending seems a little hurried and Nina’s story comes off as slightly underdeveloped), it’s an excellent read.  There’s the usual breathless pace of the plot, and the added feeling that the novel forms an important part of Ferrante’s oeuvre.  Of all Ferrante’s heroines, Leda appears to be the figure closest to the writer, compelling and brutally honest, a woman driven to choose between motherhood and personal desires – it’s no wonder the writer felt she was exposing herself a little too much in this novel.

Of course, there’s one question that remains unanswered amidst the turmoil that ends the novel – what did the doll think about all this?  Well, it’s funny that you ask. Come back soon, and I may have an answer for you…

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World Literature Today

Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey by Elena Ferrante

In 1992 Edizioni e/o published a first novel, L’amore molesto, by an Italian writer who called herself “Elena Ferrante.” Its provocative cover featured a stylish female figure in a red suit—without her head. Eleven years later, the elegant “headless woman” surfaced again on the cover of a collection of Ferrante’s letters called La frantumaglia (2003). Ferrante’s book covers all feature figures with their faces hidden, just as the novelist has hidden her identity for twenty-four years. Explaining her reasons for anonymity to a relentlessly hungry Italian press in 2003, she wrote, “The true reader, I think, searches not for the brittle face of the author in flesh and blood, who makes herself beautiful for the occasion, but for the naked physiognomy that remains in every effective word.”

Reading this collection of Ferrante’s interviews over twenty years (1995–2015), one is struck by her naïveté. Her seven translated novels found a rapt market in the US (1.6 million copies sold of the Neapolitan tetralogy alone), but she has never ceased to be a target for “unmasking.” Whether the secret scribbler is Edizione e/o’s German translator Anita Raja, her husband, Domenico Starnone, or Topo Gigio, her comments on her female narrators and her writing process is revelatory. She describes Neapolitan mothers she has known, for example, as “silent victims, desperately in love with males and male children, ready to defend and serve them even though the men crush and torture them. . . . To be female children of these mothers wasn’t and isn’t easy.” Those children are the ones she writes about, and their friendships are fragile, “without rules.” The “brilliant friends” Lila and Lenù fight and make up—for sixty years—but they are devoted to each other in a way neither is with her men.

Ferrante has much to say here about her birth city, Naples; her childhood; the origin of her plots; and her need as a fiction writer to be “sincere to the point where it’s unbearable.” I was disappointed at inconsistent or odd translations, such as “difference feminism” for il pensiero della differenza, not to mention rendering frantumaglia (her mother’s word for depression) as “a jumble of fragments.” On the whole, however, Ann Goldstein’s translation does justice to the 2003 original, a volume that serves as a “companion” to Ferrante’s fiction.

Lisa Mullenneaux
University of Maryland University College

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PBS Newshour

31 books you should add to your holiday reading list 

Hello viewers and book lovers — you know who you are — and welcome to our holiday book picks. We asked members of our staff to recommend books that moved them this past year, newly published works but also oldies they’ve gone back to or just discovered. I’m grateful to all my colleagues who participated and hope the list and brief descriptions will suggest readings for our book-hungry audience, stimulate a bit of discussion, and help with holiday gifts.

Consider this a small taste of what is to come. It’s our intention to greatly expand our online book coverage. We have many ideas brewing, including regular reading recommendations from authors and, I hope, a NewsHour Book Club. Stay tuned, we’ll have more on all this soon.

One personal note to kick things off: I like to think of the author conversations I present on the PBS NewsHour as a kind of recommendation to you, our audience. I don’t mean it’s necessarily the “best” new book out there on a given subject or in a given genre (though sometimes it is.) Rather, something about the book or author interested me and made me think others might be interested as well. In that sense, my “recommendations” are on the record and available. But I read a lot for my personal enjoyment (and psychological well-being), including new books that for one reason or another don’t result in NewsHour segments. Let me share five in that category — two novels, one memoir, and two books of poetry, that stood out for me this year:

“My Brilliant Friend” By Elena Ferrante
“The Story of a New Name” By Elena Ferrante
“Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” By Elena Ferrante
“The Story of the Lost Child” By Elena Ferrante

Like many, I fell into the rabbit hole of the four Elena Ferrante “Neapolitan Novels” this year and spent many weeks living in her world. While I preferred the first three books to the more sober and painful finale, I devoured them all. There are so many interesting things to point to in these novels: The clear, unsentimental writing style, the vivid painting of the poverty and crime of inner-city Naples and the rich history of postwar Italy. But mostly it’s the complex friendship of two young girls, who over a 60-year period grow into young women and then mothers, and how that friendship (and sometimes rivalry) defines each of them, how everything they do is reflected and refracted in the other. The first novel is called “My Brilliant Friend,” and one of my favorite confounders of the book is which of the two is meant to be the “brilliant friend.”
Recommended by Jenny Marder, Managing editor, Digital

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Tony’s Reading List


Most people would be aware that the pseudonymous Elena Ferrante isn’t one to enjoy the limelight, but that hasn’t stopped them from trying to find out more about the mysterious Italian writer (with some going to extreme lengths in an attempt to discover her true identity…).  However, if you’re really interested in the woman behind the Neapolitan Novels, rather than going through the bank accounts and real estate records of prominent Italians, you’d be better advised to have a read of her latest book, a collection of letters and interviews spanning two decades.  It’s an informative and enjoyable read – and probably a lot less illegal too…

Frantumaglia (translated by Ann Goldstein, review copy courtesy of Europa Editions) was originally released a while back in Italy, a book featuring letters to and from Ferrante over the first few years of her writing career.  It provided the only glimpse of the writer the reader was likely to get and focused both on her desire for privacy and her thoughts on her first two novels (Troubling Love and The Days of Abandonment).  However, over the years the work has grown along with Ferrante’s success, and the English translation is a full copy of the updated version, adding interviews and conversations gathered since the completion of the Neapolitan Novels.

In many ways, the book provides an invaluable glimpse of the person behind the literature.  The countless interviews, with Ferrante’s extended responses to questions on her work, added to the many letters to her publishers and fragments of writing that was never published, persuade us that we’re receiving a privileged look behind the scenes.  Whether that’s true or not is debatable, though.  The writer and (especially) her publishers are masters at using the anonymity to great effect, and there’s always a suspicion here that Frantumaglia is just another step towards enhancing the Ferrante myth.

From beginning to end, Ferrante constantly asserts her desire to let her books talk for themselves, sending them out into the world to be read and understood without her interpretation.  She wonders:

Is there a way of safeguarding the right of an author to choose to establish, once and for all, through his writing alone, what of himself should become public?
p.61 (Europa Editions, 2016)

The answer is probably no, and the interest (in Italy and overseas) in her true identity shows no signs of abating, with recent events showing the lengths people will go to unmask her.  The pieces here do give clues as to her identity, such as her sisters’ ages, her travel destinations, time spent in Greece and her love of the classics – but that’s still relatively little to go on.

Luckily, then, Ferrante herself gives us a nudge in the right direction by pointing out the importance of certain themes in her fiction, and one of these, the mother-daughter relationship, is mentioned repeatedly.  Her childhood was dominated by her dressmaker mother, with little Elena caught in a relationship in which she both disliked and adored her, angry at her for her going out so much, but mesmerised by her seductive beauty.  When angry with her mother, she used to hide in a small room, half hoping to be looked for and found, and Ferrante later describes the room as the genesis of much of her fiction.  Certainly, this sensual, unavoidable relationship is one she feels she has to explore repeatedly in her work.

Many of the ‘fragments’ here also feature the city of Naples heavily, a city (in the writer’s words) full of the best and worst humans have to offer.  Ferrante attempts to explain the effect the city has had on her writing, especially in regard to the way its women are treated.  While many of her protagonists have left the city, they never really escape its influence, and the veneer of cool professionalism often melts away when they return to their home town:

My women are strong, educated, self-aware and aware of their rights, just, but at the same time subject to unexpected breakdowns, to subservience of every kind, to mean feelings.  I’ve also experienced this oscillation.  I know it well, and that also affects the way I write. (p.251)

It’s this sudden turn from being in control to losing it that marks Ferrante’s protagonists, and in these pieces she candidly admits that much of this is drawn from her own experiences.  These stories gradually lead us to the development of the Neapolitan Novels (which are hinted at even in the early letters, long before the work was underway), with a synthesis of the importance of Naples, the struggles of its women and Ferrante’s attraction to melodrama and (what she calls) ‘low levels of storytelling’.  Later, she is able to reflect on the book’s creation, following the traces back, explaining how all her writing, early novels and unpublished pieces, led to this one extended novel.

Part of the charm of Frantumaglia is following Ferrante’s obvious interest in how her work is received, even while she refuses to colour readers’ perceptions.  An excellent example of this is her reaction to the films of her early novels and her fascination with the screenplays she is sent.  Much as she dreads having her story and characters appropriated, her determination to make the work stand on its own means she’s loath to get between book and reader (or film and watcher):

But there is no correct way to activate the power of a written story, and instructions for use are not worth much.  The “right reading” is an invention of academics and critics.  Every reader gets from the book he is reading nothing else but his book. (p.190)

For Ferrante, this isn’t about the death, or the absence, of the author (in fact, she rejects this idea of absence on several occasions); it’s merely a desire to have the work sink or swim on its own merits.

For anyone who has read a few of Ferrante’s novels, working your way through Frantumaglia is a fascinating experience.  The many pieces combine to provide valuable insights into her writing, and the discussions of plot and character show the amount of work and thought that went into the novels.  The writer, despite her supposed reticence, is often unable to control herself in responses to interview questions (Exhibit A here is a seventy-page response to some detailed questions from a journalist) – for someone unwilling to let the author overshadow the work, at times, she simply can’t help herself.  Of course, that’s partly due to the personal nature of her writing and the sense that her novels are an expression of her own experiences:

(Liz) Jobey: The Neapolitan novels have similarities of character and plot to your three earlier novels.  Are you, in some way, telling the same story?
Ferrante: Not the same story but definitely the same features of a single malady.  Life’s wounds are incurable and you write them and rewrite them in the hope of being able, sooner or later, to construct a narrative that will account for them once and for all. (p.350)

Perhaps, then, Ferrante is simply working through her experiences using alter-egos, exploring the possibilities and constraints of an educated Neapolitan woman – and then using the reactions of a global audience to gauge how much they reflect the experiences of women elsewhere…

While Frantumaglia does reveal a different side to Ferrante than that shown by the novels, another intriguing aspect to the book is its meta-referential level.  Both Ferrante and her publishers constantly allude in their letters to the book itself, discussing earlier versions and exploring the idea of expanding the collection to account for further developments in Ferrante’s career.  The Frantumaglia we’re reading today is the result of a gradual accretion of these ‘frantumaglia’, the many pieces floating around in the ether wanting to be formed into something less scattered.  Given this fragmented format, with the reader free to form their own ideas of what the book is about (which I’m sure Ferrante would appreciate), there’s every chance that even this hefty tome, running to almost four-hundred pages, is only a further draft of the work, with more to come with time.

So far, I’ve been nothing but complimentary about the book, but I’d have to say that the nature of the book means that some sections are fairly dull.  There’s a fair amount of repetition, particularly in the third and final part containing interviews with journalists from around the world (yes, it’s impressive that interviewers from so many countries are desperate to speak to Ferrante, but there are only a certain number of ways she can say, no, I don’t regret my decision to remain in the background…).  In addition, while respecting her desire for anonymity, I don’t always agree with how she goes about it, and as much as she may deny that it’s good for sales, her publishers are certainly using it as a marketing tool (it’s no secret that it’s #FerranteFever that they push, focusing on the writer, not the books).

However, overall Frantumaglia is an excellent glimpse behind the curtain, and there are several sections where it simply makes for enjoyable reading.  The best parts are when Ferrante cuts loose, longer sections where she forgets that she’s supposed to be answering questions and just writes whatever she feels like discussing at the time.  In many places, the pieces could be fiction (and quite possibly are…) and provide a timely reminder of why she’s so popular – it’s hard not to be swept away by the passionate honesty of her responses, whether they’re authentic or not.  What’s even more intriguing are the frequent mentions of unpublished work, reams of text that the writer never considered worthy of sending to the publishers.  It’s hard to imagine that none of this will ever see the light of day…

That’s plenty for one post, but before I finish, I need to quickly mention the special attention Ferrante pays to her third novel, The Lost Daughter.  In many places, she describes it as an important piece, a personal work and a crucial connection between her early books and the Neapolitan Novels.  All of which means that having read the other novels, it’s time for me to have a look at that one too to see if it really is the key to Ferrante’s fiction – soon, perhaps😉

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Literary Hub



By Gabrielle Bellot

What is perhaps one of Elena Ferrante’s least-known books may provide a clue to her best-known controversy: the right to living under a pseudonym, which turned into an international debate with a by-now notorious essay at The New York Review of Books’ blog by Claudio Gatti, which appeared simultaneously in Gatti’s own newspaper, Il Sore 24 Ore, as well as other European news outlets. The book I have in mind is The Beach at Night, a short illustrated tale for children published in 2007 and translated into English in October of 2016, which focuses on the power of names—and, particularly, on the power one may gain by trying to take control of another’s name. Ferrante’s tale is as intriguing as it is unnerving.

The Beach at Night is narrated by a doll named Celina. Mati, a five-year-old girl, has brought Celina to the beach, but she decides to play with a cat instead of her doll, at which point her brother decides to partially bury Celina in a hole in the sand. After a while, as the sky becomes darker, it becomes clear that Mati has forgotten Celina on the beach. The doll thinks of Mati almost like a mother—“a perfect mamma,” Celina calls her at one point—and she alternates between optimism about being found and despair at her sense of having been abandoned. A genuinely frightening villain soon appears in the figure of a man known simply as “The Mean Beach Attendant,” who is collecting trash, and who finds Celina by using a disquietingly beastlike tool, a rake, to uncover her—and the word “rake,” of course, has long literary connotations of lechery that only amplify the horror in these pages. The man then decides to force the words from Celina when he learns that she can speak in a disturbing sequence of scenes. However, just as the Mean Beach Attendant is about to rip her name from her, the cat that Mati had played with saves her and brings her home, bringing the unsettling narrative to a close.

Ferrante’s tale has shades of Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved film from 2001, Spirited Away, which also centers around the significance of having—or losing—a name. In Miyazaki’s movie, the witch Yubaba runs a baroque, magical bathhouse for spirits, and, in order to work for her, the young protagonist Chihiro must quite literally sign away her name to Yubaba, for after she signs this contract, she begins to forget the name she once had. What is explicit in Spirited Away is implicit here: that the power of a name matters. Yet, for all this, Ferrante’s tale seems darker, due in part to Mara Cerri’s gorgeous, surreal, and sometimes disquieting illustrations, which are full of shadows and of the sense—echoing the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico or Paul Delvaux—that the dusky unknown is looming around a corner. The way Celina faces losing her name is far more unnerving and sensually depicted, with images that focus on teeth, saliva, and hooks; the male beach attendant tries to rip the words from Celina, his saliva entering her mouth via a nightmarish “hook.” It is difficult not to feel disturbed; this is a rape scene in a children’s book, filtered through the prism of a doll and through the oneiric imagery that softens the terror of what is actually going on. And, in many ways, this seems to echo Ferrante’s fight over preserving her name, once it had been forcibly yanked from her.

In Ferrante’s fiction, dolls and adulthood often connect in subtle ways, like two mirrors facing each other, but at crooked angles. Just as the plot of The Beach at Night centers around the loss of a child’s doll and its disconcerting, almost literal baptism of fire through meeting an adult male, the narrator of the first of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend, it is also the loss of a doll that becomes the first major plot arc of the narrative; crucially, when Lila pushes down her doll into the home of Don Achille, it is a kind of opening of a door to adulthood, where our narrator will begin to learn who she truly is in relation to Lila, and what the most fearsome adult in her young life, Don Achille, truly represents.

That The Beach at Night, which is almost a coming-of-age tale, is a book marketed to children is somewhat deceptive. Ferrante’s story is at once a children’s book and a childlike tale for adult readers; the greatest children’s books, after all, as C. S. Lewis famously suggested, are as much for adults as they for children. “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon,” Lewis wrote in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” “that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last. A waltz which you can like only when you are waltzing is a bad waltz.”

In like fashion, Chinua Achebe’s first tale for children, Chike and the River, displays many of the themes so important in Achebe’s other work: the question of what it means to live in one place versus another, displacement, and how to deal with danger. Frog and Toad, Arnold Lobel’s much-loved series, might take on a striking resonance when we read it in light of the fact that Lobel came out to his family as gay in 1974, four years after the series’ first book was published, and famously said in a 1977 interview—a decade before he died from AIDS—that “You know, if an adult has an unhappy love affair, he writes about it. He exorcises it out of himself, perhaps, by writing a novel about it. Well, if I have an unhappy love affair, I have to somehow use all that pain and suffering but turn it into a work for children.” One of my favorite books as a child was The Big Bazoohley, Peter Carey’s only work for children; I read and reread it more times than I can think of, yet had no idea, at the time, who Peter Carey was. Many years later, after reading the magisterial novels Oscar and Lucinda and The True History of the Kelly Gang, Carey became one of my beloved authors as an adult, and I was shocked when I stumbled, by sheer chance, upon the fact that he had written one of the books that meant the most to me as a lonely kid. The Big Bazoohley, suddenly, seemed to mean something bigger than ever to me as an adult. The best children’s books grow as we do.

And what it even means to be a children’s book is complex, as Ferrante’s story illustrates well. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s most iconic short stories, “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” and “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” both bear a subtitle that has often puzzled my students when I assign these texts in class: A Tale for Children. Garcia Marquez’s stories are so filled with subtle moments of erudition that it is virtually impossible for a child to fully appreciate them, as when the narrator of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” reveals that the titular old man—who many of the villagers in the stormy place he lands in imagine to be a decrepit angel—does not speak Latin, so the Catholic priest examining him believes he cannot be an angel, as Latin is the language of God. The same is true for Lewis’s novels about Narnia, which are replete with theological symbolism, as well as with casual examples of problematic systems of imagery we may understand better as adults, like Orientalism. Are these indeed stories for children, if children cannot be expected to get all of these references? But, of course, this is partly the point. Children’s stories are often for adults in different ways than they are for children—and, just as books change for us as we do, children’s tales will, at best, take on new shades of meaning, will reveal new hidden rooms and lofts, as we learn to look at them with more attuned eyes.

Yet children’s stories by adult writers who only wrote occasional works for young readers tend to be neglected in favor of their adult work when assessing a writer: the leitmotifs of their life’s work, their grand themes, their arguments, their clairvoyance, their development. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, like Antoine Saint-Exupery’s marvelous and peculiar The Little Prince, which is often the work of his people know best. But there are many more cases that are not exceptions, like Angela Carter’s Miss Z and The Donkey Prince, two sophisticated tales for children from 1970 that show much of Carter’s later trajectory as a writer, yet tend to be left out of discussions of her work entirely. This is not surprising; after all, work for children must necessarily be simpler than work for adults on some levels, most of all language, and this critical neglect, at least in the Western world, also parallels the unfortunate, still-frequent dismissal of cartoons as being for children rather than adults, an assumption that, notably, exists far less in Japan, where anime—animated work made in Japan—is perhaps more often for adults than for children. But writers are complex tapestries, and we may lose important threads if we only glance over, or ignore altogether, a section of that tapestry that, initially, may seem inferior to the rest.


Pseudonyms, of course, are a door left ajar, yellow or blue light spilling from its crack; who doesn’t wonder what, or who, may be on the other side? It is natural to want to solve this simple sort of mystery. The detective tales of Poe, Doyle, Christie, and Chesterton are based, after all, on just this: that there is something to solve, and, by the end of it, we can rest assured that something will be cleared up. But mystery, too, can be beautiful. Sometimes, finding out what lies on the other side of that door spoils the beauty that that yellow or blue light suggested, not because there is anything indelibly wrong with doing so, but because some mysteries mean so much more when we leave them unsolved. As a nonbeliever, I often want to know, definitively, whether or not there is some kind of deity out there; yet, all the same, and despite the scars religious indoctrination left on me as a child, I also know that I would lose something silly and yet somehow meaningful if I knew the answer with absolute certainty. Enigma is both frustrating and fantastic, wondrous and ponderous and worrisome—and isn’t that the most human things of all, not the incredible power of being able to find an answer, but the ability to choose to revel in its mystery instead?

The Beach at Night is far shorter than the works Ferrante is best known for, yet it is—intentionally or otherwise—immensely revealing about the largest and longest controversy surrounding her. “For those who love reading,” Ferrante told Francesco Erbani in an interview that appeared in La Repubblica in 2006, “the author is purely a name. We know nothing about Shakespeare. We continue to love the Homeric poems even though we know nothing about Homer.” A few moments later, she added, “Someone who truly loves literature is like a person of faith.” I am pulled to know answers to questions—yet, perhaps she is right, that this is enough: to walk into the smoky cathedral of a literature and believe in the author who does not sit anywhere in the pews or appear anywhere near the altar nor rest in any of the flickering crypts below, because it is enough to love the books themselves. The author-God may not be dead, to counter Roland Barthes, but I don’t mind pretending that it is with Ferrante. The grand power of a name, it seems, is in being able to keep it to yourself, which Ferrante seems—rightly—to want children and adults alike to know.

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The Millions

A Year in Reading: 2016

Based on the entries this year, I can confirm that readers are still very into Elena Ferrante.

We typically schedule the essays and reviews and lists we run at The Millions a week or two in advance. Before the U.S. election, I looked at what we had in the hopper and tried to arrange the posts for timeliness. This was basically a symbolic gesture since The Millions is a total literary miscellany, and mostly contributor-driven — we don’t have the budget to commission much work (see publisher Max Magee’s call for support here). Max and I conferred about what to run on election day itself; we agreed that a lovely, calm installment of Hannah Gersen’s Proust Diary was the thing. I asked him what we should run if Donald Trump won. “SHUT IT ALL DOWN,” he wrote, sort of joking.

It’s obvious now that our disbelief was a luxury — there were plenty of people who knew it could happen. But the shock was real, and so too was the subsequent urge to shut it down. It was unclear, in the days immediately following the election, how a literary site could possibly matter when Donald Trump was the President of the United States, when it felt that all efforts should henceforth be directed at subverting the new regime. (It’s still unclear.)

But then the Year in Reading entries started coming in, from more than 70 writers. This is the 13th year of the series, and it feels like the most necessary yet. The entries have a measure of fear and grief, yes. They are about reckoning with the past, and preparing for the future. They are also full of beauty, full of sensitivity, full of intelligence, full of curiosity and care. They are about dissolving in someone else’s consciousness. About sharing suffering. About taking a break. About falling in love.

Based on the entries this year, I can confirm that readers are still very into Elena Ferrante. But there are many other names to discover in this series — exciting debuts and forgotten classics and authors whose names were on the tip of your tongue. There are hundreds of books: novels, essays, works of nonfiction, and poems.

As in prior years, the names of our 2016 contributors will be unveiled throughout the month as entries are published (starting with our traditional opener from Languagehat’s Stephen Dodson). Bookmark this post, load up the main page, subscribe to our RSS feed, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to make sure you don’t miss an entry — we’ll run three or four per day. And if you look forward to the Year in Reading every year, please consider supporting the site and ensuring this December tradition continues for years to come.

There are difficult weeks and years ahead, but we hope you’ll be momentarily refreshed and heartened as you hear from an array of prodigious readers and writers. At the very least, you’ll find something good to read.

A Year in Reading: Stephen Dodson

 Like so many other people, I devoured Elena Ferrante’s glorious Neapolitan quartet; when I was done, I had a Naples itch, and to scratch it I finally read my ancient copies of John Horne Burns’s The Gallery and Norman Lewis’s Naples ’44, and was bowled over by both. (. . .)

A Year in Reading: Kaulie Lewis

Not to be too contrarian, but sometimes I like people to be wrong. Is that terrible? Maybe it’s terrible. Either way, when everyone I knew said, “just try reading Elena Ferrante, she’s amazing, incredible, you’ll love her, you won’t even look up until you’re through, how lucky are you the fourth book is out, you didn’t even have to wait, I wish I was reading them for the first time again,” I decided I didn’t want them to be right.Ferrante? Not my style, I said.
Alas, 2016 was the year I finally read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and got just as swept up as everyone said I would. I made the mistake of beginning My Brilliant Friend on a plane, headed out to visit friends in San Francisco. Rudely but predictably, I spent the rest of the trip curled up on somebody else’s couch, far more engaged with the novels than I was with my real-life companions and hosts. Day outings were almost painful; I practically had to be dragged out of my imaginary Naples to drive out to a vineyard or to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.Dramatics aside, the Neapolitan novels stunned me. Lila, Lenu, the reality and complexity of their world, and the incredibly insightful, moving, and painful female friendship at its heart, were more than enough to knock me over. I’ve rarely been so glad to be so wrong.

A Year in Reading: Bich Minh Nguyen

This year a group of friends and I started a book club because we wanted to talk about Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet. It so happened that we also love karaoke, so we became a karaoke book club: we talk about writing and desire and friendship and then we go and sing our hearts out. This pairing works beautifully and maybe it’s because we want to be in a moment, like Ferrante Fever. I’ve been thinking about how much immersion matters, how I’m reading for what books can make me feel, especially a particular collusion of sadness and rage, sparked by longing. This takes many forms: rawness, interiority, yelling, even silence. It has to do with characters working against histories and structures that often seem impossible to break.

Elena Ferrante’s Elena and Lila are trying to figure out their own selves, at times creative and wild, within harsh patriarchal and provincial structures.


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