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. (…)


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.

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 (

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.”


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

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.

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.

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.