This is the second of Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels, and I must say, I love it even more than the first. Dive deeper into the intricacies of female friendship with her two main characters, Elena and Lila, as they navigate the waters of young adulthood. This book paints such an accurate historical portrait of Italy in the second half of the 20th century in the way of politics, poverty, and crime. Ferrante brilliantly weaves feminist conviction into her novel along with love, passion, adultery, creative genius, and ambition. These books are pure gold!
The Neapolitan Novels’: “My Brilliant Friend,’’ “The Story of a New Name,’’ “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,’’ “The Story of the Lost Child,” Elena Ferrante. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa)
You’ve heard everyone talk about them, this addictive epic about two girls in Naples and the pathways they take into life. The size has put you off, maybe the hype. Just start with volume 1, and say good-bye to the world around you.
Summertime and the reading is, well, mostly easy. Turns out, some of our favorite celebrities have some pretty impressive reading goals. But don’t worry, there is also plenty of fun fiction too. Our intrepid band of bookworms is nothing if not eclectic in their literary habits. So if you are in the need for some suggestions on what to read next, here is a round up of what the CBC has been (and plans on) reading this summer.
As usual, Reese is all business, forget an actual reading list, she already has the books. And judging from what we see, she has a pretty interesting summer of reading ahead of her.
Had it really been so wonderful? I knew very well that at that time, too, there had been shame. And uneasiness, and humiliation, and disgust: accept, submit, force yourself. Is it possible that even happy moments of pleasure never stand up to a rigorous examination?
I like shopping. In the most culturally loaded sense of the word. Like when comedians of the 80s used to make jokes about how women like to shop. That’s the kind of shopping I like to do. I don’t get to do it often, but I like to look at and try on and buy clothes. I like to have them in steadily accumulating bags as I go from store to store. I feel like the bar is so low for men my age, that even a cursory effort to look remotely nice is deeply satisfying.
I like shopping with my wife, too. I know. I’m supposed to sit outside the dressing room with a vacant look on my face with other vacant-looking men as we contemplate the series of events that led to this hell. But look at it this way: I get to see my wife in all sorts of different outfits, most of it she’ll look great in, and some of it will be too tight? I’m not sure where the drawback is here.
This is the second of the four Neapolitan Novels; I loved My Brilliant Friend, too, but The Story of a New Name takes all of the elements of the first one–politics, romance, and social rivalries–and turns up the volume. Lila and Lenu are lifelong best friends and in many ways, each other’s inverse reflections. Both young women celebrate, and often covet, what the other has, and the resulting portrait of female friendship is fascinating.
After reading My Brilliant Friend in March, I bought myself a first-class ticket on the Elena Ferrante train. Even though I thought My Brilliant Friendwas great, The Story of a New Name, the second novel in the Neapolitan novel cycle, blew me even further away.
The Story of a New Name picks up right where My Brilliant Friend leaves off. Elena and Lila, who are still close friends, deviate even further in their paths — Elena becomes the first in her family to go to college, while Lila gets married as a teenager. Along the way they both experience betrayal, romance and the plights of growing up. The Napoli neighborhood and Italy they live in are swirling with violence and political strife, which nearly parallels what’s going on in their personal lives. Ferrante is so eloquent and writes with such intensity that it’s easy to get sucked into the story, even if it is just about two women.
The cover art suggests that this is a fluffy romance novel, but it’s anything but that. What I enjoy most about reading these books is that Ferrante explores the complexities of female friendship in a compelling way. Elena and Lila are inseparable in spirit but struggle to find separate identities that can coexist, something I came to understand the more I read. The person you love the most is also the one who can hurt you the most, and that idea comes up over and over again throughout the novel. The empathy you feel for both characters is very real, at least in my experience — these women are stuck within traditional gender roles, and trying to deviate from them has real consequences. I already bought the third novel, and can’t wait to crack it open.
Elena Ferrante is a name steeped in mystery. The author of the bestsellingNeopolitan novels wants to remain anonymous and so far has managed to do so. An incredible feat in this digital age. Ferrante explains this in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, conducted by email, writing that “physical absence from the public sphere makes the writing absolutely central”. Which is true. To a point. The obsession over Ferrante’s identity is becoming almost as prominent in the public space as the obsession with the books themselves.
The Story of a New Name is not a comfortable book. It is quietly sombre in its depiction of Lila and Elena, friends who live in Italy in the 1960s. It chronicles their tangled lives in detail, smoothly picking up the threads from My Brilliant Friend. Neither book strives to give you great pleasure, or fill you with the joy a simple story can bring. Instead the intricacies of female friendship at times overwhelm you with a sense of recognition and maybe even a little trepidation. Recognition of the complexities of female friendships – the quiet competition, the constant comparisons, the love for each other often amplified through pain. And the trepidation from a clear sense that this isn’t going to go smoothly for either character. Sometimes I feel that female friendships can be like running a race, only you are completely unaware of it until it you realise you have in some way lost in the other’s eye. Much of this disappointment is born in your own mind, but much is born empathetically or just entirely obviously. The subtlety of this relationship is the key here. Thats’s where the true beauty of Ferrante’s writing lies.
I will readily admit I’ve only read the first two Neapolitan novels since the series gained popularity last year. To be honest, while I enjoyed the first one, I didn’t rush to pick up the second. They are books that should be savoured, but they are also books that weigh heavily when you’re reading them. I need a break in between. I need to gather my strength to pick up the next one. I don’t know why they resonate so strongly, but I do know I’m not alone in feeling that way, and there is some comfort in that.
Ferrante’s writing is truly eloquent; once you start you ride a wave of underlying emotion so strong that you power through each novel. I feel we have so much to learn from her – or him – particularly on the intricacies of human behaviour. Elena and Lila are like two sides of the same spinning coin, each trying to land face up.
Much credit must go to Ann Goldstein who translated the stories from their original Italian, without losing any of the delicacy of the writing. I think translators are often so under-appreciated, don’t you? It must be so difficult to get beneath the skin of a story enough to rewrite it so beautifully in another language. There is great skill there.
There is much skill in this series and I’m grateful for it. Even if you shy from the popular books, try and read these. There’s something in them that makes you understand yourself a little better.
Best Sequel Ever
Well this really is difficult isn’t it. We don’t ask people to choose favourite children! At the moment I am belatedly in the throws of Ferrante fever, I adored ‘The Story of a New Name’, I thought that the characters really developed depth in this sequel and the claustrophobia of living in such a small town was beautifully contrasted with the taste of freedom Elena was given. The circumstances of young women at that time had me biting my fist in anger and I felt like Ferrante herself would have been smashing the keyboard in these moments to vent her own frustrations, you could feel her rage bubbling beneath the text. As a little side note, I don’t see a ‘prequel’ part anywhere on here and this somehow lets me wedge another book in, so for that I will say ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, for opening my eyes and making me realise that I had been totally negligent when thinking of poor Bertha, not considering her story at all and accepting Mr Rochester at his word. My feminist eyes were awoken and Jean Rhys did so with prose that felt fresh yet still made the text work with that of Charlotte’s (my mate, no need for second names here!)
The Story of a New Name follows My Brilliant Friendand takes the two friends through high school and college, for the writer, and for her friend through a fraught marriage, motherhood, separation, and back to a tough working life. I found the plot to be less trite than the one in the first book, and with more unexpected twists, especially as the newlyweds fight, cheat, storm out, plot against each other, and generally despise everything the other does. Still, despite the period details, some of the petty fights and rivalries get tedious.
Through the Revolving Looking Glass
I remember seeing, some time ago, a movie that was bordering comedy and drama without truly becoming neither, not even a melodrama. It was sometimes touching, sometimes funny, sometimes only artificial – like many a successful box office today. The name of the movie was Sliding Doors and it was the plot’s idea I liked most: two alternative futures for the heroine, depending on some apparently minor circumstance – her catching or not a train.
Well, while thinking hard (:D) about the second volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, The Story of a New Name, it suddenly struck me that its main technique (the whole series main technique, I guess) is roughly the same – the revolving doors one, combined with the good old motive of the double so favoured by Romantic and/ or Gothic literature. Lila and Lenù are nothing but two faces of one and only character in two different circumstances generated by the turning point of continuing or abandoning her education:
My life forces me to imagine what hers would have been if what happened to me had happened to her, what use she would have made of my luck. And her life continuously appears in mine, in the words that I’ve uttered, in which there’s often an echo of hers, in a particular gesture that is an adaptation of a gesture of hers, in my less which is such because of her more, in my more which is the yielding to the force of her less.
Reese Witherspoon invites you to join her reading club, according to Elle U.K. It looks like the Hot Pursuit actress picked up the trend started by Emma Watson: starting literature groups.
The latest trend among celebrities is to share what books they’re currently reading and encourage their social media followers to read the same books with them. And it looks like Reese Witherspoon has a goal of starting her own reading club, as the actress has been posting her current reads for weeks now.
Reese Witherspoon uses her Instagram account to inform her 6 million followers about her current reads. The actress usually posts a book cover along with a little synopsis of the book. The list of the books Witherspoon has read over the past few weeks includes Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? and Drew Barrymore’s Wildflower.
Reese Witherspoon’s reading list also includes Kimberley McCreight’s The Outliers, Sloane Crosley’s The Clasp, Elena Ferrante’s The Story Of A New Name, Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, and Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
“Have you ever been to the theater?”
“A few times.”
“Did you like it?”
“It was all right.”
“I’ve never been, but I’ve seen it on television.”
“It’s not the same thing.”
“I know, but better than nothing.”
And at that point she took out of her bag the book I had given her, the volume of Beckett’s plays, and showed it to him.
“Have you read this?”
Nino took the book, examined it, admitted uneasily, “No.”
“So there is something you haven’t read.”
“You should read it.”
Lila began to talk to us about the book. To my surprise she was very deliberate, she talked the way she used to, choosing the words so as to make us see people and things, and also the emotion she gave them, portraying them anew keeping them there, present, alive. She said that we didn’t have to wait for nuclear war, in the book it was as if it had already happened. She told us at length about a woman named Winnie who at a certain point announced, another happy day, and she herself declaimed the phrase, becoming so upset that, in uttering it, her voice trembled slightly: another happy day, words that were insupportable, because nothing, nothing, she explained, in Winnie’s life, nothing in her gestures, nothing in her head, was happy, not that day or the preceding days. But, she added, the biggest impression had been made on her by a Dan Rooney. Dan Rooney, she said, is blind but he’s not bitter about it, because he believes that life is better without sight, and in fact he wonders whether, if one became deaf and mute, life would not be still more life, life without anything but life.
“Why did you like it?” Nino asked.
“I don’t know yet if I liked it.”
“But it made you curious.”
“It made me think. What does it mean that life is more life without sight, without hearing, even without words?”
“Maybe it’s just a gimmick.”
“No, what gimmick. There’s a thing here that suggests a thousand others, it’s not a gimmick.”
From Elena Ferrante’s 2012 novel The Story of a New Name. English translation by Ann Goldstein.
Ferrante’s so-called Neapolitan Novels do at least two things successfully that so many contemporary novels of “literary” fiction attempt and fail to do:
One, Ferrante harnesses and demonstrates the intellectual force of her two protagonists/antagonists. Many contemporary novelists insist on the brilliance of a particular character, but fail to capture and convey any sense of brilliance.
Two, Ferrante uses metatextual literary references adroitly and meaningfully, where other contemporary writers often clunkily throw in references to greater works of literature as a means to offer ballast to an otherwise-lite offering.
I quickly moved on to The Story of a New Name by Elene Ferrante, after completing the first of the Neapolitan Quartet quite recently:
This volume was equally good. Amazingly, as this is just the story of two girls growing up in Naples, I found it a real page turner.
The children were born in the same Neapolitan slum, but their lives took them in different directions. As volume two of the narrative develops, these differences widen into a chasm, yet the girls maintain their connection.
The second volume begins with a brief explanation that Lila has given the author, Elena, for safekeeping, a box containing Lila’s journals and notes. This device allows Elena to narrate her own story, intertwined with that of her childhood friend, giving her a kind of insight into both characters.
The Story of a New Name describes the unhappy marriage of Lila to a local businessman, and Lena’s continuing education.
In high school my friends and I daydreamed about the big house we’d all buy together when we grew up. It would be a big house in Southern California, and every day would be a continuation of our glorious days of summer: dinner parties, Frisbee, car washes, greasy sandwiches, bonfires at the beach. We each had a role: handyman, cook, that guy who does all the spreadsheets.
Perhaps you all know how this ends. Perhaps it is hardly surprising for me to tell you that we are scattered now, that many of us no longer talk at all. I never told them this, but I didn’t want to live in California anyway.
To say we grew apart is a cheap explanation. It leaves much out. Growing apart—what does that mean? Why do some friendships grow and others grow apart? Where is the line between breathing space and total disconnection?
I read the first volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet over the span of three weeks, a pace that accelerated as my sense of urgency increased with each cliffhanger. The second volume took one week; the third, three days; and the last, I read between two p.m. and midnight one weekday afternoon starting with the first free moment I had at work.
“In the spring of 1966, Lila in a state of great agitation, entrusted to me a metal box that contained eight notebooks”.
NEW readers do not start here. The second part of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan passionatas is not a sequel, just the next chapter, the explosive repercussions post the wedding as the girls run their new found sexuality up against brooding, entrenched towers of machismo.
We are in a full fury. Two new shops are to be built. Leila hovers between narcissistic muse and volcanic evil. Nerdy, bespectacled Lina is torn between her true love and her lover, between her friend’s adult freedoms and new wealth and her own striving with academia and poverty. She takes her first (luxurious) bath.
And behind all this we feel the shadowy politics of Naples. We are reminded that Don Achille was perhaps murdered by a woman, that Stefano was always the actor, that others are also being swept up in a torrent of hormones. The Solaras have the money and connections while looming for the other boys is a different kind of purgatory, conscription into an Italian army representing just what at this stage in Italian history – the re-built state, a re-run of fascism, a police to a settlement that has its own laws of omertà?
“The months ahead were packed with small events that tormented me a great deal,” Lina declares as she moves through each mood, each shift of politic, each emotional re-alignment, each dilemma aggrandising the petty into this great opera of four books. The scale here is Proust or Balzac which is to say any small detail can assume an import as much as another. Through this, fittingly, the plot has more than a few eye-popping twists.
The deliciousness is all in the detail, the sense of capturing a time, of the emergence of the girls, of the sheer excitement of their presences, being a part of their world, their sisterhood, of living each moment with them, daft, cruel, spontaneous, spiteful, of their femininity, told as it were like a great, uncontainable gush of tenement gossip while each incident resonates through a band of families and a wider society.