Reviews

Reviews for Frantumaglia

Frantumaglia, Europa Editions, 2016

The Seattle Times

10 nonfiction books to immerse yourself in this fall

Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey” by Elena Ferrante (Penguin, $17). “Frantumaglia” is a Neapolitan word meaning a jumble of fragments — and this collection, by the writer of the beloved Neapolitan Quartet series, is appropriately a mixture of letters, essays and interviews. Though the author, who writes under a pseudonym, sheds little light on her own life story, a New York Times reviewer noted that the book “offers something else: a chance to consider her strange, spectral presence in the world of letters.”

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Entropy Mag

A REVIEW OF JANE LEWTY’S IN ONE FORM TO FIND ANOTHER: “A BODY ITS VIOLENT EXCURSION GOES ON”

written by Carrie Lorig August 7, 2017

I have been reading / re-reading Elena Ferrante’s Frantumaglia, Simone White’s Of Being Dispersed, and Jane Lewty’s In One Form to Find Another / and hating myself / for lingering on what I repeat and repeat to myself / what I write down in a diary that is not a diary / that I keep as a poem / as writing. “No one understands narrative I drink champagne / and refuse help No one understands narrative / It offends me” It’s bitchy / floral and maybe petulant / wrong and not wrong. I am constantly interested in what such feeling is nipping at / at what it’s critiquing: the poem or the story or the body that ends / that ends safely / in sun and scenery. That “makes sense of it all” with satisfaction, recognition, and comfort.

What happens to the body or the poem that instead chooses refusal, fragmentation, and disappearance? “Her happiness costs her a lot,” remarks Hélène Cixous in Reading with Clarice Lispector about a girl, a narrator of Lispector’s who has no choice but to insist that her drink is delicious, though she feels in her body it is not. What happens to the body that does not or cannot write something that can be confirmed or denied? Do you believe it more or less? Does it matter? Rather, can you believe that, perhaps, this is how the body has lived? What is duration when it is also an event / a life. What if the poem cannot translate or does not want to translate an event / a life / reality in a way that makes you feel good / for having read the poem / for having perfectly (or violently) quoted the poem / its climatic moment / its climatic clarity amidst trauma and body and life?

In Frantumaglia, Ferrante fiercely describes how suffering and pain is relayed through the lives of two of her early narrators, Delia and Olga (featured in Troubling Love and The Days of Abandonment), as well as by herself, by her mother, by the voices she creates and comes into chaotic contact with. Such emotions in the othered body, Ferrante says, bust apart expectations of linear experience and of the linear processing of experience. Ferrante insists her narrators speak / that there are beings who speak from a life in unfathomable motion. “Delia and Olga tell their stories from within that whirling,” says Ferrante. “Even when they slow down they don’t distance themselves, they don’t contemplate, they don’t carve out external spaces for reflection. They are women who tell their story from the middle of a dizzy spell.” Do we listen to the bodies thrashing and writing this way? Do we resent them for not making it clear to us / for not giving us the well-worn couplets wrapped in kind of viral awe we have come to expect? Do we listen to them if they don’t carry Elena Ferrante’s / Anne Carson’s name recognition / if they haven’t “earned” “strangeness”? Frantumaglia and Ferrante does the good work of troubling / developing a beautiful swamp of these questions and concerns with her existence and the “documentation” of it. Alexander Chee, in his review of Frantumaglia at New Republic, details the elaborate layers of Ferrante’s movements and writing, as well as how the potential unmasking of Ferrante’s “true identity” merely plays into increasing the texture of both fictional / true layers.

 

“[Anita] Raja was born in Naples, the daughter of a German immigrant, but her family moved to Rome when she was three. Her ancestors were not among the Neapolitan poor of postwar Italy, but rather experienced Polish pogroms and Nazi persecution. If Ferrante is Raja, and the Ferrante who spent the majority of her life in Naples—the city she has said she feels ‘in my gestures, my words, my voice, even when I put an ocean between us’—is also an invention, it would mean Frantumaglia is a metafiction, her most experimental text yet, a massive prank on criticism and the media: all of it done to show us how badly we read what we read, how badly women writers are treated, and how badly the press operates. It would mean her mother’s frantumaglia was not verifiably her mother’s; her childhood impressions the impressions of a fictitious child, not necessarily herself. That everything pointing us to some glimpse of her life was just a misdirection, so that the real woman behind Ferrante could remain hidden—and, one day, teach us that it never mattered who she was or where she was from.”

 

The prospect of this, that Ferrante could create a landscape in which she is completely herself to art and completely herself outside the reaches of art is so affirming, so filled with permission that is as artistic as it is challenging as it is radical as it is forceful. It almost makes me weep. It does. To be naked in the Earth / art / does not mean a body owes you anything / except itself as it is / as it moves through the Earth / art / flinching or free. Strong as violets / strong as life.

(…)

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Kenyon Review

ON FRANTUMAGLIA: A WRITER’S JOURNEY BY ELENA FERRANTE

by Natalie Bakopoulos

“It’s not my absence that generates interest in my books,” the Italian writer Elena Ferrante notes in an interview, “but the interest in my books that generates media interest in my absence.” Ferrante has been famously adamant about her anonymity, only giving selective, careful interviews. And though many have speculated about her identity, it had remained unknown, or at least unnamed—and most of us liked it that way. And then this past October, the Italian journalist Claudio Gatti conducted a heartless investigation for the New York Review of Books to uncover it. I won’t go into its details here.

Frantumaglia, released this past November, comprises Ferrante’s various interviews and written correspondence. Critics have noted the irony: a writer such as Ferrante—who insists the work should speak for itself—publishes a book of personal interviews, letters, and deleted scenes. Ferrante herself even asks, in a letter contained in its pages: “Why, above all, add so much of my chatter . . . ?”

Me, I don’t see the contradiction. My question is, Why would she not? Her letters and interviews are decidedly not mere chatter: they, too, are literary works. They show artistry and imagination, and Ferrante even notes the difficulty of answering interview questions because they lead her into a complicated maze of storytelling, artifacts, and searching. Frantumaglia is in itself a compelling narrative, and while immersed in its pages, I often felt I was immersed in a work within a work, a story in documents.

The Neapolitan Quartet, comprising four novels narrated by an Italian writer named Elena Greco, is also a work within a work. The novels focus on the complicated, often antagonistic friendship between Elena and her friend Lila Cerullo, set against the backdrop of their neighborhood in Naples and its cultural, political, and social concerns. Elena Ferrante is the author who writes under a pseudonym. Though Ferrante has not herself called her work an autofiction, Elena Greco’s book is arguably masterfully so, a writer in an urgent attempt to write—and preserve—the self. Elena Greco is the writer of the text we read. And within the book, Elena Greco discusses books she has written, but we don’t have full access to them.

Frantumaglia, then, adds a new artful layer. The book is not without its own meta-elements; it contains dozens of letters between Ferrante and her publisher, many of which discuss the actual making of the book that we hold in our hands. It also includes scenes that were cut from her novels—adding yet another meta-layering. But make no mistake: reading Frantumaglia is not as simple as reading the other half of Elena Ferrante. It is far more complicated than simply splitting her between the who writes at her desk and the I who exists on the page.

She notes in an interview:

If we were made only of two halves, individual life would be simple, but the “I” is a crowd, with a large quantity of heterogeneous fragments tossing about inside. And the female “I”, in particular, with its long history of oppression and repression, tends to shatter as it’s tossed around, and to reappear and shatter again, always in an unpredictable way. Stories feed on the fragments, which are concealed under an appearance of unity and constitute a sort of chaos to depart from, an obscurity to illuminate.

The word frantumaglia she defines as “a jumble of fragments”: “the storehouse of time without the orderliness of a history, a story.” But the boundaries between these fragments—writer at the desk and the writer inhabiting the invented world—are blurred. “Over the years,” Ferrante writes, “ . . . I’ve come closer and closer to the idea that real writing is what emerges by itself, from an ecstatic condition. But often I discover that ecstasy is imagined as a disembodiment. The ecstasy of writing is feeling not the breath of the word that is liberated from the flesh but the flesh that becomes one with the breath of the words.”

She says: “I tend to throw into words . . . my entire body.” Creating, for Ferrante, is also a deeply physical act. She demonstrates a keen awareness of the overdetermined nature of the female body, both in Frantumagliaand in her work in general. Ferrante is not necessarily claiming she wants to be without a public, cultural voice, but perhaps one without a public body. And if we examine the commentary on the appropriation and fragmentation of the female body in Ferrante’s work: as abject, as decaying, as appropriated, as object of the male gaze, as a corpse, her reasons to not want to become, as she writes of one of her characters, “an erotic gift to the spectator” or one up for mockery or comment, seem self-evident. For example, she writes of not wanting to dress nicely, in form-fitting clothes that showcased the body, or with makeup—“I hid in big shirts, sweaters two sizes too large, baggy jeans”—because she feared a man might think it was for him, and then laugh about it behind her back. This complicated fear, of both being misunderstood and humiliated, is telling.

But I don’t want to read Ferrante’s request to remain hidden as solely a feminist statement. It’s an artistic one too, and she’s careful not to simply blame the patriarchy:

I don’t like to think, as we often do, that the tremendous actions of the heroines of myths are merely the product of a pernicious male racket, of a patriarchal plot: in the end it’s like attributing to women a lack of humanity, and that isn’t useful. We have to learn, rather, to speak with pride of our complexity, of how in itself it informs our citizenship, whether in joy or in rage.

Frantumaglia shows her unyielding interest in female complexity. She notes: “The process of fragmentation in a woman’s body interests me very much from the narrative point of view. It means telling the story of a present-day female I that suddenly perceives itself disintegrating, it loses the sense of time, it’s no longer in order, it feels like a vortex of debris, a whirlwind of thoughts-words.”

And this fragmentation needs self-care. When a male interviewer asks her if she’d be willing to give a physical description of herself, she replies with a firm “No.” She calmly explains herself, but she does not apologize. To which any woman—or any man for that matter, though it’s rare for a male writer to be asked about his children, or spouse, or work-life balance—can attest, it is difficult to refuse to answer, without apology, when asked about one’s private life. Our share-all world has made protecting the private seem almost like a perversion, a deviance, an act to view with suspicion. More than once she cites Italo Calvino, who says: “Ask me what you want to know, but I won’t tell you the truth, of that you can be sure.” It’s not that Ferrante necessarily draws a line between the Iwho writes and the I who appears on the page; it’s that perhaps she knows the boundaries between art and life are tenuous. Writing for Ferrante, then, is a sort of frantumaglia, and it’s no wonder that once the book has been released in the world, she’d like to attempt to shore up all that fragmentation.

Throughout this collection, Elena Ferrante asks us to not only respect the boundaries between the work and what remains outside it, “an invisible gutter,” but to also consider what boundaries the work dissolves. “In my experience, the difficulty-pleasure of writing touches every point of the body. When you’ve finished the book, it’s as if your innermost self had been ransacked, and all you want is to regain distance, return to being whole.” In short, her self-preservation becomes a political act. By rejecting her authorial persona as a public body, she forces us to readjust our biases, refuses to let us apply the same language, the same discussion, to her work.

The work is the public presence: “The voice is part of your body, it needs your presence—you speak, you have a dialogue, you correct, you give further explanations. Writing, on the other hand, once it’s fixed on a support structure, is autonomous, it needs a reader, not you.”

“The rest,” she says, “is ordinary private life.”

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The Telegraph

28 of the best books for your summer holiday

The great explorer Thor Heyerdahl, when asked to consider the question of borders, answered: “I have never seen one. But I have heard that they exist in the minds of some people.”

Heyerdahl, I think, would nonetheless have enjoyed two of the timeliest travel books to have appeared in the past six months; books that I would urge you to make room for wherever you’re heading this summer.

Italy

Devotees of Elena Ferrante, author of the bestselling novels of female friendship in post-war Naples, have readily accepted her argument that she writes under a pseudonym because it’s essential to her work. They were outraged when a journalist claimed last autumn to have “unmasked” the writer. In Frantumaglia (Europa Editions), a collection of letters and interviews whose publication was overshadowed by the row, Ferrante offers a glimpse into her working life and the way in which jumbled fragments of memory find fictional form.

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The Rumpus

The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project #90: Erika Carter

BY

Rumpus: In Lucky You, there are tidbits of information about the characters’ pasts. There are time gaps between sections. There is a lot that goes unspoken. This seems to require you, as the author, to have a lot of trust in the reader. Can you talk a bit about this relationship of trust between author and reader?

Carter: When I was writing this, I had no agent or publisher, and was far from even thinking about having readers. So, that was freeing, because I wasn’t trying to please anyone. It’s interesting now, though, because I’m writing my second book, and I’m still not trying to please anyone—I feel like I’m just writing what has to be said, in the best way I know how to say it.

Lucky You is definitely not for everyone, but I would never want to write a book for everyone. I’d like to quote Elena Ferrante here, from her interview with the Paris Review, on this subject:

I employ all the strategies I know to capture the reader’s attention, stimulate curiosity, make the page as dense as possible and as easy as possible to turn. But once I have the reader’s attention I feel it is my right to pull it in whichever direction I choose. I don’t think the reader should be indulged as a consumer, because he isn’t one. Literature that indulges the tastes of the reader is a degraded literature. My goal is to disappoint the usual expectations and inspire new ones.

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Public Books

FERRANTE’S SECRET MIRROR

6.7.2017

by Franco Baldasso

Last fall’s noisy dispute around Elena Ferrante’s biographical identity ignited a wealth of contrasting yet instructive reactions. Whether troubled or newly admiring or indifferent to the apparent divergences between the empirical author’s life and that of her character Elena Greco, readers and critics did not venture to question the assumed existential parallel between the two. The books themselves, along with their marketing materials, quite clearly encourage it. But what if the alleged correspondence between Elena Ferrante and Elena Greco were just a diversion? What if the characteristics we identify in the latter, and implicitly attribute to the former, were only a carnival mirror shielding a deeper but less obvious commonality, the one between Ferrante and the brilliant friend herself, Lila Cerullo: namely, the unbearable loss of their presence?

The formulation and answering of this question was greatly assisted by the publication, in the same season, of Ferrante’s first work of nonfiction, Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey. Thanks to the scattered pieces comprising the collection—interviews, unsent letters to critics and readers, pages expunged from the author’s novels—we can further appreciate the author’s intellectual prowess and talent as a storyteller by measuring not only the affinities, but also the distance, between her and the character who shares her first name. The carnival mirror emerges from Frantumaglia quite cracked, yet it is through such minute gaps that one of the underlying themes of all of Ferrante’s work becomes visible.

From the opening pages of My Brilliant Friend, the story told by Elena Greco is haunted by the loss of Lila Cerullo. The loss finds full narrative disclosure only in the fourth installment of the cycle, Story of the Lost Child, with an uncanny doubling, as both Lila and her daughter abandon the scene with hardly a trace. In fact, Lila consciously erases any remnant of her existence; she decides to disappear, choosing an autonomous destiny that ambiguously overlaps with the fate of the entire city in which she has been living—and struggling—her whole life. At the end of the Neapolitan Quartet, the boundaries of Lila’s character lose their edges and seemingly overlap with the contours of Naples, a city that is obsessively present throughout the four books with its uncanny beauty, unrestrained violence, and blatant lack of social justice. Naples’s unresolved contradictions are before our very eyes throughout. Like Lila, the city offers no index, defies any conclusive description, blurs contours, and subtracts itself from external gaze. In the Quartet’s last pages, however, Naples’s obsessive presence fades away from our view; its countless voices, vigorous yet enervating, turn into a distant echo. In the same vein, Lila, with her disappearance, chooses absence over the courageous and stubborn presence that marked her life—at least as it was narrated by Elena Greco.

While Lila never leaves Naples, establishing the city’s contours as the ultimate extension of her vitality, her friend Elena chooses an utterly different path to establish her own presence. The Neapolitan Quartet is also the novel of Elena’s conquest of personal independence and her emancipation from the suffocating air of the rione, from the family-ism and gender inequality that the city of Naples epitomizes, like a Pandora’s box open to the bluest sky. Elena’s liberation from the restrictions of her city is hardly straightforward and never definitive. Exemplified by her tortuous relationship with her mother, Elena’s emancipation is an ongoing repudiation of her own origins, which runs parallel to and recurrently intermingles with Lila’s struggles. To be complete, however, Elena’s emancipation needs to transcend her origins and Naples’ very boundaries—and essentially free herself from Lila’s shadow. Instead of infighting and openly challenging the violent tensions of the rione, Elena will build and solidify her presence through assiduous work toward a radically different emancipation model. By becoming a public figure as a writer, she aims at the acquisition of literary authority and intellectual respectability, a status seemingly unharmed by the quarrels of her poor neighborhood. Nevertheless, Elena’s new role requires her subjugation to other dynamics, more opaque and no less pervasive: such as the commodification of intellectual labor in the literary market and media circus. Crucially, Lila might admire, envy, even misunderstand and aggrandize her friend’s intellectual authority, yet she grasps that such a path is not for her, as it would not allow her the continuous shift of direction that best characterizes her life and exuberant vitality. To the novels’ characters and readers alike, Lila’s charisma and gravitational power lie in her creative resistance, in her obstinate refusal to accept subjugation of any sort. Her strange magnetism derives from her unique noncompliance to any steady configuration, or, to borrow a key term from Italian contemporary philosophy’s biopolitical debate, to any stable “form-of-life.”1

ELENA GRECO’S STORY SEEMS TO MIRROR ELENA FERRANTE’S EXPERIENCE. YET FERRANTE IS NOT THERE. INSTEAD, SHE HAS CHOSEN LILA’S PATH.

“A story begins when, one after another, our borders collapse,” Ferrante writes in Frantumaglia. It could be a perfect motto for Lila. Like the eccentric protagonists of Luigi Pirandello’s groundbreaking play Six Characters in Search of an Author, Lila refuses to be a character fixed once and for all. By withstanding subjugation, she preserves the constitutional fluidity of her life, culminating in her choice to disappear. Remarkably, Elena Greco’s story of their friendship begins only after all the borders have collapsed. Lila’s story can start because of her attempt at self-erasure, the final sign of her unyielding commitment to otherness. “The disappearance of women,” Ferrante argues, “should be interpreted not only as giving up the fight against the violence of the world but also as clear rejection. There is an expression in Italian whose double meaning is untranslatable: ‘Io non ci sto.’ Literally it means: I’m not here, in this place, before what you’re suggesting. In common usage, it means, instead: I don’t agree, I don’t want to. Rejection means shunning the games of those who crush the weak.”

For Elena, instead, writing Lila’s story and their decades-long relationship is something akin to casting a spell, maybe even to conducting an exorcism. It is a form of magic she has been training for her entire life. Elena encapsulates her friend’s irresistible vitality in a character, so as to control her haunting presence—in a phase of her existence when ghosts from the past are more pressing than real people. And yet this exorcism is not the confession of a failure, but the beginning of a journey: “a writer’s journey,” as in Frantumaglia’s subtitle. Such a journey is not Lila’s anymore; it is only Elena’s.

It is precisely when Elena Greco emerges as a public figure that the assumed existential parallel between her and Elena Ferrante proves to be misleading. Through her writing talent, Elena Greco resolves to become a public persona. She sets out to fight her personal battles by following an intellectual model intimately connected to so many of the glories and delusions of the 20th century. She chooses impegno (engagement)—a form of intellectual commitment to present time—which distinguished the lives and works of numerous left-wing Western European writers in the postwar period, alongside the widely popular theories of Marxist philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Antonio Gramsci. Although in different ways, the two philosophers argue for the necessary conjunction of intellectual responsibility with political action. In fact, the debate over the intellettuale impegnato (engaged intellectual) is a conspicuous component of postwar cultural, intellectual, and political history in France and Italy, and it is only partially comparable to the Anglo-American concept of “public intellectual.” In Italy, the intellettuale impegnato was clearly linked to the Communist Party and, to a minor extent, the Socialist Party. The space and impact this model had in Italian civil society had no correspondence in English-speaking countries. For the majority of postwar intellectuals in Italy, the Communist party represented the only alternative to the restoration of conservative forces after World War II.

Many of the Quartet’s characters strive to approximate this model with their public actions and personal behavior, each of them in highly idiosyncratic ways. Elena Greco’s Neapolitan teachers, her boyfriend Franco along with other students at the Scuola Normale di Pisa (Italy’s equivalent to Harvard), the entourage of academic excellence and intellectual prestige constituting Pietro’s family (which backs Elena once she marries him), and even the infamous Nino: all get personally involved in this political season. Pietro embodies the crisis of this intellectual model and Nino its progressive corruption, as they both equally steer clear of a real confrontation with the previous generation’s responsibility. As it historically appeared in Italy, the intellettuale impegnato is predominantly a male model, not without narcissistic connotations. Yet Elena initially embraces it in her personal battle to excel, to find a suitable position in a field barely accessible to women, which eventually enables her to articulate original views and gain an intellectual credibility that are fully her own.

In fact, Elena’s feminism is not ideologically predetermined; its acquisition does not have the trajectory of a destiny. She is no stock character, for she elaborates her individual ideas on gender inequality partly by emulation of other characters, female and male alike, partly by reflections on her own experience. As Ferrante is at pains to explain in Frantumaglia, “Every woman novelist, as with women in many other fields, should aim at being not only the best woman novelist but the best of the most skilled practitioners of literature, whether male or female. To do so we have to avoid every ideological conformity, every false show of thought, every adherence to a party line or canon.” Like her male counter-models and the men of her life, Elena’s struggle is not devoid of narcissistic undertones either. It is not by chance that in the Neapolitan Quartet, Elena’s anxieties to live up to the many expectations that her public persona implies often overwhelm her and recurrently take central stage.

Elena Ferrante’s own choice in this regard is precisely the opposite. Nowhere does she put it more clearly than in her 2014 New York Times interview, collected in Frantumaglia: “I didn’t choose anonymity; the books are signed. Instead, I chose absence. … This choice created a small polemic in the media, whose logic is aimed at inventing protagonists while ignoring the quality of the work, so that it seems natural that bad or mediocre books by someone who has a reputation in the media deserve more attention than books that might be of higher quality but were written by someone who is no one.” Still, this decision has a history: from this angle, the disparate pieces collected in Frantumaglia can be read as the intellectual history of Ferrante’s choice of public “absence,” to abandon the stage—or rather, to desert TV studios—and let her works speak instead of her. Through her “absence,” Ferrante questions both the commodification of intellectual engagement as a media event and its debased, male-dominated forms.

Ferrante’s self-effacement continues with the very title of her first nonfiction book. “Frantumaglia” is an untranslatable word that Ferrante claims she owes to her mother’s personal version of Neapolitan dialect. It literally means “a jumble of fragments,” which she describes as a precondition of her writing. Publishing dates, the only guiding criterion of this disparate volume, chart the emerging intellectual stature of Ferrante over the past 25 years, along with her literary achievements, the resounding noise triggered by her personal withdrawal from the media circus, and all the hype surrounding her global success. Present in all the interviews included in Frantumaglia are the obligatory questions that journalists ask Ferrante regarding her real identity. Her decision to let her books speak for themselves—with no interference from their author’s biography—is supported by literary and personal reasons, which are stated throughout the volume. Ferrante’s most articulated response, however, is to be found in the dialogue with her editors first published in The Paris Review in the spring of 2015. Her provisional conclusion on this pivotal issue, which might have appeared not too long ago as a relic of old-fashioned literary snobism, looks politically timely today: “I’m still very interested in testifying against the self-promotion obsessively imposed by the media. The demand for self-promotion not only diminishes the role of the works in every possible sector of human activity; it now rules everything.”

Ferrante’s decision to desert the public sphere allowed her to pursue otherwise unviable narrative possibilities. Unlike her character Elena Greco, she avoided concentrating on the public construction of her figure as an author, exploring instead an alternative mode of communication with the reading public based on writing alone. Her absence is both a story of self-education and a form of resistance to subjugation by any model imposed from the outside—a path that echoes that of her character Lila. In a 2014 interview for the Italian daily La Repubblica, Ferrante claims: “It’s not a small thing to write knowing that you can orchestrate for readers not only a story, characters, feelings, landscapes but the very figure of the author, the most genuine figure, because it’s created from writing alone, from the pure technical exploration of a possibility.”

FERRANTE RELUCTANTLY ADMITS, “I LOVE LILA MORE, BUT ONLY BECAUSE SHE FORCED ME TO WORK VERY HARD.”

Because of the unique space of creative freedom Ferrante has carved for herself, Frantumaglia’s subtitle—A Writer’s Journey—bears only partial witness to the complexity of Ferrante’s choice of absence. Yet this subtitle openly reinforces the impression that her path overlaps with Elena Greco’s. The impression of superimposition between author and character, however, was not a feature of the original 2003 version of the collection published in Italy, in which the dialectal term forming the title stands alone, with no subtitle. A more fitting description of Frantumaglia would instead be “autobiography of a character,” of a unique literary character called Elena Ferrante presented as the author of her novels, whom readers around the world have loved as possibly her own most fascinating and controversial literary creation.

Yet Ferrante’s authorial absence not only occasioned her literary experiments, the “pure technical explorations of a possibility,” it also became a generative force, one of the fundamental questions her novels address, each from its unique standpoint. With her narrative, Ferrante investigates the absence of the beloved person, in the terms analyzed above, not only from a psychological perspective, but also as an anthropological and somehow transhistorical category, without indulging in essentialisms of sorts. As a trigger for storytelling, absence defies literary and genre restrictions; the universality of this experience extends beyond the circumstantiated account of recent Italian history and social structures that constitute the setting and ambiance of Ferrante’s stories, as her international success attests.

Ferrante’s authorial absence found a correspondence in the very fabric of her stories, in a narrative device that is both highly idiosyncratic and universal. Her novels work through the mourning for an intimate loss—almost always that of a woman. From the elusive Amalia in Troubling Love, to the many lost daughters of her fiction, to the missing Lila at the beginning of My Brilliant Friend, Ferrante’s stories are occasioned by a disappearance, which leaves other characters bereft not just of a person they deeply loved, but of something essential they are unable to explain. This disappearance radically shatters everyday life as they always knew it. “Disappearance” in Ferrante is never an occasion for abstract philosophical speculation, but always features narrative contours and context. It acquires a profound literary necessity through the multilayered depiction of historical contingency—as in the case of postwar Naples for her Quartet. Disappearance signals the loss of the object of desire: embodied by a full-fledged character always exceeding its simple biography, ambiguously imposing its absence over the entire story.

Ferrante portrays her characters as both supremely realistic, in the long-standing tradition of the European novel, and as allegories of loss (the mother, the daughter, the brilliant friend), whose retrieval, or lack thereof, soon becomes other characters’ dominating obsession. In a certain sense, disappearance is the true moment when all the “borders collapse,” and in which her stories’ characters are born, as they are forced to enter in a new life’s cycle, a sort of rebirth. “The loss of love,” writes the author in an early piece published in Frantumaglia, “is the common experience closest to the myth of the expulsion from the earthly paradise.” In other words, it is through this loss, which Ferrante describes explicitly as a sottrazione (subtraction) that human history originates—not unlike in her own stories.

By disappearing, by erasing their traces and thus inflicting a more piercing loss, Ferrante’s characters, such as Lila in My Brilliant Friend or Amalia in Troubling Love, actively impose on others their choice for absence. The author narrates their choices as a subtraction, literally the action of taking away a quantity from another to obtain a difference. Their absence is synonymous with their difference: profoundly affecting, if not devastating, other characters’ existences, such as Lila’s lifetime friend Elena Greco or Amalia’s daughter Delia. It does not come as a surprise, then, that in Ferrante’s novels the narrators are not characters who impose their absence by disappearing, but the ones who have been abandoned. Elena and Delia’s mourning prompts the tales of their absent friend and mother, stories which uncomfortably turn into a creeping criticism of their own lives.

Ferrante’s authorial absence engages readers in a similar way. With a piercing irony, Ferrante distances herself from the Neapolitan Quartet’s narrator, Elena Greco, in the precise moment when the accord of the two voices seems most firm and well-defined. In Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, when Elena Greco glimpses for the first time her newly published novel in a book store’s window, she is truly unable to contain her trepidation: “But the effort of finding a form had absorbed me. And the absorption had become that book, an object that contained me. Now I was there, exposed, and seeing myself caused a violent pounding in my chest.” In the instant when Elena Greco follows in the footsteps of her author—describing the contrasting drives within her chest after seeing her novel in a bookstore—the character-narrator goes in exactly the opposite direction of Ferrante, resolving to become an intellettuale impegnato, a public figure. The story of Elena Greco’s engagement with her own times is a major plotline of the Quartet that grows in intensity and complexity, even beyond her choice to work for public recognition and visibility. Painful difficulties and contradictions between her private behavior and public pronouncements arise, especially in the last two novels. Elena Greco proudly chooses presence despite all the difficulties and personal setbacks, as one of the hallmarks of her literary and intellectual success. In so doing she embodies a model antithetical to the ethics of writing professed in Frantumaglia.

In the New York Times interview mentioned above, Ferrante claims: “Today what counts most for me is to preserve a creative space that seems full of possibilities, including technical ones. The structural absence of the author affects the writing in a way that I’d like to continue to explore.” Ferrante’s authorial absence was born decades ago as a polemical stance against the commodification of writing and life, countering a prescriptive intellectual environment that ultimately narrowed down women’s participation in the public sphere. Today it has become an unpredictable heuristic tool, acquiring persuasive cognitive penetration and unsettling literary force in her novels.

Ferrante’s absence multiplies the sense of bereavement at the center of her stories. It brings about a fictional short circuit with the narrative disappearance of characters she is creating out of writing alone, an idiosyncratic interaction that dismantles traditional literary dynamics that we as readers are used to accepting. By implicitly suggesting—but not forcing—readers to associate Elena Greco with her real persona, Ferrante highlights the ironic distance between her own nonconformist intellectual practice and her character’s urge to become a public figure. Readers, encouraged by Ferrante to empathize with Elena Greco’s search for Lila, experience the character’s confrontational relationship with her brilliant friend. They not only endure the pain of Lila’s disappearance, but also undergo Elena’s anxieties to live up to the difficult standards set by Lila with her uncompromising difference, the radical resistance to subjugation which best describes her. Readers are supported in this feat by the impression that they are not alone in this troubling quest, as Elena Greco’s story mirrors Elena Ferrante’s experience. Yet Ferrante is not there with them. Instead, she has chosen Lila’s path, challenging power dynamics—first of all, the burden of personal biography over her own writing—and leaving readers completely alone to confront Elena Greco’s ghosts.

In the Quartet, Ferrante resolutely refrains from taking sides between Elena and Lila. Still, in a Frantumaglia interview, she reluctantly admits, “I love Lila more, but only because she forced me to work very hard.” Ferrante’s preference for absence turns into an artistic ethics, one which implicitly disavows the character that readers are led to take for an alter ego. The kind of intellectual engagement Ferrante pursues aligns her instead with Lila’s path: the intransigent resistance to the gaze of the other, to the economics and power dynamics shaping lives—female or male alike—through forced self-promotion. As it is for her character Lila, Ferrante’s “I’m not here” means at the same time, “I don’t want to.” icon

  1. For a compelling inquiry into the concept of “life” and its biopolitical consequences (seen as fundamental to the Italian philosophical tradition, though in a different manner than for other strands of continental philosophy), see Roberto Esposito, Living Thought: The Origins and Actuality of Italian Philosophy (Stanford University Press, 2012).
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The Aspen Institute

Why Readers Love Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels

HBO recently announced its decision to bring Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels to the small screen, signaling even greater heights for the quartet of bestsellers. The series of books, translated from Italian and written by a pseudonymous author, includes My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child.

The groundbreaking success of these novels did not come as a surprise to Carole DeSanti, who has championed women’s original voices in literature throughout her editing career at Viking Penguin. In the following interview, she examines why and how this series of novels has turned reading and current notions of “authorship” on its head. Ferrante fans and curious readers can join DeSanti for an in-depth exploration of the Neapolitan books during the Aspen Summer Words writing conference and literary festival this June.

The Neapolitan novels seem like unlikely bestsellers. What do you think accounts for the unanticipated success of these books?

So much of what is “anticipated” or touted in the world of popular books turns out to be less than satisfying, and sometimes real originality is rewarded, reader by reader. The best bestsellers, in my view, are those created by word-of-mouth and the pleasure we take in sharing what resonates with us. These are the books that stand the test of time. What I think we respond to in the Ferrante novels is their stark truthfulness — in the sense of the author’s fidelity to the emotional lives of her characters over the arc of days and years. And with that, her ability (which is masterful) to locate and bring forth an epic drama that unfolds over a lifetime. In terms of the two women at the center of these novels this reaches a depth not before seen in fiction. Their world is an easy one to enter, but then the scope grows and grows.

From your perspective as a reader, what do you love about these books?

So many things!  Bringing a place, Naples, so alive — from Vesuvius looming over the city to a brilliant young girl furiously making beautiful shoes when she’s not allowed to stay in school. From a cup of coffee in a pastry shop with a bedeviled history to the way a writer creates her voice, renounces it, and circles back again to re-making it: fiercely loving, full of struggle, tender and brutal all at once. But it’s the ever-spiraling, conflicted, ultimately extraordinary feminism in these novels that most touches me. That difficult, ultimate, affirming-of-being, but in a feminine context. I’ve just never read anything like it. I don’t think it’s ever been done. And it’s about time.

From your perspective as an editor, why are these books significant in the publishing landscape?

In publishing we’re living in a moment of great worry and concern (warranted or not) mostly because of digital technologies and the pace of change. What the popularity of these novels suggests to us — confirms, really — is that what we come back to, again and again in literature, is strong and steadfast, regardless of all of the things we worry about in the industry. One way these novels are significant is the way they transmit nuanced emotion over time and place and bring to light what we have not yet seen or examined. This is a quality peculiar to literature.  It’s not going to go away, and from time to time is proved anew. So, many in publishing had to sit back and take notice. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies, but in the publishing of these books, Europa reminds us that we can still befriend our deepest passions as well.

Can these novels be compared to any other books that have come across your desk over your editing career?

Absolutely not!  I have worked on some wonderful books, but these novels stand apart which is why I am championing them as a reader. To survive, literature must be a joint project among writers, publishers, and readers. I would love to have worked on them, but I’m grateful that others had the wisdom and foresight to do so.

Why do you think the anonymity of the author has caused such a stir?

Well, again, it goes against the grain.  We have a culture of literary celebrity that has become entrenched.  What the anonymity of “Ferrante” tells us is that there is something about the unknown-ness of the author that allows for something that we value even more than what songs she has on her playlist, whether she writes in a nightgown at midnight or jeans on the weekend, or what she happens to enjoy when she’s not at her desk. All of that trivia that authors and publishers (and all have done it, sometimes with the best intentions) have tried to merchandise. Ferrante’s anonymity has reversed the received wisdom and inspired us in doing so. She has said, quietly, “this is what I need to preserve my voice and its integrity.” We appreciate its result. We see that it is valued by others.  To authors, I hope Ferrante has sent a new message: You don’t have to do it that way. Find your own way. That’s what she did. It took a long time and, I’m sure, great faith.

You are known as a champion for new voices and diverse points of view in literature. Do you think these books have helped to widen the scope of what publishers might be willing to consider? Will we start to see more translations, or books centered on women and female friendship?

I can only hope that it’s the start of a kind of corrective movement in writing away from the cult of self-publicity and onto a new and interesting path to authenticity. What I really wish for is that her work will allow writers — men and women — to feel more empowered to do what is truly their own. Of course, Ferrante’s novels are about the blurring of boundaries, how we borrow and re-make continually from those we love and envy and compete with, and I would love to see us more boldly claim those influences too. She has thrown open a door to many new wings of literary endeavor, should we choose to venture in.

What might Readers’ Retreat participants expect to get out of this session that they might not otherwise glean from an independent reading?

My experience of reading these novels is that I was bursting with the need to talk about them, and I’ve heard that from others, too. I think it is because they speak to us so intimately, but are also highly social — showing us so many interrelations and co-creations, how we make and un-make one another, find and mirror each other – in all kinds of ways. What is it about these novels that feels so different, and so important? What do they crystallize about this moment in history, especially for women? I want to hear what others have to say about this. I’m eager to know it all!

Carole DeSanti is Vice President, Executive Editor at Viking Penguin, and the author of a novel, The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R.

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Books for Years

Book Review & Thoughts – Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante

Frantumaglia is a collection of letters, interviews, and other correspondence between the author Elena Ferrante, her editors, and fans/journalists/artists.  It was at the suggestion of her editors in fact, Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri, that this book even came to fruition.  It chronicles the time from when her first book, Troubling Love was published in Italy (1992), through the publication of the final installment in the Neapolitan Quartet, The Story of the Lost Child in America in 2015.  All of the writings were originally in Italian, but have been translated into English by Ferrante’s exclusive English translator – Anne Goldstein.

For fans of Ferrante’s work, this book gives insights into the themes she has explored, as well as some recommendations of authors whom she finds inspiring and formative.  For readers who are new to Ferrante, this correspondence demonstrates the thoughtful and precise way she utilizes language.  Her writing style isn’t particularly poetic or fluid, but is incredibly well-crafted.  She puts so much thought and care into every phrase, and that is part of why I find it so addicting to read.

Because this book includes transcripts of decades’-worth of interviews, there are some recurring questions.  The most frequent one regards the author’s identity.  It is widely known that Elena Ferrante is a pen name, and the user of that nom de plume has taken great pains to ensure that her true identity is concealed.  She does not take part in any in-person or audio interviews, and requires all correspondence to be funneled through her editors.  Because of this, the media (especially the Italian literary media) have made it their mission to “uncover” the true identity of Elena Ferrante.  As recently as October, 2016 (long after Frantumaglia was published) an Italian article was published that purports to have uncovered Elena Ferrante’s true identity, going so far as to obtain (through what means..?) financial documents that show unusually large transactions between a publisher, an author, and a translator – to give weight to the claim.  In what universe do people care so much about the identity of an author that they would go to such extremes?  To what extent is an artist allowed privacy and the choice of a non-public life?

This cult of discovery is troubling on many levels.  First, once one releases a work of art into the world, is that person then obligated to have any further involvement in the work?  There seems to exist, in some perspectives, an umbilical connection between a work and its creator, that the personality branding of the person who wrote the book must carry some weight on the book itself.  I also wonder how much attention there would be if the pen name of the author was masculine – Emilio Ferrante, let’s say.  There runs an undercurrant of sexism here – suggesting that this writer must be revealed because it is so difficult to believe a woman capable of creating such a vivid and expansive world.  In a culture where fame is seen as the pinnacle of a career, for someone to eschew such recognition may be difficult to understand.

Over and over again, interviewers make comparisons between her and famous Italian authors, and ask if she and those other authors are the same person.  She never answers these questions, nor gives any particular details that might clarify any part of her identity.  In fact, she, at one point, tells her editors that she may follow writer Italo Calvino’s lead and freely answer questions…but not with the truth.  That is part of what is so interesting about Frantumaglia – you can try to read the personal into her answers, but ultimately what matters is the creative process and its products.  Wondering whether characters, descriptions, or plots in any of her stories are autobiographical is a waste of energy.  She believes wholeheartedly that the author’s job comes to an end once the writing is complete.  It shouldn’t matter who the author is, as long as the story explores some greater truth.

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Berkeley Bacon

Mysterious novelist chronicles femininity, independence

By Dina Kleiner

Elena Ferrante, a contemporary Italian author who’s gained a large following in the United States, is most widely known for two things: her highly-acclaimed Neapolitan series and her identity, which was a mystery until last September.

“Elena Ferrante” is a pseudonym. The writer is fiercely private—she doesn’t do publicity, she doesn’t do any promotion, and she doesn’t do book tours. She rarely does interviews, and when she does, they are via email. She’s blown up in the literary world, yet remains largely unknown to the average person. She’s also one of the best writers I have ever read in my entire life.

The Italian author has said in written interviews that she would stop publishing books if her real identity were revealed. Fans of Ferrante didn’t want to know her real name. They aggressively defended her anonymity with a kind of protectiveness that’s rare for fans of anything in this era, an age in which people believe they’re entitled to the private lives of artists. In September, an Italian investigative journalist named Claudio Gatti outed Elena Ferrante’s alleged real identity, igniting anger from fans and drawing a surge of new readers to her novels.

As intriguing as the writer’s anonymity is—especially in a publishing era where press tours are the main way publishers market books—the secrecy surrounding Ferrante’s identity isn’t what attracts readers to her work. Ferrante is regarded by many as one of the best contemporary writers, earning stunning reviews from critics across the board and attracting fervid fans who’ve developed a cult-like obsession with her work.

The positive reception of Ferrante’s work in the United States took form far before the controversy surrounding the exposure of her identity. It’s rare to see so many critics uniformly praise Ferrante in such an effusive manner. They don’t review her work so much as they seem to personally urge readers to read it. Her Neapolitan series has been called a tour de force and a modern masterpiece.

Ferrante isn’t marketed as a feminist writer, but her books undoubtedly are just by virtue of her unabashed honesty about sex, adolescence, violence, and the body. Her illustration of the female psyche is so spot-on that it makes other works that aim to achieve similar depictions appear shallow and half-hearted, as though they only touch the surface of what reality feels like when compared to Ferrante’s words.

The New Yorker wrote, “Ferrante’s polished language belies the rawness of her imagery.” But don’t be fooled—her prose is layered with emotion, rage, and grotesqueness. Underneath the timid nature of many of Ferrante’s protagonists lies an anger that slowly reveals itself within narration, an indignation at the world that wells up and bursts like a tsunami crashing against a lifetime of subtle oppression. Critic John Freeman wrote, “Ferrante’s fictions are fierce, unsentimental glimpses at the way a woman is constantly under threat, her identity submerged in marriage, eclipsed by motherhood, mythologized by desire. Imagine if Jane Austen got angry and you’ll have some idea of how explosive these works are.”

Those looking to immerse themselves in the “Elena Ferrante experience” should start with her Neapolitan series. The first of the four-book series is My Brilliant Friend, which illustrates the childhood of two young girls growing up in a poor town outside Naples, Italy.  I have never read anything that so accurately portrays what it feels like to go through puberty as a young girl. The series grows with its characters, exploring adulthood, classism, abuse, and independence with Ferrante’s signature emotion and underlying rage.

People who want to read Ferrante but don’t want to make a four-book commitment (although I highly recommend starting the series, even if you’re not committed to finishing it) should start with one of her slimmer novels, Troubled Love or Days of Abandonment. These novels are less epic in nature than the Neapolitan books—they feel like an intense dive into the psyche of women at critical points in their lives rather than a sprawling bildungsroman. These novels are angrier. They are jam-packed with quiet fury, brimming with an outrage that makes itself known instead of moving surreptitiously beneath the surface.

The cover of Ferrante’s novels are uncool at best and tacky at worst—they look like the kind of books that grandmothers buy at airports. I think it’s because no one expected Ferrante to become such a huge hit—they didn’t think they should bother putting money toward a more modern cover design, the kind of cover meant for books targeted for best-seller lists. They didn’t know what a success Ferrante would be. They didn’t know that an anonymous, elusive Italian writer could gather a fan base so dedicated it defends her privacy, that she would write one of the best depictions of female friendship and womanhood of all time, that her words would hold so much power and truth that they cause women across the globe to look up from their novels and exclaim to themselves: “That’s exactly what it feels like.”

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Bookanista

A total portrait of the artist as an absence

by Mika Provata-Carlone

Elena Ferrante is traditional in the most radical, boundary-dissolving ways; conventional with subversive fervour and delicately powerful talent. In Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey she proves above all the invincible strength of her authorial translucence, the rock-solid presence of her so-called anonymity, which she invariably corrects as being a determined gesture of absence.

The word frantumaglia, we are told, belongs to her mother, a dressmaker, and comes from that maternal world of tattered fabrics, frayed hems, unravelling stitches, matted skeins and tangled bobbins. It is a passe-partout term to encapsulate female suffering, its cobweb of existential angst that is inarticulate as well as unspeakable. “The frantumaglia was mysterious, it provoked mysterious actions, it was the source of all suffering not traceable to a single obvious cause.” Bursting with the ineluctable impetus of dialect, frantu derives from frantumare, to shatter, shiver, smash, crush; maglia is a knitted jumper, a jersey, as well as a knitter’s stitch, secured or dropped (see Erasures). It is an image that conjures up a certain ethereality, a metaphor of evanescence and mystical transparency, of life as an elusive aurora borealis of words and stories, but also an allegory of the tactility and permanence of traumas, of the salvaging, re-patching process that is, inevitably, at the heart of all reconstruction, recollection and perhaps narrative itself.

Yet this self-proclaimed collection of ‘fragments’ is anything but fragmentary or precarious, gossamer-thin or spurious. Nor is there anything tangled or disorderly about it, even if many of the statements by Ferrante or her vicarious interlocutors may appear anarchic and defiant. To pursue the dressmaking metaphor a step further, this is more like wool-felting than unpicking, a process which will result in a dense fabric of stories, laboriously and expertly welding together yarns of memory and the strands of the past.

There is an irresistible mystique about this intensely intimate, personal collection, and Ferrante’s voice often has the timbre of a lover and not just of a correspondent, an essayist or diarist. For all her assertions that she will not burden her books (or this epistolary miscellany of thoughts and conversations) with her presence as their writer, the friction and tension between creator and creature, as well as the connective umbilical cord, is constant, tantalising, something Ferrante has also explored extensively in her fiction. Frantumaglia is, in a way, the geography of an uncharted life, the cartography of a human terra incognita, which promises dazzling light on the absolute premise of an indissoluble and cryptic darkness.

One gets a distinct sense of Ferrante as a mystic, a Pythia-like figure holding on to a holy as well as terrifying trance, which alone will engender and enable that ultimate vital process, writing.”

Ferrante not only responds to but also piercingly questions her interviewers, and this often reveals both what she has called “a somewhat neurotic desire for intangibility”, but also a latent, yet dominant, demand to be discovered and sought after, a yearning for an almost virginal admiration. She is hounding and charming, enchanting in her persistence that detail is of supreme importance, exuding a seductive grande dame aura, vivacious and eccentric, a rebel who refuses to relinquish absolute control over her work. One gets a distinct sense of Ferrante as a mystic, a Pythia-like figure holding on to a holy as well as terrifying trance, which alone will engender and enable that ultimate vital process, writing.

Brilliant_Friend_290What seeps indirectly though the lines is a non-desire of detachment, a refusal to abandon what is in fact a very intimate, total relationship with her texts, evinced in the difficulty she admits to regarding the reading of scripts that are born out of her novels, and the meticulously exhaustive, almost exegetic engagement that ensues. In contrast to her emphasis on anonymity, it often feels as though Ferrante is anxious to guarantee the scope and conditions of a very precise ‘Ferrante philology’. And bizarrely enough, this does not seem like a contradiction, but as a natural extension and development of her authorial presence and identity. One could be tempted to say that there is nothing authentic about this very intense, de profundis, almost obsessive commitment to writing, to discoursing on the themes of literature and readership, the human self and the psyche, that it is a brilliant, magnificently erected construct to house Ferrante’s omnipresent, evasive persona. And yet it feels alive with a fundamental genuineness and truth. Were Ferrante to reveal all, perhaps this is how she would speak.

A curious but not unexpected feature of this book is that it is pre-empted by an explanatory note by Ferrante’s publishers, Sandra Ozzola and her husband Sandro Ferri, affirming that the authorial deliberation and initiative, perhaps even the authorship, should be firmly delegated back to them as editors, collectors, arbiters of these extra-authorial writings. Ferrante is confirmed as a real person with private thoughts, with scattered scribblings on the flotsam and jetsam of the mind and of consciousness, with a correspondence – i.e. a bilateral relationship with equally real others – rather than existing only in an ingenious, inimitable and groundbreaking monologue; at the same time, she is preserved behind veils that diffuse all that is private, so that the balance between the genuinely personal and the insularly individual becomes a feat but also a challenge, an aporia for the reader, and, one feels, ultimately also for the writer herself. The game of peering through these veils, through light and shadows, to a corporeal as well as spiritual life, the numerous titillating glimpses of a real centre of being, are not an unpleasant experiment, on the contrary the experience is mesmeric, absorbing, provocative and thought-provoking. Does it matter whether literary judges will ever be able to pronounce a verdict at this court of ‘authenticity’, where purported letters to the editors become purloined excuses for languorous peregrinations into the furthest recesses of interiority? Part invention of resplendent sincerity, part crystalline distillation of a singular voice, Frantumaglia emerges as yet another heteronym full of the elusive whole.

Except perhaps for Thomas Woolfe’s long-suffering, brilliant editor Maxwell Perkins, who also had to care for the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, few publishers have had to nurture and at the same time shield such talent as that of Ferrante. Since the publication of her first novel, the Ferris have been embroiled in a suspense novel of their own, a novel of infinite complexity and complications, as Ferrante herself acknowledges repeatedly, indulgently, unequivocally. Sweeping aside the manifold conspiracy theories about Ferrante’s identity or non-identity, they have collected letters to her publishers and readers, any interviews given or conceived of, they have retrieved a remarkable body of unusual drafts (begging several obvious questions), and put together a constellation of responses, creating, quite literally, a fully controlled archive for future academic research.

How much editorial intervention has gone into the final presentation of this material is unknown, yet the addressees, irrespective of whether they were, in point of fact, addressed at all in the end, are certainly real, remaining staunchly undaunted by silence. What emerges is a veritable anthology of reflections, guttural reactions, urgently pressing wisdom, throbbing contributions to the question of what is literature, why we write or read, how stories shape reality and how truth is only possible in fiction; we are given a resounding apologia for a genuine female voice, or what Ferrante calls a “literary genealogy of their own”. Frantumaglia is the ultimate treat for Ferrante devotees, but also a rare delight for those who feel that literature is a vital, living gesture. Ultimately, it is a bold quest after absolutes, for the “space of absolute creative freedom.”

Ferrante shows a piercing shrewdness about politics, literature, art, life, all that provides her with a sharper lens for a more sincere and more pugnacious gaze upon reality.”

Intriguingly, it is not merely a mosaic of philosophical meditations: it is also, and unabashedly, a treasure-trove of the sort of biographical anchorage we have been denied all along, for all the caveat of Calvino’s declaration, “ask me what you want to know, but I won’t tell you the truth, of that you can be sure.” By the end of Frantumaglia we have learned all this, which may be true, or a very elegant, flawless, infinitely human and magnificent fabric of true lies: Elena Ferrante grew up near Secondigliano, a suburb in the north of Naples. Her father was “jealous of the possible” and her mother was very beautiful, cantankerous, a dressmaker of great creative vitality. Ferrante had a cat, which was taken away from her, and she lived in many rented houses as a child. She fled Naples and lived in Greece for a time. Contrary to popular belief, she has never been in analysis or trained in any relative field. She has a degree in classical literature, and describes her professional world as follows: apart from writing, “I study, I translate, I teach.” She rejects any feminist label: “to assert I have a feminist mindset seems to me exaggerated.” She likes smells, especially of “creams, of lipsticks, a smell of sugared almonds.” Above all, “I have a life I consider satisfying, both on the private and on the public level.” She is a mother of daughters, to whom she has promised not to be too much of an embarrassment – a promise she knows (like most mothers) that she will be unable to keep. She has read most of the feminist pioneers, is in awe of Elsa Morante, considers Chekhov, Walter Benjamin, Hans Christian Andersen, Karen Blixen, Melanie Klein, Federico Tozzi, Alba de Cespedes and Madame de La Fayette as some of her companions. She loves Virgil, especially the Aeneid, the tragedies of Sophocles and Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths, but also sentimental stories in women’s magazines.

We learn that she “still [has] this childish wish for marvels, large or small”, that she “look[s] for ideas by running after words”, and that it takes her “many sentences, real, confusing, jumbled speeches, to arrive at an answer.” That she thinks of “writing now as a long, tiring, pleasant seduction”, aiming to “seize what lies silent in my depths, that living thing which, if captured, spreads through all the pages and gives them life.” For Ferrante, the central motive force in everything is love, lost, gained, nurtured or destroyed: “someone who takes love away from us devastates the cultural structure we’ve worked on all our lives, deprives us of that sort of Eden that until that moment had made us appear innocent and loveable.”

Frantumaglia is an irrepressible torrent of such revelations, intimations and declarations, and Ferrante shows a piercing shrewdness about politics, literature, art, life, all that provides her with a sharper lens for a more sincere and more pugnacious gaze upon reality. A simple reference can launch her into a bravado, often tongue-in-cheek, display of extraordinary sensitivity and erudition, whether it is an analysis of the third book of the Aeneid by way of Apollodorus’ Library, or the remark that “Bovary and Karenina are, in some ways, descendants of Dido and Medea.” This is a compulsive tome to relish, cherish and read with the leisure of slowness and humanity, a beautifully confessional chronicle of all that should matter in the life and mind of an artist.

 

Elena Ferrante’s Frantumaglia is published by Europa Editions, along with her novels The Days of Abandonment (2005), Troubling Love (2006), The Lost Daughter (2008), 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 (2012–2015) and the children’s picture book The Beach at Night (2016), illustrated by Mara Cerri. All are translated by Ann Goldstein.
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My Brilliant Friend, a two-part stage adaptation of Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet starring Niamh Cusack and Catherine McCormack, premiered at the Rose Theatre, Kingston on 25 February and continues to 2 April.
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Mika Provata-Carlone is an independent scholar, translator, editor and illustrator, and a contributing editor to Bookanista. She has a doctorate from Princeton University and lives and works in London.

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Reviews for My Brilliant Friend

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The New York Times Style Magazine

Is the Age of the Artistic Recluse Over?

(…. ) The desire to uncover our one true voice, the dread of hearing what it has to say: This seems to me the tension of modern life, the thing that has us searching for a cell signal on yoga retreat. Being in a place where nothing has an agenda for your attention, as Axelrod found, means looking and listening in an unguarded way. “Natural curiosities and affinities emerge,” as he puts it, “becoming the filters for experience.” How we breathe in the world, then, defaults to a function of an unbidden part of identity, rather than a function of what others want us to be — or, perhaps even more crucially, how we want others to think we are.

Elena Ferrante, the Italian author whose pseudonymity became part of her mystique, once wrote to me in an email interview, “If my book were publicly mine from the beginning, I would be careful not to damage my image, I would censor myself.” Writing was a “battle against lying. Only with the confidence of anonymity can I decide occasionally to publish. In the end, if I’m forced to choose, I prefer to lose the role of writer rather than spoil my passion for writing — that’s the way it’s always been.” When she was allegedly unmasked by an Italian investigative journalist, her fans were outraged at the violation. It was invasive, they argued, which it was, but it seemed to me that not only were they defending Ferrante from the indignity of having her financial and real-estate records unveiled, they were also defending their own right not to know, to be free to imagine that she was, in fact, Elena Greco, the narrator of her Neapolitan Novels, the woman they knew with the intimacy and deep interiority only possible in literature.

And so contemporary artists find ways to battle for truth on their own terms. I think of young women like Emma Cline, who push back against having their photos on the dust jackets of their books, or David Hammons, who declines to participate in the accepted machinations of the art world, or Bob Dylan, who took nearly two weeks to even publicly acknowledge that he won the Nobel Prize in literature last year. But maybe the best display of resistance against the role of artist-as-performer was the quietly myth-demolishing article by this year’s Nobel laureate in literature, Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote for The Guardian about the four-week period of seclusion in 1987 he and his wife called the “crash,” a desperate attempt to “reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.” The result was “The Remains of the Day,” a monumental yesteryear portrait of renunciation, and a life passed by, tragically unlived. Now, of course, all is reversed: It’s renouncing the world that requires nerve and imagination, and the roar of silence that dares us to listen.

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The Guardian

Elena Ferrante’s Naples – a photo essay

We follow in the (fictional) footsteps of the heroines of My Brilliant Friend and its sequels, into the alleyways, gritty apartment blocks and piazzas of this energetic and fascinating city

by Sophia Seymour. Photographs: Giuseppe Di Vaio

Lenù and Lila, the fictional protagonists of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, forge their friendship in a deprived area of Naples, just east of the cacophonous central station. The books follow the girls’ fraught relationship as they navigate the distinct social and economic divides of the city, both railing against and succumbing to the expectations of women as they struggle to be defined by something other than the violence and poverty of their post-war upbringing.

A ground-floor apartment in a working class area of Naples.
  • A ground-floor apartment in a working class area of Naples.

Ferrante maps out in vivid detail every corner of the unnamed “neighbourhood” where they grow up, yet when the characters move into the rest of the city she is meticulous in naming each street and square, allowing Naples to take centre stage as the stories develop. In this way, the success of the novels has seen an unprecedented number of readers from across the world make a pilgrimage to Naples, in search of the raw and gritty side of the city that has traditionally kept visitors away.

The area where the girls grow up is based on working class Rione Luzzatti, which has hardly changed since the 1950s and does seemingly little to defy the city’s much-maligned reputation as a crumbling rogue governed by intimidating forces. However, those intent on discovering the stomping ground of the brilliant heroines will need to abandon preconceptions, ignore warnings of lawless, unruly Neapolitans, and head deep into the underbelly, to the city’s scarcely explored areas. It is here that the idiosyncrasies and contradictions of the city reveal themselves, and the real magic of Naples is to be discovered.

Porta Capuana is one of Naples’ old city gates, built by the Aragonese dynasty in 1484.
  • Porta Capuana is one of Naples’ old city gates, built by the Aragonese dynasty and dating back to 1484.

To follow in the footsteps of characters in the four novels, head out of the historic centre on a Dante-esque trip into the Neapolitan underworld. Pass through the vast Aragonese city gates of Porta Capuana, now sitting alone in a square off Via Carbonara, and head into the pulsating heart of O’ Buvero street market.

Naples street markets are a place to experience the energy of the city
  • Naples street markets are a place to experience the energy of the city.

O’ Buvero is a human jumble of activity weaving through the decaying 15th-century palaces of Via Sant’Antonio Abate. It is here that the energy of the city’s street life can truly be experienced, resonating through the neighbourhood and into the cramped flats and echoing stairwells.

O’ Buvero market, Via Sant’Antonio Abate, whose the layout has not changed since the 15th century
O’Buvero market stall holder.
A fruit and vegetable stand in O’ Buvero Market.
This sign says, ‘mopeds and timewasters are forbidden to park here’ and hangs at the entrance to the church of Sant’Antonio Abate.

As you walk through the alleyways, it is impossible not to project the community of characters described in the book on to the market sellers. Stop to buy a bunch of tiny piennolo tomatoes from the equivalent of the Ada Cappuccio character who ran the fruit stall in Ferrante’s Naples, or watch as an Enzo Scanno equivalent loads crates of produce, like Jenga blocks, on to his cart to take back and sell in the neighbourhood.

View from behind the market, with the church of Sant’Antonio Abate in the background.
  • A view of the church of Sant’Antonio Abate from behind the market.

If you were wondering where to find intimidating Solara brother types, striking illicit deals, look out for the men manning blackmarket cigarette stalls, their cartons neatly arranged on tablecloths so that they can be removed in one quick motion at the sight of police.

An illegal cigarette stall.

Deeper into the market, lurid insults filter from above, hurled from window to window by women as they lace the streets with laundry, just like Melina and Lidia squabbling over Donato Sarratore in the first book, My Brilliant Friend. Deals are thrashed out in thick Neapolitan dialect, while Vespas arrive loaded with boxes of broccoli-like friarelli, grown on the slopes of Vesuvius. Through a half-open door you may spot an old boy painting the colourful price tags that decorate the market stalls. Nearby may be a woman leaning out of her street-level apartment, cigarette in hand, waiting for a lighter to be lowered by rope in a basket from a floor above.

Pasquale’s family has been making price tags for the markets across Naples for three generations.
A basket being lowered with a light within.
  • Old world charm: Pasquale’s family has been making price tags for the markets across Naples for three generations. Right; passing a light with a basket.

Exiting the market, up Via Benedetto Cairoli to Corso Garibaldi, you pass a traditional acquafrescaio kiosk, selling sulphuric Telese from Vesuvius, known for its healing and aphrodisiac properties. Perhaps Elena Greco was under the influence of this potent volcanic liquid when she first laid her lustful eyes on the womaniser Nino Sarratore at the nearby high school.

The infamous ‘stradone’, south-west of the Rione Luzzatti neighbourhood.
  • The infamous ‘stradone’, south-west of the Rione Luzzatti neighbourhood.

Take a taxi down the wide Via Taddeo da Sessa – the stradone of the books – with the financial district on the left, and leave behind the market and enter a seemingly less hospitable corner of the city, Rione Luzzatti. Silent women stare out of the barred windows of apartments in the four-storey Fascist-era housing blocks. The flats face on to shared courtyards, lined with grates into basements like the one where Lila threw Lenù’s doll, Tina. Occasionally, the stillness is punctured by schoolchildren tumbling out of the concrete elementary school on Via Marino Freccia for lunch, or the fishmonger whistling down the vacant avenues in his three-wheeled Piaggio.

Acqua Telese bought from the Acquafrescaio Kiosk on the corner of the market
  • Telese mineral water on sale at the acquafrescaio kiosk on the corner of the market.
Children run home after school: the elementary school Lenù and Lila would have attended is on the left and the parish church is behind them.
  • Children run home after school. The elementary school Lenù and Lila would have attended is on the left and the parish church is behind them.

It’s worth spending some time exploring, however, as there are a number of reputable establishments around the central square. The basement Pasticciello bakery (Via Vesuvio 3C) has been attracting outsiders to the neighbourhood long before Ferrante’s books came out. It is famous for pagnutiello, a typical Neapolitan street snack made from eggs, ham and cheese, baked in crunchy bread and sold for €1. Signor Spagnuolo – Gigliola’s father – would have baked these as a warm lunch for workmen at the nearby central station.

Il Pasticciello Bakery, Rione Luzzatti.
  • Il Pasticciello bakery, Rione Luzzatti. Below: Lucia and her assistant cracking eggs in the kitchen.
Lucia and her assistant cracking eggs in the kitchen of Il Pasticciello

Down an espresso at Bar Pariso (Via Beato Leonardo Murialdo, on the corner of Piazza Francesco Coppola ), alongside men who, according to Ferrante, spend their time “between gambling losses and troublesome drunkness”. Try a vino sfuso – local aglianico wine dispensed straight from the barrel in a plastic cup – from Marco’s slither of a shop next to the tobacconists on Via Buonocore. Wander through the public gardens where Lila would have taught Elena her Latin verbs and past the Sacra Famiglia parish church, originally built in central Naples in the 15th century before being transported to the rione brick by brick, when the area needed a place of worship.

Il Bar Pariso on the corner of the neighbourhood square.
  • Il Bar Pariso on the corner of the neighbourhood square.

If the bakery’s pagnutiello has your mouth watering, follow the stradone out of the neighbourhood and through the dark, infamous “tunnel with its three entrances” on Via Gianturco where Lila and Lenù skip school and first attempt to leave the neighbourhood to go and see the sea.

The infamous tunnel on Via Gianturco, where Lila and Elena first attempt to leave the neighbourhood.
  • The infamous tunnel on Via Gianturco, where Lila and Elena first attempt to leave the neighbourhood.

Turn right into the slighly more upmarket Case Nuove district for lunch at Pizzeria Carmnella. The pizzaiolo, Vincenzo Esposito, has invented a pizza to celebrate Elena Ferrante, mirroring the dishes served at a traditional Neapolitan Sunday lunch: ragú simmered for 24 hours, ricotta, fiordilatte mozzarella from Agerola on the Amalfi peninsula, grated parmesan and fresh basil.

Pizzeria Carmnella
  • Pizzeria Carmnella: pizza margherita straight from the woodburning oven.
Pizza margherita straight from the woodburning oven on the left in Pizzeria Carmnella.
‘Elena Ferrante’ Pizza on the menu at Pizzeria Carmnella

Not all of Ferrante’s bildungsroman is based in poor neighbourhoods. The life of Elena Greco reaches into the privileged pockets of Via Tasso and the Chiaia district too (as well as to Florence and Milan). Her books expose the Manichean elements of the city, the contrast of lightness and darkness, poverty and wealth, opportunity and hopelessness. So when, after lunch, you hurl across the city in a taxi to where the Solaras sold Lila’s shoes in an upmarket boutique in Piazza Dei Martiri, it feels like crossing a border, moving through tangible social and economic divides.

Ferrante’s characters are astonished by the stark contrast in daily life for richer folk, the orderly manner of things compared with the menacing chaos of the impoverished neighbourhoods. Lenù’s impressions of the Chiaia residents is that they “seemed to have breathed another air, to have eaten other food, to have dressed on some other planet, to have learned to walk on wisps of air”. The change in atmosphere is tangible under the central marble column surrounded by sculpted lions, in the square lined with elegant shops.

Local Neapolitan men.

Follow the line of boutiques up to the top of Via Chiaia and the lavish Gambrinus coffee house on the corner of Piazza Trento e Trieste, where (unlike Ferrante) writers such as Hemingway and Neruda could afford to watch the world go by. As you pass by the familiar chain stores and well-heeled gentry, beware: a longing may set in for the raw and pulsating Naples to the east.

Gambrinus Coffeehouse has been in Piazza Trieste e Trento since 1860, and has always been a meeting point for intellectuals and musicians performing in the San Carlo Opera House opposite. Gigliola drags Elena Greco here for ‘all sorts of things, both salty and sweet’ when they bump into each other on Via Toledo, in the final book.
  • Gambrinus Coffeehouse has been in Piazza Trieste e Trento since 1860, and has always been a meeting point for intellectuals, and for musicians performing in the San Carlo Opera House opposite.

As the writing in the Neapolitan novels attests, Naples is a city of vivid contradictions that summon conflicting emotions of love, loathing, shock and wonder. Searching for Lila Cerullo, the missing protagonist, in the less wealthy areas of the city means encountering Neapolitans who will go out of their way to disprove any negative reputation with the sort of warm, sociable and humble spirit associated with having always felt like the underdog. On the flip side, one can’t but be suspicious of invisible dark forces at play, nepotism and raging inequality. Wandering through the market and into the streets where Lenù and Lila’s friendship blossomed, and crisscrossing the city’s starkly divided neighbourhoods, is like reading the book itself: charged, consuming, and liable to start a lifelong love affair.

Sophia Seymour is a Naples based documentary maker, writer and the founder of Looking for Lila. She curates tours, shoots and events using the Ferrante novels as a frame to explore the city

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The Stanford Daily

The relatable brilliance of ‘My Brilliant Friend’

Anna-Sofia Lesiv, Columnist

When Lena imagines herself in her mind, her actual appearance is not what she pictures. Lena is chubby. Glasses cover her eyes, acne covers her skin. She’s coming of age in a poor and violent suburb of Naples, being hurled towards adulthood, while grasping – as if for a branch in a hurricane – for childhood and a world where time stays still. Adulthood is frightening. It disables like her mother’s limp. It suffocates with the claustrophobia of domesticity and aches with the disappointment of abandoned dreams. Growing up seems, for Lena, what it is for most girls, a winding on of constraints and obligations, an application of social pressure and a submission to its conformity.

Adolescence is the jarring in-between. It’s the time before the substance of our identities hardens into the adults we fear becoming. A present yet fleeting moment of tumult, it offers a final window of hope to shape our lives, our minds, before they ossify into their mature and unchangeable forms.

“My Brilliant Friend” is a journey through the secret thoughts, memories and confessions swirling in Lena’s mind. Paced by the ever-increasing speed of change, the novel exudes uncertainty. At nearly every point in the narrative, Lena is struggling to define her self-worth – and herself. Though she is sought after by boys and praised by teachers, she questions her beauty, her intelligence and her merits. Though she is deeply introspective and thoughtful, she fears being wrong or seeming stupid. Lena’s challenge is Sisyphean, to overcome within herself that which always tells her she is behind. Author Elena Ferrante pours out these insecurities with prose you could drink, but digesting the plight of the young protagonist would be exhausting if it weren’t so acutely familiar.

As a freshman last year, I remember sitting in class with the previous night’s reading whirling in my mind. I had argued over the ideas with my friends last night, ruminated over their meaning. Yet when prompted for questions or comments, my hand stayed resolutely lowered, my mouth steadfastly closed. My piece, which teetered at the tip of my tongue, was knocked off balance by the frenzy of thoughts chasing each other in circles, each one critical of the last. While a hurricane ravaged through my mind, the professor calmly registered the silence and moved on.

Later on, I approached a friend of mine to ask about this phenomenon that followed me from class to class. It felt as if something inside of me were ordering me to stay silent, lest I be wrong, lest my question contain the slightest redundancy. No matter how much I dedicate myself to the material, self-doubt always seemed to creep in. To my surprise, my friend told me that she was experiencing the exact same thing. We resolved that introspecting, overanalyzing, somehow always made us weaker. It set one part of ourselves against another, and left us in a haze, not knowing which “self” to trust.

Like young Lena, we lacked – and perhaps feared – the conviction required to assert our opinions, and thus ourselves. Fearing that we become, inadvertently, what we did not wish to be. Fearing that a false statement might crystallize into a false impression. In general, we just feared.

The world offers a lot for a girl to fear. The threat of violence, abuse, loss of agency or denial of self-fulfillment, all are ominous concerns thumping in the background of “My Brilliant Friend,” and while it’s easy to learn to fear, girls, in particular are much more hard pressed to find models of overcoming it without submitting to artificially mimicking the trope of male supremacy.

On this point, Ferrante offers a brilliant case study. Lila, Lena’s self-assured and powerful friend, doesn’t fear wielding a knife on those who cross her. She dominates with her intellect, and eviscerates all doubt directed at her through forceful outbursts of aggression and merciless cruelty. However, Lila’s extreme displays of courage seem to hint that beneath them lay profound unrest. Midway into her adolescence, she begins experiencing a feeling she calls “dissolving boundaries,” when all around her, people, objects lose their shape and seem but a mass of particles, spilling out of their original forms. The storm of adolescence ravages, leaving nothing behind as it was. Lila’s ambition devolves into doubt, and her courage eventually gives in to fear. She commits herself to provincial life and dismisses the prospect of moving away from her impoverished, lethargic town.

Suppressing self-doubt does not get rid of it, and the contrast between the two friends finally exposes itself in the way the girls respond to self-critique. Whereas Lena grew up and adapted under the constant pressure of crushing self-doubt, for Lila, the shock of finally admitting to such uncertainty, was irreparably destructive.

After reading the first novel in Ferrante’s series, I met with my friend from freshman year once again. She had been reading an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy published a few days prior that seemed to translate exactly what we felt into a polished jargon, as if our recurring dispositions were legitimate academic methodology. The entry is titled “Epistemic Self-Doubt,” and dubs the state of the split, doubting self, as one of “epistemic akrasia.”

The entry sheds light on what it means to be a constantly self-critiquing and doubting being. It notes that while splitting oneself into two factions is not the most straightforward means of existence, it’s almost not a state of perpetual moral tempest, and by all means, is extremely possible to simply live with. Lena’s not a role model – no one in Ferrante’s books is. She never solves the problem of self-doubt, but she does move forward despite it. Her ability to keep going despite her flaws is her most commendable trait, one that fellow epistemic akrasiacs are wont to take note of.

 

Contact Anna-Sofia Lesiv at alesiv ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Les Nuages

ON LITERATURE….ELENA FERRANTE “MY BRILLIAND FRIEND”

I have read many books throughout the years, from the heavy classics to the lighter page-turners, and I know exactly what I like to read. For me a good book should be both interesting, well written, light and heavy at the same time. Literature should be something enriching for both the soul, the heart and the brain. I love a well-written page-turner. The Italian writer Elena Ferrante writes those books.

I have read many foreign writers, both for some reason not a lot of Italian writers, but since reading Elena Ferrante I have become increasingly interested in the country and it’s culture. Elena Ferrante is an interesting figure, she (if she is a she) has decided to stay anonymous, she has said that her person and her books should be and stay to separate things and that you don’t need to know a writer for you to enjoy a book. Unfortunately, her wish to stay unknown is also the press wish to unravel that secret. Ferrante has since stated that she would not produce any more books if “they” (the publishing firm) decide to reveal her identity.

But to get back to her books, the most famous ones are the Neapolitan Novels. The four book series that tells the becoming of age story of two girls Elena and Lila growing up in Naples, from the 50’s to today. It’s a story of girls becoming women, but also about a city that is, in my sense, the principal character of the book. Naples is violent, hard, poor but also extremely fascinating. The books are extremely well written, there is everything from love to politics. After reading the books, you feel like you have lived their lives, you travel through Italy’s story and you grow up with them. These books are truly the most realistic and gripping books, I have read in a long time. And have you already read the four books, I can also recommend Ferrante’s other books. The themes of the female struggle, Naples, family are recurrent.

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Terumah

CUPPA TEA BOOK CLUB: MY BRILLIANT FRIEND BY ELENA FERRANTE

When I first came across My Brilliant Friend, oblivious to Ferrante Fever, in a local bookshop, the title simply intrigued me. Who was this brilliant friend? It was a terrific title.

After abandoning a few dud novels, I was excited to pick up Elena Ferrante’s book because I could tell from the first page that she was an author in control of her craft. Unfortunately, due to my short attention span as a millennial, I put the novel aside after reading the first few chapters. I had a hard time keeping up with the flurry of characters introduced in the beginning. It didn’t help that some characters have multiple names (Lila is also called Raffaela and Lina), and some of the names rhymed: Gino, Nino, Rino.

I missed the old me, pre-social media, when I was able to plow through a thick classic from Dickens or a Brontë sister without getting distracted. I was disappointed in myself for not giving a proper chance to a writer who wrote so well, so I forced myself to pick up the book again months later. Good thing I did. Once I got familiar with the characters, I couldn’t put this book down.

In fact, I found myself reading every spare second that I got. I was back to the old bookworm me again, my nose in a book at all times, and it felt great. My Brilliant Friend is the first in the 4-book Neapolitan Novels, about the lifelong friendship of Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco, the protagonist. For a few weeks in the spring, this series consumed my life. I was emotionally invested. More than I few times I wanted to throw a book against a wall because I was angry at a character, some event that occurred, or due to the masochistic life decisions of the protagonist.

Elena Ferrante is a pen name and very few people know who she is, although some nosy peeps have desperately tried to find out. Ferrante is an Italian writer from Naples, most likely in her 70s. I don’t need to know more. If she wants to stay anonymous to feel comfortable writing with sincerity and truth, we need to respect it, do the literary world a favour, and let her.

Her descriptions of Naples are so vivid I’m there, postwar, with her, and her characters are so real that I had to tweet about my reaction to one character and was gratified to know I wasn’t the only one who hated this dude with a passion. Yes, you will hate him too.

Ferrante Fever is a thing—there’s even a documentary about it now. People around the world are obsessed. HBO is making a mini-series. As I was reading, I was trying to figure it how Ferrante did it—how did she make the minutiae feel so explosive? Talent like this does not come very often.

As for the controversy over the book covers, people need to get over it. Some are offended because they feel the books deserve more than women’s fiction covers. I think they’re fine. The book is written by a woman, the story is about two complex women, and the publishing house wants to target female readers. Why should “masculine” or “gender neutral” covers equal respectable literary fiction? How many novels by male authors are read by women even when the covers are “masculine”? I think people need to rethink the fact that books with girly covers are automatically not deserving of literary praise. Ferrante’s book covers are helping in this regard—training people to look beyond the covers. If I’d passed on certain books because I didn’t like the covers, I would have missed out on a lot of good reads.

I still haven’t said anything about the plot of this book, aside from the fact it is about two friends. I’ll just say that by the end of the series, it’s still not clear who is the brilliant friend.

The first book covers their lives from childhood to adolescence. Read the books, get obsessed, and get back to me on what you think.

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The Guardian

The American novelist on the books that changed his life, made him cry and the ones he wishes he’d written

The book I wish I’d written

I aborted a third novel, and it’s interesting (for about five seconds) to imagine what I would have produced had I soldiered on through to the end of it. I might have liked to do groundbreaking work such as Haruki Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, but why would I want Murakami and Ferrante not to have written those books themselves?

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The Student Newspaper

The Neapolitan Novels – Elena Ferrante

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BBC Radio 4

Seven European bestsellers you should read in 2017

The wonderful thing about being a reader is that even when you’re familiar with the classics of English literature, there are still bookshelves all over the world to explore. These writers, featured in Radio 4’s Reading Europe series, are some of the most famous novelists in their own countries – but the rest of the world has yet to discover them.

Here’s why you should read them.

Italy: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Ferrante fever has been sweeping Europe for the past few years, and reached a fever pitch when journalist Claudio Gatti claimed to have “unmasked” the reclusive author. However, fans remain more interested in her novels than her life stories. In My Brilliant Friend, we’re introduced to Elena and Lila, whose friendship is one of the most believable in fiction – they’re not braiding each other’s hair at sleepovers, they’re jealously competing to escape the neighbourhood of Naples and trying to avoid the attentions of local gangsters.

Look out for: Lila’s wedding – it’s so tense and troubling that it makes the wedding sequence in The Godfather look like it was guest directed by Richard Curtis.

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Living Like This

THE NEAPOLITAN NOVELS BY ELENA FERRANTE

The Neapolitan Novels Series by Elena Ferrante is a collection of 4 books, the first of which is ‘My Brilliant Friend’, Book 2 is called ‘The Story of a New Name’, Book 3 is ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’, and the final novel in the series is called ‘The Story of the Lost Child’.

The story opens with ‘My Brilliant Friend’ and the reader gets to know and love the two friends, Elena and Lila, but it is about so much more than their friendship. It’s also about their families, and their homes, and about Naples. It’s about loyalty and passionate hatred as well as love. Lila is both devil and angel, capable of great love but equally ruthless. At times I wondered if I liked her or loathed her, but I was always fascinated by her, as are all of the characters who surround her in the book. She has hidden depths which she guards fiercely.

The two women remain friends throughout all 4 novels, though sometimes don’t speak to one another for several months at a time following a quarrel. The first book is about their childhood, their education, their friendships with families in their neighbourhood and the rivalry between local families and gangs.  In ‘The Story of a New Name’ the second book Elena and Lila are now in their twenties and Elena’s education still drives her on to ever more ambitious heights, but her friend Lila marries young. The young women share an unshakable bond yet are capable of hurting each other deeply.  At times events literally took my breath away! There is so much pain and loss throughout the 4 novels, but such a depth of feeling, of understanding, and a closeness which at times appears to be shattered beyond repair. When I was reading the novels, I couldn’t put them down. It was like watching a film unfold, and not wanting it to end. I joined the little girls on their journey in the first book, and stayed with them in their 20’s and 30’s and 40’s and beyond.  I cared about both of them, I hated them, I loved them, sometimes I was disappointed in them but I was continuously fascinated.  At other times I was incredulous at their behaviour, and yet always wanted them to remain friends. Ferrante has a real handle on human emotions and on madness and passion and fear as well as depths of great love, and of powerful bonds which people form between one other.

Ferrante received numerous literary awards for the series, and I’m so excited that HBO have picked it up and are going to serialise it in a 32 part drama series, it’s currently being filmed in Italy and won’t be on our screens for a year or two, but will be well worth the wait I’m sure!

An interesting fact about Elena Ferrante is that no one really knows who she is – or maybe ‘he’ is. Elena Ferrante is just pseudonym and the identity of the author has never been known, and is a well kept literary secret worthy of its own plot for a novel!

I loved the books. I was enthralled. I adored the protagonist, Elena and her best friend Lila, as children, and then I loved them as women both so vivid in their own separate ways, I felt their pain, I felt their joy, I felt their losses and their triumphs, and I really wanted a pair of Cerrulo shoes!! I hated reaching the end of the 4th novel and wanted more, in fact for me the ending was a disappointment. I remember reading the first novel and thinking the second couldn’t possibly be as good, but it was, and then I thought the 3rd one wouldn’t be as good, but it was, and so it went on, like a long movie being played out in my imagination. I could imagine all of the vivid characters so clearly because Ferrante’s writing was so visual, and I felt every word of it.

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New York Times

Who’s Afraid of Claire Messud?

The novelist’s characters have been called “difficult women.” She would say they are simply women with desires.

(…) The incredible success of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, which have been greeted by her fans with the kind of rush-to-the-bookstore avidity usually reserved for writers like J. K. Rowling, speaks to a hunger among readers who continue to crave depictions of women as real, as flawed, as people who can’t be constrained by a predetermined narrative. ‘‘We were starved for this as a literary subject, and we didn’t even know it,’’ says the novelist Elliott Holt, who studied with Messud at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop in 2003. Ferrante’s novels explore the lifelong relationship between Elena and Lila, two women who grew up in a Naples slum and followed divergent trajectories, whose friendship is complex in just the way Woolf might have wanted. They’re notable not just because they portray the friendship between two women in detail, but because they do so on an epic scale, in a four-book series that amounts to more than 1,600 pages in English translation. The women are alternately supportive and competitive, particularly when their individual ambitions place them in each other’s way. Their relationship isn’t primarily nurturing or caretaking; it’s fierce and untrammeled. They’re more than capable of evoking the full range of emotions.

Ferrante’s work has reopened a conversation around a fiction of complicated women, but Messud has been quietly answering Woolf’s call for years. The relationships she focuses on are almost exclusively between women, depicted intimately and intensely: Danielle and Marina, the uncomfortably competitive best friends in ‘‘The Emperor’s Children’’; Nora and Sirena, the glamorous artist with whom she becomes obsessed, in ‘‘The Woman Upstairs.’’ Her protagonists, unusually for women in fiction, tend not to be wives or mothers. More often they’re figures who might be considered unpalatable, unattractive or — indeed — angry. Her work quietly seethes at the idea that a woman needs to be ‘‘likable’’ — or that a man should be the judge of her likability. More than that, it offers a space for women to be, as she puts it, ‘‘appetitive’’: to love inappropriately, to be ambitious, to simply want more. (…)

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Reviews for The Story of a New Name

The Story of a New Name

ASAP Journal

“The future might pour in a different shape”: Doris Lessing and Elena Ferrante / Pamela Thurschwell

“We can’t stop talking about Elena Ferrante” we said to each other throughout 2016—on social media, in the classroom, in pressing the Neapolitan novels upon friends and relatives. This collection of essays on Ferrante emerges from a conference panel at the Modern Language Association convention in Philadelphia in January, 2017, convened by the Prose Fiction Division. The pseudonymous Italian writer, who chooses not to reveal herself beyond her writing, had come to new popularity in the US in the past few years, and we found we had a lot to say about feminism, rage, women’s friendships, genre clashes, and bad sex, amongst other topics. We still can’t stop talking about Ferrante, and we trust that when you read these lively, provocative essays, you too will join the chorus.

—Hester Blum, MLA panel moderator

________________________________________________________________

“I’m always surprised when someone points out as a flaw the fact that my stories contain no possibility of transcendence.”1

Behind this short essay hovers a general question about what two brilliant, cranky novelists, who are simultaneously feminist and uncompromisingly critical of feminism; bitter and enabling of hope; grounded in historical realism and radically experimental, might have to offer an audience at this terrifying political moment. This moment for me, is characterized by the structuring misogyny of November 2016’s election season. (For me this boiled down to: boasting about sexual assault does not make you unelectable. In fact, it probably gets you a few more votes.) I find myself returning to the image of women, in the privacy of voting booths, voting for Donald Trump. I know there are comprehensible reasons why women voted for Trump. No one needs to explain this to me; I read those articles too. But that image will not leave my mind. A Lessing or Ferrante could make something out of this voting booth scene. They are good on women making bad mistakes about men, and on how the outside becomes the inside—how the publically sanctioned state of subjection to masculine culture is internalized, even by strong, politicized, self-critical women. Writing this paper, for me, meant engaging with the voting booth scene. Thinking about Elena Ferrante and Doris Lessing after Trump’s election means asking questions like what the hell happened to feminism?

I remember feeling similar things watching the TV series Mad Men a few years ago. At some point I realized Mad Men was actually Waiting for Godot, but for feminism. First feminism doesn’t arrive, once, and then it doesn’t arrive again. Ferrante’s and Lessing’s novels, amongst other things, are great guides for the business of trying to understand the ways in which feminism keeps not arriving.

In this essay, I offer a few brief points of contact between Ferrante and Lessing. The connection I will address least explicitly here is how their writing has been represented as coextensive with their lives, not just by critics who make the wearily familiar collapse between a woman writer’s life and her work—but also through explicit moves on both of their parts—moves which simultaneously fend off and invite this collapse. Although they appear to be polar opposites—Lessing mined her life for her work over the years, and novels such as The Golden Notebook invite speculation about which real life people characters are based on, while Ferrante explicitly tried to avoid having her identity exposed—they also share a skilled manipulation of the masculinist critical assumption that all women’s writing will inevitably be autobiographical. They make lemonade from essentialist lemons.

Other obvious connections: Ferrante and Lessing both focus on women involved in radical politics and radical sexual relations whose strongest primary relation is with another woman, and who may or may not be “free women” as the ironically titled embedded novel in The Golden Notebook proclaims. As Margaret Drabble writes in a review of Ferrante:

“Ferrante takes on many of the issues raised in Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (1962) . . . . Lessing’s novel was a heady mix of feminism (a label that she disclaimed), Marxism and madness. Ferrante takes us into similar territory, as she, too, endeavours to combine the personal with the political. (Her descriptions of Lina’s crazy moments of ‘dissolving boundaries’ recall the passages evoking Anna Wulf’s madness.)”2

Ferrante and Lessing are both fascinated by hallucinatory states that break down the boundaries and structures that uphold imprisoning, conventional social forms, including relations between the sexes, or adherence to the Communist party line. The threat of madness is central to The Golden Notebook but I’m also thinking of the strange fugue-like interludes exploring the ghostly house in The Memoirs of a Survivor, and many other moments in Lessing’s work.

The dissolution of these boundaries, although dangerous to the individual, can also be productive, even revelatory. In The Golden Notebook, Anna says to her Jungian analyst, Mother Sugar:

“If I’d said, Yesterday I met a man at a party and suddenly he said something, and I thought, Yes, there’s a hint of something—there’s a crack in that man’s personality like a gap in a dam, and through that gap the future might pour in a different shape—terrible perhaps, or marvellous, but something new—if I said that, you’d frown.”3

This is, of course, tentative because hypothetical—Anna is here ascribing a visionary state of being to an imaginary man (one who is also met in a scene of an imagined pick-up at a party; revelation is eroticized, and not dependant on the woman’s own agency. It is the man here who has the power to break the social order). Further, Anna says this to her analyst who she knows will disapprove of this allegory of self-destruction as new creation. However, Lessing and Ferrante are both drawn to these gaps. They simultaneously valorize and fear a violent and disturbing experimentation with the self. For Ferrante Lila is the main carrier of this possibility; in Lessing by contrast, the gap emerges from the impasse of the heterosexual relation. The break that ignites a different future, at the end of The Golden Notebook, involves the lovers, Saul and Anna, going mad—but their shared madness, and their support for each other works to gets them past their writers’ blocks—makes it possible for them to split up (or maybe split apart) and to write again. Amanda Anderson in Bleak Liberalism uses the passage I’ve just quoted as one example of the tension in The Golden Notebook between modernist experimentation and a humanist recuperation of the self in Lessing’s work.4

Ferrante also speaks of this kind of creative and debilitating madness, calling it frantumaglia, a word she says she takes from her mother:

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 a frantumaglia. . . 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 is an unstable landscape, an infinite aerial or aquatic mass of debris that appears to the I, brutally, as its true and unique inner self. The frantumaglia is the storehouse of time without the orderliness of a history, a story.5

The frantumaglia is the part of us that escapes any reduction to words or other shapes, and that in moments of crisis dissolves the entire order within which it seemed to us we were stably inserted.6

It is important that Ferrante claims the word that describes this destabilizing, personal, but also politicalcrisis, as a maternal legacy, tied in to women speaking and the dissolution of speech. Frantumaglia is connected to maternity in the books via an old, by now perhaps almost critically exhausted, dichotomy between maternity and writing (which also maps loosely on to other familiar gendered dichotomies, such as that between the body and representation, or altruism and ego). This split claims that one precludes the other: you can be a good mother OR a good writer; you can have a novel or a baby, but not both. This structuring dichotomy was critiqued by, but also replicated in, some of the 1970s and 80s psychoanalytic and poststructuralist feminism that interests Ferrante. (One can imagine we might find it in Lenu’s book that becomes a feminist classic). Lessing and Ferrante, engage this division in interestingly productive ways, even as they apparently resign themselves, and their characters, violently, even shockingly, to its dictates.

In a central scene of the Free Women section of Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, the character Molly’s unhappy, unanchored son, Tommy, in his early 20s comes to see Anna, who is in the position of a second mother to him. Anna lets him read her writing notebooks / diaries that are on her kitchen table. After reading one section—a suicide fantasy, Tommy says:

“Do you realize the whole of this notebook, the blue one, is either newspaper cuttings or bits like the blood and brain bit, all bracketed off, or crossed out; and then entries like buying tomatoes or tea?”7

Tommy’s intervention dramatizes the ongoing aesthetic-generic-political problems the left and the novel itself face: What can constitute the best that art can do for this historical moment? Anna cannot decide whether there is any point to writing novels rather than engaging with politics; those who do keep writing novels grapple with formal question of representing the chaos and dread of modern existence amidst the collapse of the Communist ideal and postwar nuclear fears. Do the times call for modernist experiment and fragmentation, or realism? (The Golden Notebook, of course, provides both.)   But more starkly still, Tommy’s reading of Anna’s notebooks provokes an action beyond an aesthetic-political crisis. Tommy leaves Anna, goes home, and shoots himself. Although he survives his suicide attempt he is blinded. Are Anna’s notebooks to blame for this in some way? Does women’s writing drive children to suicide? The novel seems to want its readers to ask this question, even as it defuses the answer both by redeeming Tommy (he becomes happier, more self-sufficient, more political, living as a blind person—he even finds love) and by revealing that the Tommy story was fictional—part of an embedded novel rather than a framing narrative.

There is a parallel between this incident and the complex dynamics in Ferrante around women, writing, and motherhood. The Neapolitan Quartet focuses on the expropriation of women’s writing in various forms (by men, but also by Lenù). Numerous examples abound: Lenù’s conviction that everything she writes has been stolen from Lila; Lenù destroys Lila’s notebooks that Lila has given her to protect, but she also watches in horror while Lila burns the rescued manuscript of her story “The Blue Fairy.” Men also often steal women’s writing or systematically ignore it: Nino, jealous of Lenù’s skill with words, makes sure her article is never printed in the paper; Pietro doesn’t read Lenu’s novel, etc.

Writing, then, and maybe even moreso, stolen writing, is of central importance to identity in the books. For Lenù, Lila, is the woman who doesn’t write or rather who is suspected of writing secretly, a writing that would be magical if it existed—that would be more like life than writing, like presence. For Lenù writing matters, but Lila matters even more. As Lenù’s daughter Dede says:

“It’s impossible to have a real relationship with you, the only things that count are work and Aunt Lina; there’s nothing that’s not swallowed up inside them.”8

With Dede’s accusation it seems that children always must be secondary. They, like women’s writing at other points in the books, are easily expropriated, passed along to others or lost (even as the hard material work of maternity and housekeeping in the poverty stricken neighborhood, is also brutally represented). This expropriation happens most obviously and tragically, in the mysterious disappearance of Lila’s daughter Tina that gives The Story of the Lost Child, the final novel in the quartet, its title.

Tina’s disappearance is also connected by Lila to women’s writing. Toward the end of the book Lila tells Lenù that she thinks Tina’s kidnapping was a case of mistaken identity—that the kidnappers might have thought Tina was Lenù’s daughter because of a newspaper story about her novel that exposed the criminal Naples of their upbringing. In this newspaper story Lenù was photographed with Tina, mislabelled as her own daughter. “They thought they were stealing your daughter and instead they stole mine.”9 In Lila’s version of the story of the Lost Child—not definitive by any means—women’s writing is deadly for the child; it eclipses her, makes her become forgotten, makes the bad mother (the mother who writes) a target for revenge. Lenù’s novel, then, in Lila’s telling, kills a child, or at least makes her disappear. Does women’s writing, then, in Ferrante and Lessing, threaten the reproduction of the social order by erasing children? A kind of No Future gesture?10 How might we relate this question to the lost dolls that arrive, mysteriously, at the end of the book, after Lila has absented herself from Lenù’s writing, and from her life? Another way of putting this question might be: are the dolls more like novels or more like children in the economy of the novels? And does our answer to this question affect how we understand the source of Lila’s enthralling power for the novels and for Lenù?

Despite the obvious differences in class, in nationality, in the historical situations from which they write, Lessing’s and Ferrante’s works have a lot in common. They demand to be read in contradictory ways: as romance, as feminist how-to books, as inspiration, as histories of radical politics that fail, and fail in relation to feminism, as books that people love with a passion that may at times seem excessive. In Ferrante and Lessing we can recognize a version of Lauren Berlant’s cruel optimism; every woman in the novels lives with and desires objects or structures, or perhaps, genres, that prevent her from flourishing, objects such as heterosexual romance, maternity, publishing novels, or party politics.11 As these appear to be the only structures on offer, Ferrante’s and Lessing’s novels act out the breakdown of the structures that hold up their characters’ worlds when they gesture towards frantamuglia. But if in The Golden Notebook, at the end, women’s writing might be one tentative possibility for a portal through which the “future might pour in a different shape,”—the shape of the novel The Golden Notebook—in the Ferrante (of no transcendence) the stakes of writing for women are not so clear. Lila, and Lila’s lost child, will continue not to be there; or perhaps, like feminism itself, not to be there yet.

 

Pamela Thurschwell is a Reader in English at the University of Sussex and the author of Literature, Technology and Magical Thinking, 1880–1920 (2001) and Sigmund Freud (2000). She is the co-editor with Leah Price of Literary Secretaries/Secretarial Culture (2005); with Nicola Bown and Carolyn Burdett of The Victorian Supernatural (2004), and with Sian White of a special issue of Textual Practiceon Elizabeth Bowen (2013). She also writes on pop music, and is currently writing a book on modern adolescence and time travel, called Keep your Back to the Future: Adolescent Time Travel across the 20th Century.
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On Our Minds

Our favorite fictional beaches

 Morgan Baden June 23rd, 2017

I grew up in a beach town; the salt water is in my blood. I like to read “beach reads” (whatever they are) all year round. But now that it’s summer, I feel free to shine some sunlight on all the books I love that take place at the beach!

From board books to wordless picture books, from classic middle grade novels to contemporary YAs, from evocative literary fiction to adult thrillers, there are beachy books for every type of reader. So even if you’re land-locked this summer, you can feel the sand in your toes when you pick up one of these titles.

Here are some of my all-time favorite books that take place at the beach:

(…) And Julia chose Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Much of the second book, The Story of a New Name, takes place in an Italian beach town. (See my note above about Italian beaches!) Julia says, “I love Ferrante’s writing because she can sustain long periods of intense human emotion for hundreds of pages, and it’s riveting and exhausting. There’s no better example of this intensity than during Lenu and Lila’s summer on the beach in The Story of a New Name.”

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Cannonball Read

The Review of the Great Books

The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child (The Neapolitan Novels #2-4) by Elena Ferrante

I really, really liked Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, which is an incredibly blase way to compliment a book so raw and confrontational and, well, brilliant. The remaining three books in the Neapolitan Novels series build on the strong momentum established by the first and, in the process, continue to be some of the most poignant reading I’ve experienced in ages. The feelings that these books provoked in me were strong and visceral, inflamed and tender in their ebb and flow. These are not feel-good stories, but they don’t feel gratuitous in their misery, either. As a woman, my vicarious anger has an undercurrent of resignation, because each injustice and pointed strike at Lila and Elena — the character — (but also, all of the other Neapolitan women in the books) rings a little too true to feel like emotional manipulation.

Taking place from the 1950’s all the way through the 2010’s, beyond coming of age into mature adulthood, the series chronicles the personal and professional achievements and failures of two very intelligent women who are both products of their time, but who also rise above the expectations of the era and of the microculture in their misogynistic, violent Naples neighborhood. For all that they are exceptional, though, the neighborhood has indelibly tagged them. Lila, despite her potential, is never able to leave, while Elena, despite a fancy education and a high-class marriage, is still condescended to because of her background, never allowed to forget how she is different.

The Story of a New Name takes place immediately after Lila’s marriage to the neighborhood grocer, the young man in charge of one of only two of the neighborhood’s prosperous families. Getting bogged down in the details of the plot of each book is kind of missing the point, so I will try to avoid doing it, but I mention the marriage because this is the single moment that changes the two women’s lives. It is the first and most concrete piece of evidence that the lives they are “meant” to have, as women, are not for them. Lila begins chafing at her vows and new identity (her new name) before the ceremony is even over, and the rest of this installment is, for her, about how she struggles to carve out necessary freedoms for herself, both inside and outside of her marriage. Meanwhile, Elena has left the neighborhood to attend secondary school and university. Academically, there is no denying her talent, but she has what we would, now, instantly identify as impostor syndrome, in spades, and she is nearly undone on multiple occasions by a crippling sense of inauthenticity. When she speaks among her educated friends, she always feels like she is pretending at intelligence, only hiding her poor vulgarity; when she as at home in Naples she simultaneously desires to impress with her accomplishments and be accepted as one of them, unchanged. It’s the story of moving within of two communities, but not truly being a part of either.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is a masterful thesis on the feminist axiom “the personal is the political.” It puts a point on the inseparable bond between the women’s professional endeavors and the sociopolitical mores they engage with. Discovering feminism in an official capacity, Elena incisively observes the relationships between women and men in her writing and is struck by the messiness of applying what should be clear-headed logic on the subject to her own relationships with men. As much as this book is about Elena and Lila’s marriages and families, though, it is still at its core very much about the friendship between the two women. In Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, it is an undeniably strained relationship, but the strength in their bond is something beyond amiable appeasement and shared interests. There is something deeper and more elemental that binds them. At times, you wonder why they still bother being friends, with the various trespasses, minor and otherwise, that they commit against each other. But Elena is forcefully inspired by Lila; she’s an unyielding, driving specter in Elena’s creative mind and she represents the well of genius that Elena is only able to access when she’s at her most honest and candid.

A notable condition of the second and third books is that Elena and Lila are separated, so a lot of what Elena reports about Lila’s life is second-hand information, information she finds out much later and is writing in retrospect, or information that was taken straight from a diary that Lila gives Elena for “safekeeping.” This all worked for me to keep Lila involved in the story and to keep Elena connected to her, but finally in The Story of the Lost Child the women are together again, living in Naples. The official reunion is ostensibly a happy one, but many of their interactions remain terse. Elena, who has always written from the perspective of someone who is constantly compared to her friend and found wanting, now feels increasingly compelled to justify herself and her choices to Lila in the flesh. Raising their children together, Elena struggles with how, despite their wildly different paths, they have still ended up in the same place. She interrogates the decisions that led her, a moderately successful woman with her own notoriety, to still have been so moved by men that her and Lila, now both raising children as single women, appear on the surface level to have minimized themselves and their ambitions so to remain comfortably in the neighborhood, just as all of the other girls without the same intelligence and drive did. It’s too reductive to say that it’s merely sad, or disappointing, that Elena winds up where she did, or that Lila’s growing position in the neighborhood seems to come at the direct expense of Elena’s current popularity as an author, as if they sit on opposite ends of a see-saw and one is always looking down on the other if either of them is to be much off the ground.

Ferrante’s character Elena is a writer, and she writes a lot of this meta-criticism about the flaws in her writing. Primarily, despite Elena’s formal education surpassing Lila’s by several stages, Elena attributes to Lila’s writing an unparalleled quality of natural brevity. Elena is always struck by her own writing having a false affect, while revering the clarity of Lila’s unstudied prose as the epitome of skill. As a reader, I’m struck by Ferrante’s skill with language, and — with this feeling possibly being magnified by Ferrante being a pseudonymous author, and wondering how much of this work is auto/biographical — I can’t help but notice that the lauded qualities of Lila’s writing appear to more or less describe Ferrante’s. (Or Elena’s voice, as depicted by Ferrante. How meta is this exactly? Is this Ferrante suggesting that Elena more successfully adopted those attributes of her friend’s writing than she gave herself credit for? Or that it was Elena herself whose writing had those characteristics, but her bouts of inferiority blinded her to it? Or is it Ferrante, herself, at the top line, voicing her authorial insecurities through her character?) In any case, the writing is magnificent. As I’ve seen it said, the pages practically turn themselves. The language is frugal but expansive inside the reader’s mind — a true case of “leaving it to the imagination.” I’m continually astonished at how much Ferrante does with so little, syntactically.

If you weren’t put off by this unhelpfully vague review, I urge you to read these books. I have tried to touch on a few reasons why I find them so excellent, but even more than those definable things there is just something about them overall that makes them unforgettable.

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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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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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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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CAITLIN DWYER

WHAT I’M READING – JANUARY

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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Shoshi’s Book Blog

Things change, things stay the same: ‘The Story of a New Name’ by Elena Ferrante

Last year, I finally joined the Elena Ferrante fan club.  I thought ‘My Brilliant Friend’ completely lived up to its name, and I knew its sequel would have to be included in my 2016 reading.  Then, as tends to happen, I started to doubt myself.  Would I enjoy ‘The Story of a New Name’ as much as its predecessor?  Would my reading pleasure be diminished by the fact that, as the months moved on, I was forgetting the numerous character names that took me so long to get to grips with in the first volume?

I needn’t have worried; as always, Ferrante was one step ahead of me.  Not only was the writing so compelling that fears of being let down were immediately forgotten, but ‘The Story of a New Name’ politely assumes you have left a gap since finishing ‘My Brilliant Friend.’  At the start of this second book, Lenù, our narrator, receives a pile of notebooks from the infinitely attractive and enigmatic Lila.  Through summarising their contents, Lenù reminds us of all of the key events in the friendship so far.  Also, because these things are always complex, we get hints that Lila’s version is somehow better, more engaging, more powerful, more brilliant than Lenù’s telling.  The lives, the relationships and the central web of competition and companionship that made ‘Our Brilliant Friend’ so wonderful were all back and I felt as if I had never left the enthralling world of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.

For the rest of the story, it’s business as usual.  The endemic abuse within the friends’ tight-knit community touches them more closely than ever as they grow up from childish observers to women and wives.  Once again, it is Lila who appears to suffer the most, and yet who remains an aspirational figure, effortlessly talented and captivating.  Meanwhile, under the surface we’re given a contrasting narrative, one which deals with Lenù’s own attempts to forge a life for herself and escape into the middle-class milieu forever barred to her uneducated childhood friends.

In some ways, ‘The Story of a New Name’ was a comforting read; it gave me everything I was hoping for from an Elena Ferrante novel.  A part of this is that the novel contained reassuringly surprising twists and revelations.  Consistently powerful and unexpected, I’m so pleased to be only half way through Ferrante’s Neapolitan trilogy – with ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ to look forward to in 2017!

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Johanna Juni

My Neapolitan Novel Moment

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In Elena Ferrante’s second Neapolitan novel “The Story of a New Name,” Torregaveta makes an appearance when one of the characters tells her husband she wants to go to the beach with her small son, and her husband, who no longer loves her, tells her to take a bus to Torregaveta.

The bus ride starts from a Naples train station one stop removed from the main train station; the dead end last stop with rows of worn graffitied regional trains parked side by side almost in the dark. The seats in these regional trains are metal and miniature like cable car seats making them hood on the outside but dainty and refined on the inside. Once you leave Naples, the Naples-Torregaveta bus ride is almost entirely along the coast, like the Almalfi Coast route but less winding and less steep. This bus ride requires almost no attention from the bus driver, who frequently had his eyes off the road.

While I was stranded there for 20 minutes, I saw three different wedding groups having their photos taken and as the novel relates, it was not a Capri crowd. From a distance, I saw a little girl in a white dress constantly fluffing a bride’s gown. It was the best image I took in Naples, during my last few hours there. At the time, the only reference I had was to the book cover of the first novel, which I had not yet read, and so I had no idea the location would also signify something in the novel. What’s even more weird is that I had entertained the idea of being a mother with a child on this bus and wondered what it would be like.

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Where Is My Suitcase

Naples, 1950s, and a friendship

The Story of a New Name is a whirlwind of a novel, which may seem unusual, in that nothing particularly revolutionary happens in its pages. Two poor girls grow up in a crime-ridden, violent neighborhood of Naples in the 1905s, using their intelligence, street skills and friendship with each other to fight their way through a rough childhood and adolescence. And yet, the writing is so fierce, the plot lines weave in and out so tightly, the characters are so life-like yet mysterious that you cannot help but return often to this bleak and often unforgiving working class world that Ferrante describes so well.

The two main characters of the novels, Elena and Lila (Lina), forge a friendship that is unlikely and at times unlucky.

-Lina is a capricious figure, endowed with artistic intelligence and psychological insight that is too much for her to handle at her young age, especially when coupled with her fiery temper and seemingly contradictory emotions. Crippled in her hostile environment by skills that in another context would be gifts, she careens through her life seemingly blithely oblivious to her destructive, compelling force, intent on accomplishing goals that only she knows about. This force is what brings her environment -and indeed her friend Elena, the narrator – to oscillate between heedless devotion and uncomprehending animosity towards her. The reader too is pulled into this seesaw of emotions, as frustrated as her environment yet compelled to try to understand her, unable to leave her and return to peace.

Elena, the porter’s daughter, her best friend since childhood, seems to have her stars better aligned, with more support to her studies and ambition to better herself, to educate herself, to pull herself up and out of their neighborhood and its poverty. And yet, one feels as Elena self-deprecatingly puts it herself, that she is but a mere shadow of Lina’s personality, an incomplete reflection of the rollercoaster of her passionate friend.

The world the books describe is ugly, mostly chaotic, often violent. It is a world where nobody is surprised if a woman is beaten by her husband; he is only continuing the corrective work her brother and father have started. A mistress cast-away by an aspiring poet and father of many goes mad and is only fit to wash stairs. Children are not protected from violence or deprivation, teenage girls marry for the status it will convey, and the local mafia, sure of their impermeable status, walks the streets harassing young women. And yet the world of those Neapolitan streets is also vivacious, alive, smelly, ugly, and real. The naturalistic bent of Ferrante’s writing does not come across as preachy or vindictive – the language, at times vulgar, does not aim to shock. It simply seems to be an absorbing, fascinating account of two intertwined female lives. It will exhaust you and annoy you, but you will sail through until the last page and then heave a sigh of relief. And get yourself back to the library to check out volume three.

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Reviews for Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Those Who Leave and Those Who S

ASAP Journal

The Function of Pettiness at the Present Time / Sarah Blackwood & Sarah Mesle

“We can’t stop talking about Elena Ferrante” we said to each other throughout 2016—on social media, in the classroom, in pressing the Neapolitan novels upon friends and relatives. This collection of essays on Ferrante emerges from a conference panel at the Modern Language Association convention in Philadelphia in January, 2017, convened by the Prose Fiction Division. The pseudonymous Italian writer, who chooses not to reveal herself beyond her writing, had come to new popularity in the US in the past few years, and we found we had a lot to say about feminism, rage, women’s friendships, genre clashes, and bad sex, amongst other topics. We still can’t stop talking about Ferrante, and we trust that when you read these lively, provocative essays, you too will join the chorus.

—Hester Blum, MLA panel moderator

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In a famous formulation, Matthew Arnold described criticism as “the best that is known and thought in the world.” Arnold’s words here imply a sense of progress, publicness, hierarchy—that, by bringing ideas to light, we can test and evaluate, mutually agree upon, their “bestness.” Arnold’s articulation remains a useful standard; even as much modern criticism has moved beyond or against his broader ideas about what’s good or “best,” criticism’s basic structure of evaluative argument still remains central to academic life and exchanges. And yet, this structure, it seems, cannot hold many forms of knowledge. What if a text, a series of novels, say, generates knowledge and experiences that can’t be contained within the consensus making world of criticism or that comes to knowledge from a felt sense, hard to describe or explain? What if you come to know something about a text that you can only share at great cost, or simply don’t want to share? What if you know something about a text because of something dark, bad, shameful, or unacceptable, that you know about yourself?

In this essay we assert that Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels turn us towards other modes of engagement: not the best that might be thought, but, in fact, the pettiest. Part of what we love about the books is that they are about people—particularly the critic Lenù—coming to understandings of the world that they can’t put up for evaluation. These are good books about people acting badly, most often in variously petty ways. Reading these novels about bad feeling has made us feel good. But reading evaluative criticism about them has made us feel, strangely, bad. We have found in the case of the Neapolitan novels, that the border between our thinking and feeling became even more vexed and blurry than usual. By thinking in this essay through the good and bad feelings the novels contain, describe, and generate, we hope to come to a clearer understanding of our own sense of the possibilities and limits of criticism, as it applies to these novels, and to our lives as critics, in this fraught present time more generally.

1: Pettiness

What does it mean to call something petty, or to be petty yourself? Pettiness has to do with being out of scale. We might understand pettiness as a relation between attention and object of attention: you are being petty when a small or seemingly irrelevant detail generates disproportionate irritation; you are also being petty when irritation leads you to pay disproportionate attention to a small detail.

This petty state is often where we found ourselves in response to much criticism about the Neapolitan novels. Something about it irritated us. Criticism about these novels felt inadequate to the largeness of our feeling and thinking about these novels. The only talk about Ferrante we liked was private, non-argumentative. The critical takes, the arguments about authorship, the interpretive discussions placing the novels in various literary contexts and genealogies: all of it, bizarrely for people who passionately do critical work for a living, seemed mostly useless and entirely missing of the point. However: what was the point we so felt everyone else was missing? And why was it all so irritating?

Part of the problem, of course, is the Neapolitan novels’ popularity and their ability to generate, basically, a fandomwhen an object lives in your fanatical heart, it can be irritating to find it discussed, analyzed, praised elsewhere. It is irritating because it is irritating to discover that your heart is not the only place where that object’s truth might be revealed.

Another possibility is that the irritation is a historical symptom. The years of Ferrante fever in the United States have coincided with the collapse of things more generally—politically, psychologically, informationally. We exist in a state now where the ability to demonstrate or assert what is “best that is known” is under particular stress. It’s clear that criticism in our present time—the best that is known, consensual knowledge—has a vital role.

And yet the collapse that makes criticism urgent has another side effect too: it makes us crabby. And thus a variety of other forms of knowing and interpreting—gossip, subtweets, textspeak, side eye, backchannels—strike us as also, at the present time, particularly useful. These petty modes are insufficient to the role of understanding either literature or our present, and yet they are still, we would claim, necessary. At the very least, as we will show, they are necessary to a fuller understanding of the Neapolitan novels. The novels’ pettiness is substantive and specific; they are an expression of petty feeling all the way down.

The question the novels seek to answer—what happened to Lenù’s friendship with Lila?—is not a critical question; what went wrong is not a matter of reason or clarity.  For what would it mean to evaluate a friendship in terms of “the best that is known?” How, in friendship, literature, and politics, do we evaluate what’s good, what’s interesting, what helps and what hurts? What standards guide our judgements, where do the standards come from, and whose power do they support or undercut?

Lenù is a critic and a novelist, and yet neither of those modes of writing or evaluation have helped her answer the most urgent questions she has. For Lenù, criticism is not even an objective mode of evaluation: instead, it manifests narratively mostly as a series of bad boyfriends and bad moms, counterweighted for a while, Nancy Meyer-ishly, by increasingly nice apartments. In other words, as a life.

2: Backchannels

The Neapolitan novels are about marriage, women’s friendship, creative life, and politics. Although Lenù has built her adult life out of writing in and for publics, the prose we are reading seems deeply private: it is the material she cannot share with the world around her. It is significant that the content of the novels—an exploration of a specific friendship under conditions of poverty and patriarchy—takes a form that we might describe as a “backchannel” between Lenù and the reader. Backchannels in our contemporary world run the gamut from geopolitical intrigue to bitching with friends: Jared Kushner emailing furtively with Russian politicians, but also the more everyday flows of information in secret Facebook groups, DMs, gossipy texts. They are a place where people put knowledge they are not supposed to share; express irritation about things that are not supposed to irritate them; and indulge hysterics over things that are not supposed to be funny. In backchannels you reveal the aspects of yourself—aspects that feel unlikely to be legitimated by a wider public—to the people you believe are already on your side. Essential to this form, too, is the response it assumes: agreement and, crucially, reciprocity. Putting your worst or most outrageous self, your secrets, in a backchannel anticipates that the reader will reflect their illegitimate selves, their secrets, back to you.

If we think of the novels as backchannels, we can imagine them as bringing to light the question of what “can’t” be brought to light, and why. The novels are soul-baring but in an intimate, secretive, whispering sort of way, and they elicit intimate, secretive conversation in us, their readers. Lenù is telling us things about herself that she does not want to be known. So what is lost in responding to this voice in the idiom of criticism? Because criticism’s task is so fully on the side of illumination, publics, consensus, it seems categorically to violate the intimate mode the novels’ form both takes and encourages us to inhabit. Criticism’s idiom is optimism—the idea that, even in critique, it can produce new knowledge, better understanding. The backchannel’s idiom, to the contrary, in its expectation of the reciprocation of illegitimate knowledge and feeling, is pettiness.

Let’s consider one moment that illuminates how the novels understand the intersection of petty feelings, politics, evaluative consensus, and the backchannel form. Home for Christmas at a time she initially considers a pinnacle of her life, Lenù’s daughters lead their husbands and boyfriends over to the bookshelf and take down her books. They read them aloud, “ironically,” and laugh with one another over their mother’s self-seriousness, her prose’s belief that it might change the world. Their critical pettiness is hurtful, of course, but the true pain comes from the fact that Lenù recognizes some truth about herself in their insufficiently private backchannel. Overhearing them laugh about her books, Lenù realizes that her entire critical and creative life might be “reduced merely to a petty battle to change [her] social class.”

In this moment, crucially, Lenù cares less that her daughters are being petty gossips and more about the prospect that not only her creative work but also her politics have been small and wrong because they focused too particularly on her life rather than on substantive social change. While writing about the politics of literature, she has in fact mostly been focused on herself and her own comforts.

While it might be a surprise to Lenù to discover the pettiness of her own ambitions, it is not surprising to us: by this point in the series, we have spent many pages in close company with Lenù’s petty, selfish emotions, the petty details of her daily life. We have cheered on her petty battle to improve her life in any limited way that she can, just as we are invited not to condemn her daughters for their pettiness toward their mother. The novels succeed in being generous toward their characters’ bad acting not despite but because the novels pay close attention to details, because, in fact, they celebrate, out-of-scale attention. Dwelling in pettiness is how the novels generate their pleasure. They invite us to respond with our own out-of-scale fears, irritations, and concerns, rather than with our big-picture understanding.

3: Scale

Consider, for example, how Ferrante structures her novels to insist on the narrative force of small details. Lila’s marriage is over at its beginning because she focuses, obsessively, on a profoundly “trivial” detail: the sociopathic Marcello Solara shows up at her wedding wearing shoes she had made by hand, which he had long pursued and she had long refused to give or sell to him. What’s more, she realizes, her new husband Stefano is the one who has given them to him. Lila’s white hot rage over this detail is out of proportion, most others in her community agree—Stefano, the Solara brothers, even Lila’s brother all encourage her to look at the big picture, to give up caring about this small thing so that a larger social and economic prosperity can be secured. But we readers see the situation more clearly: the shoes are the big picture—they are her art, the “small” thing she thought she could keep out of the marriage market even as she consented to its broader practice. The novel emphasizes this interpretation to us by treating the discovery of the stolen shoes as a cliffhanger, meriting the weight of the whole first novel’s concluding sentence. And the men know this too, know that the shoes are of great significance, even as they speciously urge her to not be petty.

Lila cannot let the drama of the shoes go because the shoes’ significance is one of the only forms of power she has: we would call her exercise of this power “sideways,” a way of grasping for small, satisfying but rarely honorable victories inside a conscripted life. Denied, by virtue of gender and class, official means of social power, she engages in a sort of social guerrilla warfare.

Our sense has been that the pleasure of the novels comes from its petty details, but that criticism demands a sort of direct frontal interpretive attack that is counter to both the sideways power the novels describe and praise, and to our readerly experience of them. Criticism does often make space for trying to understand “sideways power”—as subversion, as critique, as counter-narrative. But, we would argue, once elevated and illuminated by criticism, conscripted and sideways power can suddenly look ennobling when, really, it very much is not.

The novels’ frank interest in its characters as dishonorable bad actors set within an even more dishonorable and bad-acting social world, its attention to the pettiness and petty details this scenario generates, is what makes us love them. The Neapolitan novels are the 1500 pages that Lenù writes to herself, to us, when all the other ways she has of communicating—direct political writing, literary criticism, even literature—have become dissatisfying to her. The novels are the place where she puts her pettiness: they are her secret Facebook group, the corner into which she has been backed and from which she speaks. What would it mean, as critics, to join her there?

4. Refusal

There seemed to us, thus, to be a mismatch between the novels’ dissatisfaction with public writing and the act of publicly writing about them. As critics tried—in essays, even in Facebook threads—to fit their encounters with the novels’ pettiness into critical forms, the pettiness lost its vitality, was in fact called out as petty, which was, in our experience, irritating.

We tried to scratch the itch of our irritation in our own writing about the Neapolitan novels. It’s only now, thinking through our motivating questions about pettiness, that we’ve realized how our critical modes shadowed the content of the novels: they are somewhat bad-acting, ignoble refusals. Refusals to engage in the productive, consensus-building arguments of criticism, refusals to consider the big picture, refusals to elevate ourselves beyond our petty complaints.

Our goal, we realize now, was to create in readers the irritation we were experiencing: the irritation of having an insight or objection that could not be spoken within criticism’s evaluative rules of play. We wanted to make polemic claims without making argumentative ones—that is, we wanted to make arguments while making it difficult or impossible for anyone to argue with or against us. We wanted to say something that asserted itself as the best without subjecting itself to the test of bestness.

Consider our claim that “taste is just another name for misogyny.” We made this assertion in a listicle of sorts that we created to express our deep love for the Neapolitan novels’ infamously trashy book covers. Rendered in pastels, featuring imagery seemingly drawn straight from the Christian women’s romance section of the bookstore, the book covers, everyone seemed to agree, were at odds with the rigor and insight of the novels themselves.

Our essay sought to interrupt what seemed to be a consensus opinion that the covers were, obviously, “bad.” But we didn’t want to argue that they were, in fact, “good.” We wanted to poke at what we maintain are the misogynistic value claims about good and bad taste. Critics seemed to agree, no matter where they were writing, that the “cheesy romance novel” quality of the covers was antithetical to good writing, good thinking, or even a good account of anarchic emotional life (and thus that if the covers had any merit, it was ironic, still buying into the same standards of taste). Yet, we argued, this was wrong. We wrote:

the Neapolitan novels, which are about poor women with restricted access to education (and the class mobility that aesthetic taste enables), look like books that might be sold to poor women with restricted access to education. Note that literati readers love to identify with the characters, Lila and Lenù, who are women who use reading to escape their lives. So why are we so unwilling to consider ourselves to be anything like the women who are Lila and Lenù’s real world reading counterparts? Why are we so determined to stand against their reading practices and aesthetic tastes?

Our answer to this question is what we’d like to focus on here:

This sentence stages our most polemic claim—“taste is just another name for internalized misogyny”—as a truth claim at the foundation of an argument rather than the argument itself. More, the claim can’t hold, argumentatively: it is out of scale with itself. It contains a multitude of debatable assumptions about how taste, culture, gender, and even psychology work, yet we were uninterested in debating any of them. Because the very fact of having to debate them, carefully, with evidence and expertise, dissipates the deep feelings—of love, of irritation—that the covers cause us to feel and, importantly, what the discussion of the covers lead us to know but to know other than through agreed upon standards of argument. The knowledge, here, came from the accrued feeling of living for years in a world that finds a pastel aesthetic distasteful. Criticism’s carefulness would defuse the power of experience behind this claim.

Our second essay on Ferrante simply asserted, over and over, that men (all men)—after one specific man outed Elena Ferrante’s real identity—should shut up, just shut up, about Ferrante “forever, or at least for this week.” Where the piece about the book covers at least gestured toward the possibility of an argument, this essay refuses argumentative structure in the most fundamental way. Where the piece about the book covers made a deliberately broad polemic claim about how misogyny shapes taste, this piece instead makes a deliberately impossible claim and supports it only with a shrug and an exclamation point: “Sorry!”

The satisfaction of writing a piece like this is difficult to overstate. The exposure of Ferrante—and particularly the smug tone that exposure took—was something that made us angry, and yet writing an essay explaining why would not have resolved that feeling, partly because to write that essay would have been to enter into an argumentative exchange that would simply elicit more of the writing that angered us in the first place. Instead, our goal was to make a context in which even well-meaning exchange was disabled.

And, it seems, many others felt this way as well: the piece was a tremendous success by a couple of metrics. Its page views and audience reach showed that it resonated, and that it resonated partly because it did something so entirely different from the many argumentative claims cultural critics jumped to articulate in the week after the explosive unveiling of Ferrante’s identity.

We might also measure the forcefulness of its impact in another way, one that we hope shows that we are not making an ideological or political claim about the positive value of this mode of writing: it’s the only thing we’ve ever run in Avidly that ever provoked a rape threat.

What to do with this, we really don’t know—would a clearer argument, more engagement, have prevented the rape threat? Probably not. But it does seem clear that something about the shamelessness of how the original piece made an unsupportable claim, the refusal to inhabit “legitimate” modes of exchange, is part of what provoked it.

5. Women

From pettiness to rape threats, obviously the underlying concern of this essay has been how gendered experience shapes criticism. Despite the fact that scholarship has worked for decades to describe how gender enters into criticism, it remains an unresolved question, and we would posit that this may be because the form of criticism itself disallows admission of the emotional experience in which gender most forcefully resides. Claiming that gender is an emotional experience is not at all to deny that is also an embodied, interpretive, and economic one—instead it is to say that all these conditions combine to generate an emotional state, and that often the state of those who fall under the sign “woman,” and who seek to speak about that experience, is one primarily of irritation: not quite a wound, but a rawness. (Perhaps that’s why so many of us spend so much money on salves.)

Criticism would agree that misogyny is omnipresent and yet rarely makes space for the sort of sweeping claims that might capture the irritated experience that such omnipresence generates—for example, criticism cannot (and this is not only a weakness) hold the claim that taste is only internalized misogyny, even though the omnipresence of internalized misogyny makes that claim feel true, and the feeling is politically and critically necessary if we are to capture the experience of gender. The Neapolitan novels feel weirdly capacious to us because they have allowed space for ugly feelings to exist, and importantly not only in their fictional depiction. One thing that this ugliness has allowed us is new purchase on the experience of reading, interpreting, and practicing criticism as women. It seems to us, personally, and as women, that to love these novels is to hate how most everyone else talks, argues, and makes claims about them. In fact, to love these novels, as women, might be to hate everyone; that hate might be one of the best (yet still limited) tools we have to understand how gender continues, obstinately, to shape individuals’ entrance into interpretation.

Because obviously these books are gendered, are about gender, are written through, read in, and talked about in a condition of gender. This is difficult to talk about, because gender too is all petty differences. When we leave pettiness for criticism, we feel a pressure to transcend gender’s petty differences into a space where interpretation and meaning can be debated, discussed, and agreed upon. But the thing that’s just true—this is another sweeping, untenable, and necessary claim—is that women lose more, and have more to lose, in that space.

One thing that they lose, often, is their petty experiences of womanhood, which could also be (but so rarely is) called “knowledge.” What we “know” about these novels, what we glean about how, for instance, they bind the life of the mind to the fucked-up-ness of the marriage plot, has to do with the fact that we read and think and write about them from a world still largely dictated by the fucked-up-ness of the marriage plot—a plot which in our current moment inscribes ever more lives. What we know about what the novels say about labor, writing, friendship, and political movements comes similarly from personal, and often unflattering or uncomfortable, knowledge accrued through women’s just-below-the-radar-of-legitimacy experience.

Here it is worth saying that “woman” is obviously a troubling category. 2017 is a year when the world has emphasized both how radically women are vulnerable as women, with pussies to be grabbed, and also has made the violence that white, straight, middle-class women do to others crystal fucking clear. (Trump’s voting block depended precisely upon the pettiness of white women.) Further, we can’t even use the word “woman” without mobilizing a language that is inherently false, and heterosexist, in its understanding of what it means to be human. Perhaps “woman” is a word that should have no force in criticism. Many people think this, and we see their point.

Yet we—we, the writers of this piece—are uncomfortable with the way this formulation allows human knowledge, here literary criticism, to hopscotch yet again over the responsibility to understand the particularities of women’s experiences, in the way that science and medicine and economics and history often have done. (Here we are reminded of Virginia Woolf’s repeated quests in A Room of One’s Own to learn about the history of women: returning to the shelves of knowledge again and again, she finds hundreds of years of nothing there.)

And more, we think of Lila, in the Neapolitan novels, speaking in public about the abuse and harassment experienced in the factory, and the sexual form it takes for women, and then facing, in private, Enzo’s well-meaning concern: does this happen to you? he asks. Admitting the forcefulness of woman as a sign, here, its universality, would be for Lila tantamount to taking on another womanly task: comforting men who, like Matthew McConaughey looking mournfully at pictures of rape victims in True Detective, are burdened with the difficulty of living as men in a world where men do, over and over, such terrible things to women. We love Lila for being too tired to give a shit. Exhausted, she lies to Enzo: oh no, nothing untoward ever happens to her at her workplace, just because she’s a woman, just because it happens to every woman. Nope: everything is fine.

This is the tension of the sign of “woman”: that it is out of scale, simultaneously universal and particular, simultaneously useful and an obstacle, outmoded. We have to talk about it, and yet can’t: the reasons we can’t are always already undone by the misogynistic structures that adhere white women to patriarchy and also give a gendered form to the basic selfish pettiness of the human, beyond gender. Gender has never been the “best that is known or thought.” This has historically almost always been a problem for criticism. And yet in the Neapolitan novels, it is also an opportunity.

6: The Present Time

The Neapolitan novels, in form and content, necessitated for us a consideration of pettiness: of how pettiness, gender, criticism, and politics interact. By way of conclusion, we’d note another sphere where pettiness’s forceful ambivalent power seems necessary to consider: the election of Trump, the world’s pettiest candidate, over Hillary Clinton, a candidate who (because she is a woman, rather than for her questionable politics) was evaluated in the most petty way.

The number of ways pettiness infused the 2016 election are legion and beyond our scope here (although it’s worth considering Hillary as a sort of real world analog of the Ferrante covers). We’d like to mention just one: how this campaign illustrated not just how much the world hates women speaking in public but how much the world hates, even, women speaking, in private, to one another. Hillary’s email backchannel was the issue that lost the election: America decided that it would rather give a sociopath the nuclear codes than endure the fact of two women, Hillary and Huma, talking to each other: about what? Privately sharing recipes for quiche?

This is a petty account of the 2016 election, and nevertheless a true one. Democracy, like criticism, relies on a belief in evaluative meritocracy, and the secret talk of women (and other marginalized groups) shows the limits of this belief.

In speaking about pettiness we are not making a value claim: we are making a significance claim. Pettiness is important, but it is not necessarily good. It is not, as we have said, ennobling. Terrible people use it to terrible ends; brilliant people use it to brilliant ends. But assuming that pettiness is something that critics can “get over” on their way to “knowledge” is a mistake, and it is partly a mistake because “getting over pettiness” repeats the very political, often misogynistic, blindness it aims to reveal. In a better world maybe we wouldn’t need pettiness. But that seems not to be where we live.

Pettiness is a strategy used by many different people who must scavenge for legitimacy at the boundaries of “the best that is known and thought.” It’s useful not just for “women,” but also it is useful for “women,” and particularly for understanding the small and distasteful categories of gendered experience still rarely countenanced in traditions of criticism. In the places where criticism about categories of sex and gender are carried out—seminar rooms, lecture halls—the caretaking labor of ordering snacks, vacuuming, and finding ziplock bags for the graduate students to take home leftovers reveal structures that are powerfully gendered, raced, and classed. These are acts that produce and reproduce the contexts where criticism can take place, and yet like most reproductive experience (biological and social) goes irritatingly unnoticed.

Getting back to the questions that have animated our inquiry—But what was the point that others were missing? And why was it all so irritating?—we might now answer simply, and more than a little elliptically, that the irritation itself was the point everyone else was missing. Here were these novels that delivered an avalanche of petty details about living under patriarchy, and thematized the failure of evaluative criticism to soothe these irritations. The novels represented these huge, often traumatic, things—rape, loss, poverty, abuse, marriage, friendship—through a sort of particularized, petty dailiness that was revelatory because it was so true to the grinding quality of these experiences. And, more, the novels suggested that this irritation wasn’t something to be gotten over on the way to producing the best of what has been thought in the world, but rather the thing that makes for better, more honest readers of relationships, art, truth, and the world.

The unattractiveness of the novels’ irritations, their details, the stinginess of them, infuses us with a kind of ecstatic bitterness that is the opposite of consensus making or persuasion. It is aligned with the lived-ness of gender, with the deauthorization of all those whose lives never stand as common sense. This bitterness reminds us that it is always a privilege to have the luxury of leaving pettiness behind.

________________________________________________________________

This is the third in a quartet of essays on Elena Ferrante’s writing. See also the firstsecond, and fourth essays in the quartet, by Christina Lupton, Pamela Thurschwell, and David Kurnick, respectively.

Sarah Blackwood & Sarah Mesle
Sarah Blackwood (PhD, Northwestern) is Associate Professor of English at Pace University. With Sarah Mesle, she is the co-founder and co-editor of Avidly and the forthcoming short book series from NYU Press, Avidly Reads. She’s finishing a book about nineteenth-century portraiture and inner life, and has published scholarly essays on nineteenth-century literature and art in American LiteratureMELUS, and elsewhere. She’s written for The Awl and Los Angeles Review of Books, and currently writes a column about motherhood and literature for The Hairpin.

Sarah Mesle (PhD, Northwestern) is Senior Editor at Large at the Los Angeles Review of Books and Assistant Professor (Teaching) at USC. With Sarah Blackwood, she is the co-founder and co-editor of Avidly and the forthcoming short book series from NYU Press, Avidly Reads. She has written about gender and popular culture for venues ranging from Studies in American Fiction to InStyle Magazine. You can follow her on twitter.

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Cannonball Read

The Review of the Great Books

The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child (The Neapolitan Novels #2-4) by Elena Ferrante

I really, really liked Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, which is an incredibly blase way to compliment a book so raw and confrontational and, well, brilliant. The remaining three books in the Neapolitan Novels series build on the strong momentum established by the first and, in the process, continue to be some of the most poignant reading I’ve experienced in ages. The feelings that these books provoked in me were strong and visceral, inflamed and tender in their ebb and flow. These are not feel-good stories, but they don’t feel gratuitous in their misery, either. As a woman, my vicarious anger has an undercurrent of resignation, because each injustice and pointed strike at Lila and Elena — the character — (but also, all of the other Neapolitan women in the books) rings a little too true to feel like emotional manipulation.

Taking place from the 1950’s all the way through the 2010’s, beyond coming of age into mature adulthood, the series chronicles the personal and professional achievements and failures of two very intelligent women who are both products of their time, but who also rise above the expectations of the era and of the microculture in their misogynistic, violent Naples neighborhood. For all that they are exceptional, though, the neighborhood has indelibly tagged them. Lila, despite her potential, is never able to leave, while Elena, despite a fancy education and a high-class marriage, is still condescended to because of her background, never allowed to forget how she is different.

The Story of a New Name takes place immediately after Lila’s marriage to the neighborhood grocer, the young man in charge of one of only two of the neighborhood’s prosperous families. Getting bogged down in the details of the plot of each book is kind of missing the point, so I will try to avoid doing it, but I mention the marriage because this is the single moment that changes the two women’s lives. It is the first and most concrete piece of evidence that the lives they are “meant” to have, as women, are not for them. Lila begins chafing at her vows and new identity (her new name) before the ceremony is even over, and the rest of this installment is, for her, about how she struggles to carve out necessary freedoms for herself, both inside and outside of her marriage. Meanwhile, Elena has left the neighborhood to attend secondary school and university. Academically, there is no denying her talent, but she has what we would, now, instantly identify as impostor syndrome, in spades, and she is nearly undone on multiple occasions by a crippling sense of inauthenticity. When she speaks among her educated friends, she always feels like she is pretending at intelligence, only hiding her poor vulgarity; when she as at home in Naples she simultaneously desires to impress with her accomplishments and be accepted as one of them, unchanged. It’s the story of moving within of two communities, but not truly being a part of either.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is a masterful thesis on the feminist axiom “the personal is the political.” It puts a point on the inseparable bond between the women’s professional endeavors and the sociopolitical mores they engage with. Discovering feminism in an official capacity, Elena incisively observes the relationships between women and men in her writing and is struck by the messiness of applying what should be clear-headed logic on the subject to her own relationships with men. As much as this book is about Elena and Lila’s marriages and families, though, it is still at its core very much about the friendship between the two women. In Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, it is an undeniably strained relationship, but the strength in their bond is something beyond amiable appeasement and shared interests. There is something deeper and more elemental that binds them. At times, you wonder why they still bother being friends, with the various trespasses, minor and otherwise, that they commit against each other. But Elena is forcefully inspired by Lila; she’s an unyielding, driving specter in Elena’s creative mind and she represents the well of genius that Elena is only able to access when she’s at her most honest and candid.

A notable condition of the second and third books is that Elena and Lila are separated, so a lot of what Elena reports about Lila’s life is second-hand information, information she finds out much later and is writing in retrospect, or information that was taken straight from a diary that Lila gives Elena for “safekeeping.” This all worked for me to keep Lila involved in the story and to keep Elena connected to her, but finally in The Story of the Lost Child the women are together again, living in Naples. The official reunion is ostensibly a happy one, but many of their interactions remain terse. Elena, who has always written from the perspective of someone who is constantly compared to her friend and found wanting, now feels increasingly compelled to justify herself and her choices to Lila in the flesh. Raising their children together, Elena struggles with how, despite their wildly different paths, they have still ended up in the same place. She interrogates the decisions that led her, a moderately successful woman with her own notoriety, to still have been so moved by men that her and Lila, now both raising children as single women, appear on the surface level to have minimized themselves and their ambitions so to remain comfortably in the neighborhood, just as all of the other girls without the same intelligence and drive did. It’s too reductive to say that it’s merely sad, or disappointing, that Elena winds up where she did, or that Lila’s growing position in the neighborhood seems to come at the direct expense of Elena’s current popularity as an author, as if they sit on opposite ends of a see-saw and one is always looking down on the other if either of them is to be much off the ground.

Ferrante’s character Elena is a writer, and she writes a lot of this meta-criticism about the flaws in her writing. Primarily, despite Elena’s formal education surpassing Lila’s by several stages, Elena attributes to Lila’s writing an unparalleled quality of natural brevity. Elena is always struck by her own writing having a false affect, while revering the clarity of Lila’s unstudied prose as the epitome of skill. As a reader, I’m struck by Ferrante’s skill with language, and — with this feeling possibly being magnified by Ferrante being a pseudonymous author, and wondering how much of this work is auto/biographical — I can’t help but notice that the lauded qualities of Lila’s writing appear to more or less describe Ferrante’s. (Or Elena’s voice, as depicted by Ferrante. How meta is this exactly? Is this Ferrante suggesting that Elena more successfully adopted those attributes of her friend’s writing than she gave herself credit for? Or that it was Elena herself whose writing had those characteristics, but her bouts of inferiority blinded her to it? Or is it Ferrante, herself, at the top line, voicing her authorial insecurities through her character?) In any case, the writing is magnificent. As I’ve seen it said, the pages practically turn themselves. The language is frugal but expansive inside the reader’s mind — a true case of “leaving it to the imagination.” I’m continually astonished at how much Ferrante does with so little, syntactically.

If you weren’t put off by this unhelpfully vague review, I urge you to read these books. I have tried to touch on a few reasons why I find them so excellent, but even more than those definable things there is just something about them overall that makes them unforgettable.

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Time

 Sarah Begley
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante (2014 U.S.)
In the third installment of Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, childhood best friends Lenu and Lila have made choices that led them down very different paths: Lenu went to college and has a burgeoning career as a respected writer, while Lila has separated from an abusive husband and works in a sausage factory. Yet even in such disparate milieux, the competition between the women never lets up.
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Forward

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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Dog Eared Reads

Dog Eared Reads with Sun Tan Lotion Smudges

My own selection for this trip looks a bit like this:
‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ by Elena Ferrante £11.99 (Europa Editions) – This is the third in the Neapolitan Series and if you haven’t yet started them get to a bookshop pronto! I could easily have read all 4 books in this series back to back, but working in the bookshop, blogging and the like means that I like to get some variety in there for chatting to people about the goings on in the literary world. This enforced break between each book may have actually done me good as it has ensured I have taken my time and really savoured the stories. I have just over half way through the third and as with the previous I am finding myself proclaiming to those around me that the story has developed to become even richer, the characters more complex and the relationships so wholly absorbing I feel myself having physical reactions to the sufferings of those I have come to care for within the pages. This book really moves the plot along from the second, you can feel that the times they really are a changin’ for those living in Naples, both politically and personally (although in this novel for me the ‘personal is political’ could never be more true). Ferrante is an author with fire flowing through her pen and I feel its full force now, with less than a third to go I really should be getting on …!

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Boston Globe

 
It’s that time of year again: The summer reading list! Here are nearly 80 possibilities, from epic novels to thoughtful essays, meaty histories to gripping mysteries, enthralling memoirs to inspiring sport sagas.

FICTION

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.

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James Reads Books

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

I consider David Copperfield to be a great book, one of many  masterpieces by Charles Dickens.  It’s a long book, a very long book, telling nearly the entire life story of its narrator and title character.

People may prefer different sections of David Copperfield over other parts of the book, the bits with Francis Micawber are the best parts by the way, but you can’t really judge the book as anything other than one work.  You don’t have four opinions, one per quarter;  you have one opinion.

I think that’s the best way to read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. They have been broken down into four separate books but they are really one novel.  The cast of characters introduced in the first book has not grown much by the end of book three, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.  The issues the main characters face are still basically the same, the conflicts introduced in childhood continue to haunt the imagenarrator’s life in book three.  This is a life story; life goes on.

I’ve finished reading book three and plan on completing the series sometime this summer or in the early fall.  I feel like I should just post a link to my earlier reviews, or maybe invite you to come back later when I’m done with all four and can try to make sense of them in a more complete way.

Until then I can say that I’m still loving the books, enthralled by the characters, hoping they can work things out somehow.  I’ve no idea how all of this will end and I’m not exactly looking forward to it.  When you spend this much time with a character, it can be hard to say goodbye.

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The Bookskeptic

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay – Elena Ferrante

After ‘The Story of a New Name’ I needed a break, but I don’t give up easily, so after reading few other books I started on the third installment of the Neapolitan Novels. It was awesome, I devoured the book over a day and a half, I couldn’t stop reading it, I was annoyed when someone talked to me, I just wanted to be left alone and immerse myself.

The story continues from the point where the previous book stopped, we are reminded that the story is recounted by sixty-six years old Lenu, with her distance and experience. Lenu is drawn into the new cultured world of her fiancé’s family, she’s dazed and fascinated by it and at the same time feels uncertain, constantly seeking approval, making sure she is fits in, meets the expectations. She prepares to get married and move to Florence, happy to leave the neighborhood behind; she promotes her book. It seems Lenu is finally able to exist on her own, until Lila summons her.

This may be the last time I’ll talk about Lila with a wealth of detail. Later on she became more evasive, and the material at my disposal was diminished. It’s the fault of our lives diverging, the fault of distance. And yet even when I lived in other cities and we almost never met, and she as usual didn’t give me any news and I made an effort not to ask for it, her shadow goaded me, depressed me, filled me with pride, deflated me, giving me no rest.

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The Irish Independent

Objects of Desire with Pandora McCormick

Pandora McCormick

The Red Rock actress tells Andrea Smith about her favourite purchases

Books

I’m really enjoying Italian writer Elena Ferrante’s four-part Neapolitan Novels series. They’re beautifully written, and are set during the rise of communism in Italy. My fiancé Killian bought me the third one, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (€18.95,Easons.com) and I have to say it was a really good choice.

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Fiction Advocate

Imaginary Friends

socal mansion

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.

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Swirl & Thread

Take-2-300x199I saw these books for the first time in December 2015 in Waterstones Bookshop. I was immediately attracted to the storyline so (as a result of a very BIG hint!!!) I received the first two as a Christmas gift and purchased Books 3 & 4 in January….I was in love!!!

There are four books in this series, all published by Europa Editions. These books were originally written in Italian but brilliantly translated into English by Ann Goldstein.

  1. Book 1 – My Brilliant Friend (Published 2012)
  2. Book 2 – The Story of a New Name (Published 2013)
  3. Book 3 – Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay Behind (Published 2014)
  4. Book 4 – The Story of the Lost Child (Published 2015)

As you can see the books were published in sequence annually, as they were supposed to be read one a year. I went for it & read the whole series, with a small break after Book 2, and completed the series at the end of February 2016.

These amazing books are primarily a story about female friendship set against the backdrop of a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples in the 1950’s and winds its way through the lives of the characters throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s.

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True Love Stories

Book Series Explores the Pain, Passion and Power of Friendship

TS-508094024 Italian woman at bridge

If you’re looking for a series of books you can fall in love with, take a look at Elena Ferrante’s best-selling, four-book series of Neapolitan Novels. We noticed that the last book in the series, The Story of the Lost Child, made a lot of “Best Books of 2015” lists including NPR, the New York Times and O Magazine, so we decided to take a look for ourselves. The books also made our list of favorites. You’re in for a treat!

Here’s a summary of each book for you:


My Brilliant Friend 
is the first book in the series and it’s 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 these two women that 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, Italy. Growing up on these 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 whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, 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, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

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The Guardian

Food in books: frittelle from Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

frittelle

When the famous frittelle arrived, the girls were elated, and so was Pietro, they fought over them. Only then Nino turned to me.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante

It’s only been a couple of months since my recipe from My Brilliant Friend. You’ll have to excuse my returning so quickly to Ferrante’s Naples – I sped through the final two books in her Neapolitan series and have thought of them almost constantly since. If you haven’t yet picked them up, I (once again) can’t recommend them highly enough.

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Public books

FERRANTE, IN HISTORY

DAVID KURNICK

December 15, 2015 — What happens when the most ambitious rethinking of the politics of realism in recent memory can’t be attached to a face? (Can they give the Nobel Prize to a pseudonym?) Now that the Neapolitan tetralogy is complete, it’s clear that Elena Ferrante’s decision to remain biographically unavailable is her greatest gift to readers, and maybe her boldest creative gesture. Her intransigence has protected these books from the ambient noise that threatens to engulf any truly original cultural artifact: the vaguely bullying blurb delirium (The Story of the Lost Child comes prefaced with seven pages of it); the debate over the cheesy pastel covers; the reports that Knausgaard fans and Ferrante partisans are brawling in Park Slope.1

Who really cares about any of it when the books are so sheerly interesting? Ferrante’s inaccessibility to public consumption feels designed to help her books survive whatever storms of silliness are kicked up by the enthusiasm they have sparked. Her self-erasure is more than a challenge to the celebrity logic of contemporary literary culture. It has meant that readers are forced—are free—to confront these novels in all their unassimilable intensity. To paraphrase the most pitiless sentence in the final installment: we’re going to have to resign ourselves to not seeing her.

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The Phraser

Book Review: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

This book, the third in the series, has an ache in it that grows as the story lengthens.  It is about the absence of love and belonging, and the complications of motherhood.

The themes belong to us all and Ferrante intensifies them against the backdrop of Naples. She paints her story with the city’s colours, chosen for their truth from a palette that other cities struggle to match.

Florence and the River Arno

For most of this book the narrator, Elena Greco, is trapped in restless domesticity on the edge of a new life that fails to satisfy.  Naples, with its entwined, familiar lives, is faded into a distance made foggy by new responsibilities in Florence.

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San Jose Mercury News

Northern California best-sellers, week ending Oct. 25.

TRADE FICTION

1. The Martian by Andy Weir

2. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

3. Euphoria by Lily King

4. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

5. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

6. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

7. Lila by Marilynne Robinson

8. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

9. The Alchemist (25th Anniversary Edition) by Paul Coelho

10. The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

 

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The Orange County Register

This week’s bestsellers at SoCal independent bookstores

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New Yorker

TRANSLATING FERRANTE

In this episode, first aired last year, Ann Goldstein and D. T. Max talk with Sasha Weiss about the fiction of Elena Ferrante.

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Heavenali

The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante (2013)

May 10, 2015 by heavenali

It was only a few weeks ago that I read My Brilliant Friend, happily immersing myself in the sometimes brutal Neapolitan world of Elena and Lila. Before I had finished that much talked about novel I had already ordered books two and three in the series. Last weekend – a long bank holiday weekend here in the UK – seemed a great time to start The Story of a New Name, these books aren’t small.

“Everything in the world was in precarious balance, pure risk, and those who didn’t agree to take the risk wasted away in a corner, without getting to know life.”

As The Story of a New Name opens Elena recalls how in the mid 1960’s Lila gave her a box of diaries which recount the story of her life with Stefano. From there Elena takes up the story of herself and Lila – exactly where My Brilliant Friend left us – at the wedding of her sixteen year old friend. The opening couple of chapters recount some quite horrible domestic abuse, which transports the reader immediately back into this tough Italian neighbourhood, where women often grimly accept the most terrible treatment at the hands of the men in their lives. Lila has married local business man Stefano Carracci, the son of Don Achille, who had inspired such fairy-tale fears in the two girls when they were children, and who had been murdered several years earlier. On her wedding day, Lila is made aware that her husband has done a deal with the Solara family – whom Lila passionately detests. Elena watches from the side-lines, immediately aware that Lila’s marriage is in trouble before it has even begun.

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Los Angeles Times

Best Translated Book Awards announces shortlist

 

The shortlists for the 2015 Best Translated Book Awards were announced Tuesday at Three Percent, the website of the program in international literature at the University of Rochester in New York. Ten works of fiction and six books of poetry were named finalists for the awards.

The fiction finalist list is led by “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” a bestseller by Elena Ferrante, a mysterious Italian author who writes under a pseudonym. Also making the cut from the longlist is Valeria Luiselli’s “Faces in the Crowd,” which took the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction at the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes last month.

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Three Percent

Why This Book Should Win – Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

by BTBA Judge Monica Carter

Elena Ferrante is everywhere now. Yet, I remember when she was obscure, when she wrote dark, suffocating first person narratives about women coming undone. She laboriously outlines, emotion by emotion, the protagonist’s shunning of a traditional female role, whether it is wife or mother or both, in favor of her own desires. In Days of Abandonmentand The Lost Daughter, we are stuck in the protagonist’s mind while she struggles to reckon with her own betrayal of tradition and patriarchy. I felt these intense novels were mine from the beginning – sordid, angry and unknown. Then came My Brilliant Friend, the first novel in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, and the literati was roused from their stateside slumber to take notice of a book about an Italian female friendship between two girls Elena and Lila.

After My Brilliant Friend, came The Story with No Name which solidified Ferrante’s status as an international writer and the first time she was recognized by the Best Translated Book Award (2014). This year, Ferrante and Ann Goldstein, her faithful translator with whom she has been paired with for all seven of her works, make the list again forThose Who Leave and Those Who Stay. It opens with Elena in her mid-sixties, walking with Lila, when a boy finds a body in the bushes that Lila identifies as their childhood friend, Gigliola. From there Ferrante takes us back in time to the 1960s and the long 1970s of Italy, to the poverty-stricken neighborhoods of Naples, the middle-class restaurants and homes of Florence and the university classrooms where Marxist rhetoric echoes through the halls, giving hope to the students and the local workers that change will come.

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New Humanist

Taking off the mask: Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels

In these compelling books, the Italian writer – whose real identity is hidden – combines the novel with feminist polemic.

This article is a preview from the Spring 2015 edition of New Humanist. You can find out more and subscribe here.

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series (known in Italian as the Brilliant Friend novels) could be at the intersection of a publisher’s fantasy Venn diagram; they occupy the spot where Anglophone readers notice novels in translation and male critics read women seriously. This is a remarkable amount of commercial success and critical acclaim for what, on the face of it, is a female bildungsroman that begins in 1950s Naples. Three instalments of what Ferrante has said is really one novel have been published so far, with a fourth and final volume due to appear later this year. My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay are set over 60 years and run to some 1,200 pages in Ann Goldstein’s English translation. It all seems a great departure from Ferrante’s three previous novels, each of which is a slim work narrated by a woman in crisis, spanning a short period in the near present.

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The Toronto Star

Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard are writing true life in fiction

Dread. Fear. Pain. Self-loathing. Two autobiographical novelists — one an enigma, the other a reluctant celebrity — are unflinching in their catalogue of life’s daily torments. Yet they also evoke the ambition and restlessness of the human spirit.

By: Columnist, Published on Sat Apr 25 2015

The semi-autobiographical novels of Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard are piled in front of me on a kitchen scale. Together they weigh two kilograms, stand as high as a hedge and are so good they make other writers sigh heavily and wonder about another line of work.

Ferrante and Knausgaard, an Italian and a Norwegian writing from different genders, cultures and motives, have bitten off a huge chunk of human experience and chewed it so thoroughly that one feels sated after reading.

And there’s more to come. The final volumes, in Italian and in Norwegian, are still being translated into English. Reading them each year as they appear is like watching a child grow, immensely pleasurable at the time but twinned with warning that it will all come to an end.

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Literary Hub

FROM POTTER TO TARTT TO FERRANTE

HOW WE CAME TO LOVE THE MULTI-VOLUME NOVEL

April 16, 2015 By Alexander Chee

“What was The Goldfinch of last year?”

A friend and editor of mine asked me this over email as he prepared an overview of the year’s publishing trends. I tried to think of if there was one.

I wrote first, “I think maybe there was a bit of a Goldfinch hangover from those who didn’t love it, and those who did, really didn’t want another one, they just didn’t want it to end.”

As soon as I typed that, I knew there was more to it.

I remembered getting one of those “If you liked The Goldfinch, you’ll love ________” emails, with a plug for a new Norman Mailer biography. You don’t even know, do you, oh all-seeing algorithm, I thought. Mailer had never once reminded me of Tartt, and I didn’t see him as Future Theo. And, as Molly Quinn of Housing Works Bookstore Cafe said, when I put the question to her, “It really isn’t fair to ask that without considering how widely anticipated it was.”

I thought about it more, and sorted through the books I’d heard people raving about.

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Little Atoms

Elena Ferrante versus Italy

By Cristina Marconi

How the novelist’s global success has rattled Italy’s stale, male establishment

A call for submissions for The Works of Elena Ferrante: History, Poetics and Theory, a volume edited by American academics, expired a couple of weeks ago. The New Yorker has just written its umpteenth article on the Neapolitan novelist, calling her “a genius” and a “titanic novelist”.

Meanwhile in Italy the elusive writer has been dragged into the mire by part of the Italian literary establishment unable to cope with a woman whose impressive success at home and abroad is not matched by any desire to be in the limelight.

Elena Ferrante’s ability to speak to a wide public all over the world is unparalleled in Italian history. When her name was put up for the shortlist for the prestigious Premio Strega award, someone suggested she should first reveal her real identity, notwithstanding the fact that she had already been an (anonymous) contender for the prize back in 1992 with her debut novel Troubling Love. Then a wolf pack of male intellectuals took pleasure in diminishing her literary qualities, comparing her to lightweight pop romance novelists and relying on a staggeringly misogynist narrative which would sound completely misplaced anywhere else.

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n+1 magazine

Those Like Us

On Elena Ferrante

Path of Figs, 2012. Giulia Bianchi.

Elena Ferrante. Troubling Love. Europa Editions, 2006 (published in Italy, 1992).
The Days of Abandonment. Europa Editions, 2005 (2002).
The Lost Daughter. Europa Editions, 2008 (2006).
My Brilliant Friend. Europa Editions, 2012 (2011).
The Story of a New Name. Europa Editions, 2013 (2012).
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. Europa Editions, 2014 (2013).

WHENEVER I HEAR someone speculate about the true identity of Elena Ferrante, the pseudonymous Italian novelist of international fame, a private joke unspools in my head. Who is she? the headlines ask. Don’t you know? I whisper. In my joke I’m sitting opposite someone important. The person promises not to tell, so I say:

She’s Lidia Neri.

She’s Pia Ciccione.

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The New Yorker

MARCH 25, 2015

Knausgaard or Ferrante?

BY JOSHUA ROTHMAN

What’s at stake when we opt for sun over snow, anger over awkwardness, herring over prosciutto, women over men, the north over the south, 1955 over 1985? What does our preference for Knausgaard or Ferrante say about us?

In 1959, the literary critic George Steiner published a book called “Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.” It didn’t ask which writer was better—they were “titans both,” Steiner wrote. Instead, it asked what a person’s preference for one over the other might mean. Discover which of the Russians a reader prefers and why, Steiner argued, and, “you will, I think, have penetrated into his own nature,” because an affinity for Tolstoy or Dostoevsky “commits the imagination to one or the other of two radically opposed interpretations of man’s fate, of the historical future, and of the mystery of God.”

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Two Line Press

AUDIO: Two Voices Salon with Michael Reynolds and Ann Goldstein on Elena Ferrante

 

On Thursday, March 19, Elena Ferrante’s translator Ann Goldstein and her editor Michael Reynolds of Europa Editions graced Two Lines Offices with their presence and conversation. Ann is currently in the midst of translating the fourth and last volume of Ferrante’s acclaimed Neapolitan Novels, and she is also almost done editing (and partially translating) the complete works of Primo Levi. She is an editor at The New Yorker and a recipient of the PEN Renato Poggioli Translation Award. Author and editor Michael Reynolds has himself translated Carlo Lucarelli’s De Luca series, children’s fiction by Wolf Erlbruch and Altan, and Daniele Mastrogiacomo’s Days of Fear.

The conversation between Michael, Ann, moderator Scott Esposito and Salon attendees includes first experiences of Ferrante’s work, translator invisibility, and a discussion on dialectics and the translation process. Tune in to hear personal insights about Neapolitan culture, history, and Ann and Michael’s experiences with working on the famed series.
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The New Republic

Elena Ferrante Writes Fiction That Feels Autobiographical. But Who Is She?

By Mona Simpson

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions) In the first novel of Elena Ferrante’s three-volume and still ongoing series, two young girls in an impoverished neighborhood of postwar Naples own in common their most treasured possession: an American book. The little Italian girls read Little Women and extract a dream of success. The girls in Little Women are poor too, and the most bookish one of them ends up supporting the family and making a name for herself as a writer. “In that last year of elementary school, wealth became our obsession. We talked about it the way characters in novels talk about searching for treasure. Then, I don’t know why, things changed and we began to link school to wealth. We thought that if we studied hard we would be able to write books and that the books would make us rich. Wealth was still the glitter of gold coins stored in countless chests, but to get there all you had to do was go to school and write a book.”

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NewStateman

In her secret life: who exactly is Elena Ferrante? As Ferrante’s writing became conspicuous, so did her anonymity. Speculation gathered, not just about her identity but even her sex.

by Jane Shilling Published 13 November, 2014 – 10:00

My Brilliant Friend; The Story of a New Name; Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein Europa Editions, 336-480pp, £11.99

When Ann Goldstein’s admirable translation of Elena Ferrante’s novel Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay appeared a few weeks ago, the publishers held a celebration in a small London bookshop. There was wine, pizza and a panel discussion on the theme: “Who is Elena Ferrante?”

The question is one that preoccupies Ferrante’s readership and it has come to haunt the author in ways that are presumably the reverse of what she intended when she decided that personal anonymity was the best way to serve her fiction. Before the publication of her first novel, Troubling Love, in 1991, Ferrante wrote to her Italian publisher, “I do not intend to do anything for Troubling Love . . . that might involve the public engagement of me personally. I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it. If the book is worth anything, that should be sufficient.”

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The Milions

The Millions

A Year in Reading: Charles Finch

December 22, 2014

I read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan trilogy this year. I read it twice, actually. It made me want to quit writing.

That sounds like the kind of cutesy thing you could say about any book you love, but in fact the reality of it was terrible, a sensation that lasted for days, a blend of nausea, fog, and loss. How can I explain it? Reading those books — My Brilliant Friend, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of a New Name — it was as if I had spent my whole life training to be a world-class swimmer, waking up at dawn to do laps, eating the right stuff — and then, all of the sudden, swimming in the ocean one day, I had been joined briefly by a dolphin and realized, oh, of course, that’s what swimming actually is.

That is: There’s a difference between naturalism and naturalness. Naturalism is still a mode. Ferrante’s early books are great, but they’re modal, full of the effects a novelist can use, beautifully deployed, but effects. By the Neapolitan trilogy, those effects are gone. As a consequence it has less immediate line-to-line dazzle than what we’re used to calling great fiction these days, The Flamethrowers, for example, or even The Days of Abandonment, but what she buys with the sacrifice is a consuming naturalness. There’s not a single moment of falseness across all the thousand pages of the books. In general, even the best novelists enter their texts; the great ones do it almost imperceptibly, but still, behind Walter’s love of birds in Freedom, for instance, you just sense Jonathan Franzen’s love of birds, a weak but noticeable magnetic draw from character to author. Whereas Ferrante works so closely to her characters’ motivations, more closely than any novelist I’ve ever read, that it means the books are not so much realistic as that they are a reality. The result is intoxicating, art with all the beauties of a made thing and the authenticity of a discovered one. It’s like a garment without seams that fits perfectly, or like those Vija Celmins rocks. It’s like the opposite of the Pompidou Center.

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The Age

Elena Ferrante’s anger apparent in tale of women’s struggles

November 9, 2014

Owen Richardson

THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY Elena Ferrante Text $29.99

This is the third volume of Elena Ferrante’s Naples quartet to appear in English, and while I may be projecting my enthusiasm here, I would be surprised if anyone who has read the first two needed any prompting to seek it out. And if you haven’t read Ferrante yet this is a good opportunity to start from the beginning.

It’s a challenging beguilement, this story of the fraught, competitive friendship between the narrator, Elena, and the brilliant Lila, the angry, wayward one, both in flight from lower-class 1950s Naples. There is nothing soft or easy about these books, they are almost rebarbative in their refusal to be nice; they are also captivating in their high intelligence, their evocation of the still-powerful past, and their propulsive narrative drive.

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NPR Books

The Allure, And Mystery, Of Elena Ferrante — Whoever She Is

Maureen Dezell

Until recently, few readers or critics on this side of the Atlantic paid much attention to “Elena Ferrante,” the presumed pseudonym of a successful Italian novelist who has kept her identity secret for nearly 30 years. Those who did marveled at what the New Yorker’s James Wood called “remarkable, lucid, astonishingly honest novels,” and “intensely, violently personal prose.” Wood’s January 2013 New Yorker essay on Ferrante’s fiction piqued interest in “My Brilliant Friend,” the first of the author’s Neapolitan novels published in the U.S. Soon after, book groups began adopting the title, and word of mouth spurred sales of the novel and its successor, “The Story of a New Name.” “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” the third book in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, was released stateside in early September to rapturous reviews. The books are now “something of a cult sensation,” wrote Karen Valby in Entertainment Weekly, one of the few outlets that has been able to snag an email interview with the publicity-averse author. Publications from Harper’s Magazine and Vogue have run full-length features, while the daily and Sunday editions of the New York Times have offered significant praise. A recent Times Style Magazine cover headline asked: “Who is Elena Ferrante?” (They offered no answers, only applause.)

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The Sydney Morning Herald

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

ELENA FERRANTE.

TRANSLATOR ANN GOLDSTEIN

Text, $29.99

Even when brilliant, novels seldom reveal themselves as both revelatory and revolutionary. Elena Ferrante’s mesmeric Neapolitan series promises to become such a literary touchstone, and hers a deserving addition to the list of canonical names.

This apparently straightforward chronicle of lifelong friendship is also a contemporary Comedie Humaine set in Naples, more condensed and controlled than Balzac’s and applicable to any patriarchal society governed by fear and poverty.

 

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Slate

How the Paris Review Snagged the FirstEver In-Person Interview With Elena Ferrante

By Katy Waldman

Indeed, The Paris Review has revealed that its Spring 2015 issue will contain the first ever in-person interview with Elena Ferrante, the mysterious genius behind the Neapolitan Novels and Tesseract-like object of obsession for much of the literary world. Ferrante swept onto the American scene in a dark and glittering chariot of inscrutability when her first book, My Brilliant Friend, hit stores in 2012, followed closely by The Story of a New Name (2013) and Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay (2014). As the novels—about the troubled relationship between two women, Lila and Elena—enthralled readers, guesswork around Ferrante’s identity proliferated, with reviewers speculating that “she” might be a mother, a man, or a sentient cabal of fire-ants. (For her part, Ferrante claimed in an early letter to her publisher that “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.”) A fragment of the forthcoming exchange (And, again, visit TPR’s blog for a heftier chunk):

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New Pages

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Fiction  Elena Ferrante  Europa Editions  September 2014  ISBN-13: 978-1-60945-233-9  Paperback  418pp  $18.00

Review by Olive Mullet

The reader will either become addicted to or lack the commitment needed for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels starting with My Brilliant Friend (331 pages), followed by The Story of a New Name (471 pages) and this latest third volume Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. The final fourth volume will come out September 2015. The length of the novels and the character-driven, rather than plot-driven, story might discourage some readers. But the detailed world of a working class Naples neighborhood beginning in the 50s, its families competing for survival, with the ferocious lifelong friendship of two girls Elena and Lila at its center are unique and brutally honest. Length is necessary, as it was in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, for characters to evolve as they do in real life.

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Huffington Post

10 Books Everyone Is Talking About This Fall

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

By Elena Ferrante

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is the third volume in Elena Ferrante’s deliciously addictive Neapolitan series. In an expansive yet intimate feat of storytelling, the three novels narrate the intriguing tale of a pair of women whose lifelong relationship is their touchstone and their burden. We meet Lila and Elena in the first book, My Brilliant Friend, as young girls living in a treacherous working-class neighborhood in Naples in the 1950s. Lila is dazzling—a stunning beauty, self-confident, volatile, at once seductive and dangerous. She shines at school, and the conviction in her small hands when she hurls rocks at bullying boys is unmatched. Elena, who lacks Lila’s fearlessness, crouches in her friend’s shadow. Both girls come from a long line of women held down by poverty and violent men and dream of escaping that fate.

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Everydayabook.com

Monday November 10

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Epic Continues

By Abigail Pollak

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here: Dante’s famous admonition at the portals to the Inferno might serve as an epitaph for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, all three of which take place in postwar Naples, in a poor and violent working-class quarter where “people died of carelessness, of corruption, of abuse.” Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is the latest volume in her projected series, each of which begins with a mystery and a revelation.

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The Boston Globe

The best books of 2014

December 06, 2014

Welcome to the Globe’s annual list representing a whole year’s worth of reading and reviewing. Browse our critics’ top picks for children, teens, and adults, for fans of fiction and nonfiction, lovers of sports and thrillers, devotees of poetry and all things New England. You may even spot a holiday gift idea or two.

Fiction THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE STAY Elena Ferrante Europa 400 pp., paperback $18 John Freeman

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The Boston Globe

Book Review: ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’

By Nick Romeo

Near the end of Elena Ferrante’s new novel, “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” the narrator, also named Elena, prepares to meet a childhood friend she hasn’t seen in many years. She bathes and dresses her children and then readies herself, trying on every dress she owns. But nothing looks right. “I resigned myself to being what I was,” she writes.

The necessity and impossibility of such a resignation is a major theme in all of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, a series in which her latest is the third of four projected books. The first two novels describe Elena Greco’s childhood in an impoverished neighborhood in mid-20th century Naples. A precocious student, she uses her academic aptitude to escape the harsh and violent world of her youth. But the shadows and personalities of the old neighborhood keep reappearing, refusing to relinquish their grasp on her.

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Booklist

Issue: September 15, 2014

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. Ferrante, Elena (Author)

Sep 2014. 416 p. Europa, paperback, $18. (9781609452339).

The third novel in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series continues the engaging story of Elena and Lila, picking up where The Story of a New Name (2013) left off. While Lila is working to support her son following the failure of her marriage, Elena is enjoying the success of her best-selling novel. Though they have been disconnected for some time, when Lila collapses from exhaustion, Elena heeds her cry for help. Drawing strength from each other, they take on the terrible working conditions in the factory where Lila works. But their friendship continues to ebb and flow through marriages, affairs, children, and careers. Each has sought in her own way to escape the limitations of her upbringing, but while Lila does so from the confines of their rough Naples neighborhood, Elena’s college degree and marriage into an affluent family open doors that take her farther away. Ferrante continues to imbue this growing saga with great magic, treating the girls’ years of marriage and motherhood with breathtaking honesty while envisaging the turbulence of political and social unrest in 1970s Italy. Though originally planned as a trilogy, the story doesn’t finish here, as this book ends with a hook that will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next installment. — Cortney Ophoff

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Review – BarnesandNobleReview.com

The Woman in the Mirror: The Novels of Elena Ferrante

 

Reviewed by John Freeman September 22, 2014

In the past decade, no fiction writer has made it more necessary to think about the performative aspect of being a woman than Elena Ferrante. Her novels, written originally in Italian and translated beautifully by Ann Goldstein, are ferociously engaged with the ways in which a woman – as a daughter, a teenager, a lover, and, most dramatically, a mother – is a kind of person in drag, speaking through a costume that slowly becomes all that one knows of her. (Appropriately, “Elena Ferrante” is a pseudonym — the author has carefully guarded her real identity from readers and critics alike.)

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The Millions

A Year in Reading: Charles Finch

By posted at 11:00 am on December 22, 2014 11

I read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan trilogy this year.  I read it twice, actually.  It made me want to quit writing.

coverThat sounds like the kind of cutesy thing you could say about any book you love, but in fact the reality of it was terrible, a sensation that lasted for days, a blend of nausea, fog, and loss.  How can I explain it?  Reading those books — My Brilliant Friend, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of a New Name — it was as if I had spent my whole life training to be a world-class swimmer, waking up at dawn to do laps, eating the right stuff — and then, all of the sudden, swimming in the ocean one day, I had been joined briefly by a dolphin and realized, oh, of course, that’s what swimming actually is.

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Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay – Best Book of the Year

Best of the Year Lists for Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

 

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1.     A New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”

2.     The Times Literary Supplement, chosen by Beverley Bie Brahic: “as addictive as Breaking Bad. By all accounts Ann Goldstein’s translation is excellent.”

3.     The Times Literary Supplement, chosen by Lydia Davis: “To read a vivid personal story so deftly embedded in its political and social context – Italy in the 1960s and 70s – feels rarer than it should.”

4.     The Guardian, Nicci Gerrard “Best Books of the Year”

5.     Slate: Best Books of 2014

6.     San Francisco Chronicle: 2014 Gift Book Guide

7.     A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

8.     A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year

9.     Toronto Globe and Mail, Best Book of the Year

10.  Booklist, Notable Books of 2014

11.  Flavorwire’s Best Indie Fiction

12.  The New Statesman, Jane Shilling chooses THOSE WHO LEAVE as best book of the year

13.  The Telegraph, Best Books of the Year (5 stars)

14.  Slate’s Top Ten Books of the Year

15.  The Daily Beast; “One of the most talented writers working today.” The Best Fiction of 2014: Ford, Ferrante, Klay

16.  The Independent: “One of the best books of this or any other year”

17.  The Boston Globe “Best Fiction of the Year”

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The New York Times

‘Writing Has Always Been a Great Struggle for Me’

Elena Ferrante, Author of Naples Novels, Stays Mysterious

Q. and A.: Elena Ferrante

 

The author who writes under the pseudonym Elena Ferrante responded to written questions via email through her longtime Italian publisher, Sandra Ozzola Ferri. The following is a translated transcript of that interview.

Q. You insist on anonymity and yet are developing a cult following, especially among women, first in Italy and now in the United States and beyond. How do you feel about the reception of your books in the United States in recent years, and your growing readership, especially after James Wood’s review in The New Yorker in January 2013?

A. I appreciated James Wood’s review very much. The critical attention that he dedicated to my books not only helped them find readers but in a way it also helped me to read them. Writers, because they write, are condemned never to be readers of their own stories. What happens to the reader when he reads a story for the first time is effectively what the narrator experiences while he writes. The memory of first putting a story into words will always prevent writers from reading their work as an ordinary reader would. Critics like Wood not only help readers to read but especially, perhaps, help the author as well. Their function also becomes fundamental in helping faraway literary worlds to migrate. I never asked myself how the women in my stories would be received outside Italy. I wrote first and foremost for myself, and if I published I did so leaving the task of finding readers to the book itself. Now I know that thanks to Europa Editions [Ferrante’s English-language publisher], to Ann Goldstein [her English-language translator] and to Wood and so many other reviewers and writers and readers, the heart of these stories has burst forth, and it is not only Italian. I’m both surprised and happy.

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The New York Times

Scant Clues to a Secret Identity

Elena Ferrante, Author of Naples Novels, Stays Mysterious

Sandra Ozzola and Sandro Ferri of Edizioni E/O, the Italian publisher of Elena Ferrante’s books. Credit Chris Warde-Jones for The New York Times

ROME — The Italian writer Elena Ferrante’s gripping novels about the rich and complex lives of women — as mothers, daughters, wives, writers — have won her a devoted cult following. After several years of growing critical favor, her readership reached new levels this fall with the release of “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” the third volume in her series of Naples novels, which recount the lifelong friendship of two women.

In her most extensive interview in years, Ms. Ferrante, who publishes under a pseudonym and has never revealed her identity, addressed her choice of anonymity — or “absence,” as she called it. In an interview conducted by email and through her publisher, she disputed the oft-circulated notion that she might be a man. “My identity, my sex, are found in my writing,” Ms. Ferrante wrote in Italian in response to written questions conveyed by her longtime Italian publisher, Sandra Ozzola Ferri, who said the writer had declined to grant an in-person interview.

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The New York Review of Books

Italy’s Great, Mysterious Storyteller

by Rachel Donadio

 

donadio_1-121814.jpg
Magnum Photos

Naples, 1964; photograph by Bruno Barbey

 

 

There is a devastating exchange in The Story of a New Name, the second of three—soon to be four—books in Elena Ferrante’s masterful Naples novels, in which Lila, one of the two main characters, runs into her former schoolteacher, Maestra Oliviero, on the street. To the teacher’s dismay, Lila, now in her late teens, did not continue her education after elementary school, in spite of her fierce intellectual promise, and is now married and has a small son. The maestra ignores the child, Rino, and looks only at the book Lila is carrying. Lila is nervous. “The title is Ulysses,” she says. “Is it about the Odyssey?” the teacher asks.

“No, it’s about how prosaic life is today.”

“And so?”

“That’s all. It says that our heads are full of nonsense. That we are flesh, blood, and bone. That one person has the same value as another. That we want only to eat, drink, fuck.”

 

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Foreign Policy

Global thinkers 2014

Elena Ferrante, novelist

For writing honest, anonymous fiction.

 

http://globalthinkers.foreignpolicy.com/#chroniclers/detail/ferrante

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New Statesman

In her secret life: who exactly is Elena Ferrante?

As Ferrante’s writing became conspicuous, so did her anonymity. Speculation gathered, not just about her identity but even her sex.

My Brilliant Friend; The Story of a New Name; Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay 
Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein
Europa Editions, 336-480pp, £11.99

When Ann Goldstein’s admirable translation of Elena Ferrante’s novel Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay appeared a few weeks ago, the publishers held a celebration in a small London bookshop. There was wine, pizza and a panel discussion on the theme: “Who is Elena Ferrante?”

The question is one that preoccupies Ferrante’s readership and it has come to haunt the author in ways that are presumably the reverse of what she intended when she decided that personal anonymity was the best way to serve her fiction. Before the publication of her first novel, Troubling Love, in 1991, Ferrante wrote to her Italian publisher, “I do not intend to do anything forTroubling Love . . . that might involve the public engagement of me personally. I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it. If the book is worth anything, that should be sufficient.”

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Publisher’s Weekly

Publisher’s Weekly Best-Books 2014

Those Who leave and Those Who Stay

Elena ferrante, trans. from the italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa)

Ferrante’s series of Neapolitan novels has cemented its place as one of the greatest in modern fiction.

This third installment, which follows the evolving and complicated relationship between girlhood friends Elena and Lila, is the best so far.

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The Guardian

Elena Ferrante: the global literary sensation nobody knows

 

She shuns publicity and her identity is a mystery. Yet, as the last in her acclaimed series of novels about two friends in Naples is published, Elena Ferrante’s reputation is soaring, with Zadie Smith, James Wood and Jhumpa Lahiri among her fans. Meghan O’Rourke on a literary mystery

Meghan O’Rourke

The Guardian,

 

Italy. Cesenatico. 1960.
‘Never has female friendship been so vividly described’ … Italy. Cesenatico. 1960. Photograph: Erich Lessing / Magnum Photos

 

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Who is the real Italian novelist writing as Elena Ferrante?

As the fame of the Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay author grows, so does the guessing game about her identity

in Rome

The Guardian,

 

Elena Greco knows what it is to be a writer with a public face. She knows the thrill of her name in print and the satisfaction of telling the doubters back home: I did it. But she also knows the pitfalls of tying one’s identity to a tell-all novel: the facile media, the unkind critics, and the cringing embarrassment of old friends trawling through the “dirty bits” with raised eyebrows and judgmental zeal.

Greco, however, is a fictional character, the narrator of a three – soon to be four – novel series about the lives of two young women in postwar Italy. In stark contrast to her fictional heroine, the writer who created her shuns the limelight completely, to the extent that no one, except a handful of people close to her, knows who she is. Over the past two decadesElena Ferrante – a pseudonym, of course – has become one of her country’s most exciting and compelling contemporary literary voices. And, as her celebrity grows, so too does the guessing game surrounding her identity.

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Lizzy’s Literary Life

Meet the translator: Ann Goldstein

Later today Issue 3 of Shiny New Books will appear and, with it my ruminations on the first three Neapolitan novels of the phenomenon that is Elena Ferrante. To coincide with that, Ann Goldstein, who works as an editor at The New Yorker and translates Ferrante’s novels into English, talks here about her career as a translator, the third and most recently released Neapolitan novel and her desert island books.

How did you become a literary translator?

Somewhat by accident. An Italian manuscript came to The New Yorker, where I am an editor, and at the time I was the only person who could read Italian; the idea was that I would read it and then write a polite rejection. But I decided to translate it, and it was published in the magazine. The manuscript was Chekhov in Sondrio by Aldo Buzzi (September 7, 1992).

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Shiny New Books

THE NEAPOLITAN NOVELS BY ELENA FERRANTE

Translated by Ann Goldstein

Review by Lizzie Siddal

Every recent piece about Elena Ferrante seems to begin with the question, who is she?  I’m not about to do that.  The fact that the author, whoever (s)he is, wants to avoid the cult of celebrity and direct attention to the novels is absolutely fine by me.  It’s almost unheard of that I read 3 books by one author in six months, but that’s the truth of 2014. The hashtag is entirely apt.  I have caught #ferrantefever.
It would appear one fix is all it takes and My Brilliant Friend was that fix.  The story of the childhood and adolescence of Elena Greco (Lenu)  and Raffaella Cerullo (Lila), two clever girls, stuck in a poverty-stricken area of Naples during the 1950s, is rivetting. These girls are of my generation and their experience is in some ways similar, though, in most, so far removed from my own.  Reading brought back fond memories from the classroom, teachers who coached and encouraged to greater things, competitions (against those dratted boys) as to who was the cleverest.  The story is narrated by Lenu,  the fortunate one with parents willing to make the monetary sacrifices to keep her in education.  The opportunities of her brilliant friend, Lila, severely restricted by her parents refusal to do the same.  Education will help Lenu escape the claustrophobic small-minded mentality of her neighbourhood. Lila, however, has to rely on her own resourcefulness and sex appeal. Seeing little return for the help she gives to her father’s shoe-making business, she decides to marry the wealthy grocer, Stefano Caracci When local money lenders and bully boys, the Solara brothers, for whom she has nothing but contempt, turn up at her wedding, and are not turned away by her bridegroom, a very mucky dye is cast.
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The Independent

Paperback reviews: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Before the Fall, Into the Trees, Million Dollar Arm, Floating City

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions £11.99)

Elena Ferrante’s magnificent “Neopolitan novels” trace the relationship between two headstrong Italian women, from their schooldays in the 1950s to the present day. In the first volume, the narrator – who shares the author’s first name – documents how her “brilliant friend” Lila left school to marry a local mafioso while she went on to university; in the second book, Elena becomes a successful novelist while Lila leaves her abusive husband and takes a job at a sausage factory.

This, the third entry in the series, picks up the story in the late-1960s and 1970s. Elena marries a wealthy young scholar and moves to Florence to raise a family, while Lila becomes involved in leftist politics in Naples. They stay in touch, but their relationship is now tinged with envy. Elena finds herself unhappy: her husband is cold, her children difficult. While Lila lives in relative poverty, she seems to Elena to enjoy “absolute freedom”, to wield increasing power as she prosecutes “her wretched neighbourhood wars”. Elena comes to feel restless for her own independence.

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New York Magazine – The Cut

Elena Ferrante Is a New Breed of Literary Girl-Crush

By

Photo: FPG/Getty Images

Before the Italian novelist known as Elena Ferrante’s first book, Troubling Love, came out in 1991, she told her publisher she would do no public appearances, accept no awards, and submit only to the minimum interviews, in writing. “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors,” she wrote at the time.

Ferrante’s books certainly have no need of her: The latest, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, published in the U.S. earlier this month, achieved a critical mass of attention (essays in the New YorkTimes and an interview, of sorts, inVogue) without a single publicity photo. “Elena Ferrante,” in fact, is widely assumed to be a pseudonym. But what about her books’ readers? Do we really have no need of the author?

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Oprah

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Each week, we’ll let you know about the new releases the editors of O and Oprah.com couldn’t stop reading.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is the third volume in Elena Ferrante’s deliciously addictive Neapolitan series. In an expansive yet intimate feat of storytelling, the three novels narrate the intriguing tale of a pair of women whose lifelong relationship is their touchstone and their burden. We meet Lila and Elena in the first book, My Brilliant Friend, as young girls living in a treacherous working-class neighborhood in Naples in the 1950s. Lila is dazzling—a stunning beauty, self-confident, volatile, at once seductive and dangerous. She shines at school, and the conviction in her small hands when she hurls rocks at bullying boys is unmatched. Elena, who lacks Lila’s fearlessness, crouches in her friend’s shadow. Both girls come from a long line of women held down by poverty and violent men and dream of escaping that fate.

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The New Yorker

Out Loud: The Mysterious Power of Elena Ferrante

Last year, James Wood reviewed two novels by the Italian author Elena Ferrante: “The Days of Abandonment” and “My Brilliant Friend,” the first volume in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, about two women, Lila and Elena, struggling to escape the violence and misogyny of their Naples upbringing. Wespoke back then with Wood and Ferrante’s translator, Ann Goldstein (who is also a New Yorker editor) about those books, and about the mystery surrounding Ferrante’s identity. Since then, two more Neapolitan novels have been published in English: “The Story of a New Name” and “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” which came out in English earlier this month. On this week’s Out Loud, host Sasha Weiss, the literary editor of newyorker.com, speaks with Goldstein and the staff writer D. T. Max—one of many Ferrante devotees atThe New Yorker—about the radical emotional intensity of the series. Max says, of Lila and Elena’s friendship, “I can’t think of a counterpart in British or American letters. It’s so ornery, it’s so fraught, it’s so rich. It’s full of ironies, confusions, back-trackings, moments where you think you get it and then you don’t.”

You can listen to the episode above or by downloading it for free from iTunes. Click here for more New Yorker podcasts.

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The Globe and Mail

Italian author Elena Ferrante’s work – startling, unflinching fiction – speaks for itself

 

A few months ago, I sat in the pool-viewing area of Toronto’s West End YMCA reading My Brilliant Friend, a doorstop of a novel by the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, while my daughter happily splashed her way through a lesson on the other side of the glass.

Another dad with a kid in the pool approached me, pointed at the book, and asked, with a grin that was frankly conspiratorial: “How are you liking it?” When I replied that I was liking it a lot, he told me, almost whispering, that an Italian friend of his sends him Ferrante’s books even before they get translated: “She is amazing.” I was impressed – as much by the idea of getting novels sent direct from Italy as by the mere fact that he knew who Elena Ferrante was.

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Financial Times

Q&A with author Elena Ferrante

 

‘What book changed my life? Books don’t change your life. If they are good, they can hurt and bring confusion’

naples

A street view of Naples, where Elena Ferrante was born

Italian writer Elena Ferrante was born in Naples. Her debut novel, Troubling Love (1992), won various prizes in Italy and was made into a film by Mario Martone. The Days of Abandonment (2002) stayed on the Italian bestseller list for a year, and was translated into 19 languages. It was followed by The Lost Daughter (2006) and the loose trilogy My Brilliant Friend (2011), The Story of a New Name (2012) and Those Who Leave and Those who Stay (2013). Ferrante remains incognito.

Who is your perfect reader?

Those who read for the pleasure of reading and fall in love with a text regardless of who is the author.

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Tiny Camel

SOME THOUGHTS ON ELENA FERRANTE: THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT

by Jonathan Gibbs

 

Last night I was at Foxed Books in West London for the London launch for Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, the third in her ‘Neapolitan novels’ – a projected sequence of four books telling the intense, dialectical relationship between two women over, thus far, thirty years. What with Ferrante being a non-public author, it was up to others to do the promotional duties, and I was asked to join Joanna Walsh, who chaired, and Catherine Taylor to read from and discuss her work.

Walsh has written on Ferrante for the Guardian, while Taylor and I both reviewed the new book, she for The Telegraph and I for The Independent. It was a great evening, with what I hope was an interesting discussion, both for those that already knew Ferrante’s writing and those that didn’t, and some incisive comments from the floor.

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The New York Times

A Connection as Vital as It Is Toxic

Elena Ferrante’s ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’

 

Nothing you read about Elena Ferrante’s work prepares you for the ferocity of it. And with each new novel in her revelatory Neapolitan series, she unprepares you all over again. The story follows the lifelong friendship-hateship of Lila and Elena, two women from an impoverished neighborhood in Naples, a city that “seemed to harbor in its guts a fury that couldn’t get out and therefore eroded it from the inside.”

The residents live out their lives in the shadow of Vesuvius, but Ms. Ferrante’s characters have no time to worry about volatile volcanoes. Closer things are constantly falling down, falling apart, falling away. “My Brilliant Friend,” the first of the series, opens with Lila throwing Elena’s only doll into the cellar of Don Achille, a loan shark the children fear like an “ogre of fairy tales.” The tormented bond of the girls is established with that one toss, which also anticipates the power struggles in every relationship depicted in these novels.

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Harper’s Magazine

THE SECRET SHARER

Elena Ferrante’s existential fictions

By Jenny Turner

Jenny Turner is on the editorial board of the London Review of Books.

Little is known about the writer Elena Ferrante. It’s assumed the name is pseudonymous, but only her Italian publisher could say for sure. From Fragments, a short collection of letters and written answers to readers’ questions, published in 2012, we do gather a few facts: she comes from Naples but no longer lives there, has a classics degree, was once married, and is a mother. These details correspond with the outline of the story she gives to Elena Greco, the narrator of her remarkable novel sequence—My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), and now Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay—about the friendship between two women born into working-class Neapolitan families in the Forties. In Italy, rumors circulate that “Elena Ferrante” is the work of a male writer, or even writers, an Ern Malley–type hoax. This is not impossible, though if it’s true I feel sorry for the man, or men, behind it. They’ve worked so hard for so long that they must be either sanctified or deranged.

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Wall Street Journal

BOOKSHELF

Book Review: ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ by Elena Ferrante

A startlingly frank portrait of a friendship between two women struggling to reinvent themselves.

By MOIRA HODGSON

Sept. 5, 2014 5:03 p.m. ET

Encountering someone you haven’t seen for decades can be pretty shocking, but how much more so if they’re lying dead in front of you. In the opening of Elena Ferrante’s latest novel, “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” two Neapolitan women around the age of 60, Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco, are taking a walk together early one morning on the stradone when a young man shouts that a body has been found in a flower bed by the church.
Elena doesn’t recognize the corpse, but Lila does. It’s their childhood friend Gigliola, a beauty who married a rich, powerful man from the neighborhood. But the body in the flower bed is overweight, clad in a shabby green raincoat; her face is a ruin, and one of her shoes has been kicked off to reveal a gray stocking with a hole at the big toe.

As Gigliola’s body is taken away, Elena wonders what had happened to her. “I thought of that face in profile on the dirt, of how thin the long hair was, of the whitish patches of skull. How many who had been girls with us were no longer alive, had disappeared from the face of the earth because of illness, because their nervous systems had been unable to endure the sandpaper of torments, because their blood had been spilled.”

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The Independent

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, trans. Ann Goldstein, book review

JONATHAN GIBBS Author Biography

 Thursday 04 September 2014

 

This is the third of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, a series of four books following two friends from their childhood in a poor Naples neighbourhood far into adult life, until one of them – Lila, the “brilliant friend” of the first book’s title – decides to disappear “without a trace”.

It is left to Elena, an author with Greene’s splinter of ice lodged firmly in her heart, to do what she always promised she never would: put her friend in a book, in an attempt to understand not just her, but the two of them.

Book two – The Story of a New Name – ended with Lila fleeing from her abusive marriage and good job running a fashionable boutique, and working in a sausage factory on the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile Elena, having written a novel almost by accident, and found herself a succès de scandale, is living the life of a public author, riding high on the revolutionary wave of the late 1960s.

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Publishers Weekly

The Big Indie Books of Fall 2014

 

Small and university presses have long been an integral part of the literary landscape. But as large houses—Random House and Penguin, Harper and Harlequin—continue to consolidate, the idiosyncratic viewpoints often represented by indies are more important than ever.

I typically scour the small, indie, and university press catalogues as early as possible,” says Jonathon Welch, cofounder of Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo, N.Y. “Independent and university presses are cauldrons of both innovation and tradition, of the best, most interesting, and/or the most challenging writing and thinking. We need them and savor them for what they bring into the fields of our endeavor—diversity and distinction.”

That diversity is on display this season with books ranging from The Business of Naming Things, a story collection by Michael Coffey, PW’s former co-editorial director, to Lit Up Inside, a collection of Van Morrison’s lyrics that the singer/songwriter specifically wanted published by City Lights and its founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti. There are also many fine essay collections, including Rebecca Solnit’s Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, on history and justice.

In children’s books, Seven Stories is publishing The Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature, a follow-up to its three-volume The Graphic Canon. And Grammy-winning songwriter Cynthia Weilhas a novel for teens titled I’m Glad I Did, as well as four related songs that she’ll be performing on tour.

Below is a selection of the many outstanding university and small press titles due out this fall. Some were buzzed about at BEA this past June, and more than a few have received starred reviews fromPW. Links to reviews are provided when available.

Europa

(dist. by PRH)

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Huffington Post

PW Picks: Books of the Week, September 1, 2014

‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ by Elena Ferrante, trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa)

Surpassing the rapturous storytelling of the previous titles in the Neapolitan Novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name), Ferrante here reunites Elena and Lila, two childhood friends, who dissect subjects as complicated as their own relationship, including feminism and class, men and women, mothers and children, sex and violence, and origin and destiny. As the narrative unfolds in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the fiery Lila stays in Naples, having escaped an abusive marriage, and lives platonically with a man from the neighborhood, along with her young, possibly illegitimate son. The feisty Elena leaves town, graduates from a university in Pisa, publishes a successful book, marries an upper-class professor, and moves to Florence, where she gives birth to two daughters. Against the backdrop of student revolution and right-wing reaction, the two women’s tumultuous friendship seesaws up and down as each tries to outdo the other.

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The New Yorker

Books to Watch Out For: September

BY

“Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” (Europa), by Elena Ferrante, out September 3rd. The much-awaited third book in Ferrante’s stunning Neapolitan series continues to trace the struggles of two women—the intelligent, cautious Elena and the unpredictable, defiant Lila—to distance themselves from the poverty, violence, and misogyny of their Naples upbringing. (James Wood reviewed the first book in the series, “My Brilliant Friend,” along with Ferrante’s ferocious second novel, “The Days of Abandonment,” last year.) The core of the Neapolitan books—which were translated into pellucid English by New Yorker editor Ann Goldstein—is the ever-shifting friendship between Elena and Lila, who shadow each other’s lives in vital, sometimes damaging ways, even as their paths radically diverge. Discussing the series in a recent interview with Vogue, Ferrante—who keeps the details of her identity secret, and conducts interviews only in writing—wrote, “Relationships between women don’t have solid rules like those between men. I was interested in recounting how a long friendship between two women could endure and survive in spite of good and bad feelings, dependence and rebellion, mutual support and betrayal.” A fourth volume of the story is expected in the fall of 2015.

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Vogue.com

Vogue’s Fall Books Guide: 10 Literary Things We’re Looking Forward To

 

5. Ferrantemania.
The third installment in Italian novelist Elena Ferrantes Neapolitan Novels,Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Europa Editions), hits bookstores this week.

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Vulture

8 Books You Need to Read This September

Each month, Boris Kachka will offer nonfiction and fiction book recommendations, and you should read as many of them as possible.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Ferrante (Europa, September 2)
Having taken on a pseudonym that inspires Pynchon-level conspiracy theories, the Italian novelist — whoever she (he?) is — may not want fame, but she deserves it. This third installment in her Neapolitan series, which tracks two friends on divergent paths — urbane writer Elena and self-taught dropout Lila — finds them navigating the age of motherhood and activism. (It’s the ’70s, and Italy seems to be breaking apart.) Start with the first book, My Brilliant Friend, and you’ll be caught up before the fourth and final installment makes its way into English.

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Flavorwire

25 Must-Read Books For the Fall

By Elisabeth Donnelly on

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante (September 2)

The most psychologically astute writer of the feminine in a good long while, the reclusive Italian Ferrante (of course, rumors persist that she is a male) has made fans of writers with great taste like Claire Messud, and her Neopolitan novels have captured the hearts of readers with their powerful renderings of what it’s like for a woman. In this edition, the characters from My Brilliant Friend, Lila and Elena are now in their twenties. Seeing their lives unfold has been spellbinding.

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Music & literature

ELENA FERRANTE’S THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY


by Caroline Bleeke

 

I wanted to become, even though I had never known what. And I had become, that was certain, but without an object, without a real passion, without a determined ambition. I had wanted to become something—here was the point—only because I was afraid that Lila would become someone and I would stay behind. My becoming was a becoming in her wake. I had to start again to become, but for myself, as an adult, outside of her.

She was like the full moon when it crouches behind the forest and the branches scribble on its face.

            —Elena Ferrante

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Open Letters Monthly

Peer Review: Elena Ferrante’s Hunger, Rebellion, and Rage

By

 

Elena Ferrante is such a badass! — Elif Batuman

The critical response to Italian novelist Elena Ferrante has been so uncannily consistent it’s enough to make you suspect collusion. (To what end, though? Good question: I’ll come back to that.) The following statements, for example, have become axiomatic, a critical credo recited with every invocation of her fiction:

1. She is mysterious.
2. She is angry.
3. She is honest.

The first of these points is certainly true: little definite is known about Ferrante, including her real name or even whether she is in fact a woman. The second and third, however, are assumptions, inferences from the voice that speaks from her novels, which signals the fourth, sometimes implicit, pillar of Ferrante criticism: that the author and her creations are one.

Ferrante has published six novels. The first to appear in English translation was The Days of Abandonment in 2005; right out of the gate, Janet Maslin’s New York Times review established both the tone and the substance of what has become the standard Ferrante narrative:

Using the secret of her identity to elevate this book’s already high drama, the author (Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym) describes the violent rupture of a marriage with all the inner tranquility that you might associate with Medea.

In short, we don’t know who she is, but we know, and welcome, the literary quality of her anger: “the raging, torrential voice of the author is something rare.”

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Early word

Who IS Elena Ferrante?

The new issue of Entertainment Weekly challenges readers with the question, “Do YOU Know Elena Ferrante?” (story not online yet).

If you don’t, you’re in good company. It turns out the author of this “rare interview” with Ferrante (Vogue also has one this month) hadn’t heard of her either until this summer, although “the Italian author’s urgent, blistering fiction has made her something of a cult sensation here in America.”

Attesting to that cult status, the New Yorker‘s redoubtable criticJames Wood profiled Ferrante last year calling her “one of Italy’s best-known least-known contemporary writers … Compared with Ferrante, Thomas Pynchon is a publicity profligate.” Just last week, the New York Times Magazine asked three authors to address the question, “Who is Elena Ferrante?
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Shelf Awareness

Review: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, trans. by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, $18 trade paper, 9781609452339, September 2, 2014)

Those Who Leave and Those Who StayThe third volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels series opens with the last time protagonist Elena, a celebrated novelist, will ever see her best friend. In My Brilliant Friend, they grew up from childhood; in the second volume, The Story of a New Name, they found husbands. Now they’re in their 60s; Lila’s hair has turned white. As the two women walk down the sidewalk, they come upon a crowd gathered around a woman who has fallen dead in a flowerbed near the church. Readers of the earlier novels will recognize this character, having watched her grow up alongside Elena and Lila. Naples is changing. In fact, all of Italy is in political turmoil.

Lila was once the brilliant and creative entrepreneur of a handmade footwear company. Now she works a brutal job on the floor of a sausage factory and lives in a rundown building with her son. She urges Elena to leave her out of her writing. Elena does just the opposite. And with that, the story plunges back 40 years, picking up at Elena’s book-signing, which concluded the previous novel. When her old flame Nino shows up at the party, Elena is prepared to risk everything for him, including her engagement to another man.

Meanwhile Nino’s father has recognized himself in one of Elena’s “fictional” characters–a predatory family man–and published a condemning review of her novel. The plot twists and turns as relationships deepen, change and sometimes explode. Children begin to resemble their parents. Lila’s son, assumed to be fathered by Nino, starts looking very much like someone else. The two women are growing in opposite directions: Lila gets caught up in the struggle for workers’ rights while her friend becomes a famous debut novelist. Elena’s attempts to escape the gossip and small minds of the old neighborhood fail as forces of the past drag her home to try to save her younger sister from a disastrous marriage.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is as sumptuous as its two predecessors, and the narrative drive here is the strongest yet. The stakes are high, with the introduction of protesting workers, student activists and babes in arms. Ferrante’s genius lies in her startling emotional realism and blunt honesty about social interactions. As her series–which is best taken as a whole–moves forward and reflects European history, she seasons the prose with provocative perceptions not unlike the way Proust did, but her neighborhood of squalid blue-collar lives and passionate secrets is pure Italian soap opera raised to a loftier level of literary art. —Nick DiMartino, Nick’s Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Shelf Talker: In Italian author Elena Ferrante’s third Neapolitan Novel, two lifelong friends are caught up in political upheaval, a novelist’s notoriety and the complicated web of the past.

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Chicago Tribune

Women’s paths diverge in Elena Ferrante’s epic ‘Those Who Leave’

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Los Angeles Review of Books

Martha Ronk on Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Ferocious Friendship

September 2nd, 2014RESET+

THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY, the third volume in Elena Ferrante’s seductive Neapolitan series, continues the story of two women whose lives intersect, parallel, antagonize, and support one another as if they are mirrored halves of one creature. Taken together, the volumes follow the two from their lives as girls in Naples, Italy, through their teens and twenties, in which one marries young while the other pursues university studies, and on to their early adult lives. Each volume flames into life in those moments in which the narrator, Elena Greco, loses herself in her childhood companion, Lila Cerullo, using her as negative model, as brilliant muse, the one who defines and witnesses, “the one without whom….” Many women, perhaps especially as children, have such an attachment — intense, familiar, all-encompassing. Although the title suggests separation, in truth, the one left behind expresses herself in full force whether present or absent, and the one who leaves stays attached.

The two women meet on page one of this third volume in a future glimpse of them as old women, one skin and bones, one gaining weight: “Yet I loved her, and when I came to Naples I always tried to see her, even though, I have to say, I was a little afraid of her.” The opening pages here also contain the violence, both bodily and psychically, that runs through all the books. The women chance upon the ruined corpse of a childhood friend once married to the powerfully cruel head of the Solara family. A shoe lies beyond, “as if she had lost it kicking against some pain or fear.”
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Los Angeles Times

Review

Women’s paths diverge in Elena Ferrante’s epic ‘Those Who Leave’

 

I first encountered Elena Ferrante’s fierce, singular voice in her second novel, “The Days of Abandonment,” an unrelenting exploration of a woman whose husband has left her. In her newest novel, “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” the third of her quartet of “Neapolitan novels,” we come up for air.

Centered on the friendship between Elena Greco, the protagonist, and Lila Cerullo, her childhood friend, “Those Who Leave” seamlessly braids those same urgent domestic concerns with the volatile political landscape of Italy in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

 
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San Francisco Chronicle

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,’ by Elena Ferrante

 

The eminent belle-lettrist Stephen Dobyns once observed that to write a novel, all one needs are “a handful of names and a street map.” In the case of Italian author Elena Ferrante’s “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” (the third in her “Neapolitan Novels”), those names are now well established for her growing fan base — and so is the map.

Ferrante, who conceals her own real name and personal particulars, has created an oeuvre that’s taken the literary world by the hair. Her grip has not relaxed; in fact, hair-on-fire intensity defines all her work. (See James Wood’s brilliant analysis, “Women on the Verge,” in the Jan. 21, 2013, New Yorker.)

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The Slate Book Review

A Counter-Melody

Elena Ferrante’s brilliant, riveting novels about female friendship.

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Vogue

Elena Ferrante on the Origins of her Neapolitan Novels

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T-Magazine – The New York Times

Who Is Elena Ferrante?

The writer known by that name has never been photographed, interviewed in person or even made a public appearance, but a collection of fiercely candid novels has earned her (him?) recognition as one of the keenest observers of Italian society. On the eve of the publication of “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” the much-anticipated third volume in the author’s Neapolitan series, three admirers celebrate this elusive talent.

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Kirkus Reviews

KIRKUS REVIEW

This third volume of the Neopolitan trilogy continues to chronicle the turbulent lives of longtime friends Lila and Elena, as begun in the enigmatic Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (2012) and The Story of a New Name (2013).

With Naples and the looming specter of Vesuvius once again forming the ominous background to the girls’ lives, Elena travels from the city of her childhood, first to the university in Pisa, and then beyond upon her marriage to Pietro, the intellectual heir to an influential Milanese family. Lila’s existence in Naples follows a more brutal and mundane course, but both young women are confronted with the social and political upheavals that echoed across Italy (and the world) during the late 1960s and early ’70s. Always rivals as well as friends, Lila and Elena struggle to assert themselves in a landscape of shifting alliances and growing corruption in Naples as well as in a culture where women’s desires almost never direct the course of family life. The domestic balancing acts performed by both women—one leading a life of privilege, one burdened by poverty and limited choice—illuminate the personal and political costs of self-determination. The pseudonymous Ferrante—whose actual identity invites speculation in the literary world—approaches her characters’ divergent paths with an unblinking objectivity that prevents the saga from sinking into melodrama. Elena is an exceptional narrator; her voice is marked by clarity in recounting both external events and her own internal dialogues (though we are often left to imagine Lila’s thought process, the plight of the non-narrative protagonist). Goldstein’s elegant translation carries the novel forward toward an ending that will leave Ferrante’s growing cadre of followers wondering if this reported trilogy is destined to become a longer series.

Ferrante’s lucid rendering of Lila’s and Elena’s entwined yet discrete lives illustrates both that the personal is political and that novels of ideas can compel as much as their lighter-weight counterparts.

 

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/elena-ferrante/those-who-leave-and-those-who-stay/

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Entertainment Weekly

Who is Elena Ferrante? An interview with the mysterious Italian author

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Do you know Elena Ferrante? The Italian author’s urgent, blistering fiction has made her something of a cult sensation here in America. I myself had never heard of her until this summer, when I dove deep into her Neapolitan series, an intoxicatingly furious portrait of enmeshed friends Lila and Elena, bright and passionate girls from a raucous neighborhood in working class Naples. Ferrante writes with such aggression, and such unnerving psychological insight about the messy complexity of female friendship, the real world can drop away when you’re reading her. “My work is sometimes a struggle,” says Ann Goldstein, Ferrante’s long-standing Italian translator. “It’s very intense and very disturbing and sometimes I have to walk away from the words. But then when I’m done I sort of think ‘Wait, where are those people? My life is now empty.’”

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The Telegraph

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, review: ‘high stakes literature’

Elena Ferrante’s real identity is unknown, but her novels reveal her genius

Over the last 18 months, two writers whose autobiographical series of novels are gradually being translated into English have caught the literary world’s attention: the Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard and the Italian Elena Ferrante.

Of the two, Ferrante remains the more enigmatic. The author is in her sixties, and from Naples. Her actual identity is unconfirmed and no verifiable photograph exists: an almost impossible achievement in our confessional age. Of her disturbing, excoriating novels, this is the sixth, and third in her series about the lifelong relationship between two girls, Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco, who grow up together in the slums of post-war Naples.

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The New Yorker

Elena Ferrante and the Force of Female Friendships

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The Neapolitan novels by the Italian writer Elena Ferrante are a series of (so far) three books about the lifelong friendship between two women, and when I read them I find that I never want to stop. I feel vexed by the obstacles—my job, or acquaintances on the subway—that threaten to keep me apart from the books. I mourn separations (a year until the next one—how?). I am propelled by a ravenous will to keep going.

This is much the same feeling I associate with all of the major friendships I developed between the ages of six and eighteen: I always wanted to keep going. Why have a playdate when you could have a sleepover? Why have a sleepover that lasts one night when you could have a sleepover that lasts three, or a week? That might sound obsessive, or borderline erotic, and it is: childhood friendships of the kind I’m describing are like the primordial soup of human relationships, messy and unformed but with the raw parts to make anything that might come after. Such friends are like family (you need, or hate, or cannot forsake them) and a beloved (you are so jealous, so sensitive to their slights!) and an alternative (better?) self, squashed into one. And Ferrante’s subject is exactly this sort of friendship.
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New York Times

Between Women

Elena Ferrante’s ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’

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Elena Ferrante is one of the great novelists of our time. Her voice is passionate, her view sweeping and her gaze basilisk. Her subject is the domestic world, and part of her genius lies in her capacity to turn this sphere into an infernal region, full of rage and violence, unlimited in its intellectual and emotional reach. Ferrante’s view of family life is anything but sentimental, anything but comforting.

In fact, her writing is remarkable for its velocity and ruthlessness. Reading her is like getting into a fast car with Tony Soprano: At once you are caught up and silenced, rendered breathless, respectful.

Ferrante is the author of six novels. Her most recently translated, “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” is the third in a Neapolitan series that began with “My Brilliant Friend” and “The Story of a New Name.” The books (impeccably translated by Ann Goldstein) track the lives of two women, Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, born in Naples near the end of World War II. Their neighborhood, bone-scrape poor, is deeply and permanently infested by the verminous, lethal presence of the Camorra. These novels reveal the intersection of poverty and crime, and their effects on the lives of women. Narrated by Elena, now in her 60s, the series begins with the disappearance of Lila and goes on to recapitulate a lost history — one that Lila has tried to erase through vanishing, but that Elena stubbornly records.

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The New Yorker

WOMEN ON THE VERGE: The Fiction of Elena Ferrante

By James Wood

 

Elena Ferrante, or “Elena Ferrante,” is one of Italy’s best-known least-known contemporary writers. She is the author of several remarkable, lucid, austerely honest novels, the most celebrated of which is “The Days of Abandonment,” published in Italy in 2002. Compared with Ferrante, Thomas Pynchon is a publicity profligate. It’s assumed that Elena Ferrante is not the author’s real name. In the past twenty years or so, though, she has provided written answers to journalists’ questions, and a number of her letters have been collected and published. From them, we learn that she grew up in Naples, and has lived for periods outside Italy. She has a classics degree; she has referred to being a mother. One could also infer from her fiction and from her interviews that she is not now married. (“Over the years, I’ve moved often, in general unwillingly, out of necessity. . . . I’m no longer dependent on the movements of others, only on my own” is her encryption.) In addition to writing, “I study, I translate, I teach.”

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Publishers Weekly

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

 

Surpassing the rapturous storytelling of the previous titles in the Neapolitan Novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name), Ferrante here reunites Elena and Lil, two childhood friends, who dissect subjects as complicated as their own relationship, including feminism and class, men and women, mothers and children, sex and violence, and origin and destiny. As the narrative unfolds in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the fiery Lila stays in Naples, having escaped an abusive marriage, and lives platonically with a man from the neighborhood, along with her young, possibly illegitimate son. The feisty Elena leaves town, graduates from a university in Pisa, publishes a successful book, marries an upper-class professor, and moves to Florence, where she gives birth to two daughters. Against the backdrop of student revolution and right-wing reaction, the two women’s tumultuous friendship seesaws up and down as each tries to outdo the other. “You wanted to write novels,” Lila tells Elena. “I created a novel with real people, with real blood, in reality.” Are the two women less opposites than parts of a whole? The book concludes not with a duality but with a surprising new triangle involving Nino, another homegrown intellectual, who loves both women. (Sept.)

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Kirkus Review

This third volume of the Neopolitan trilogy continues to chronicle the turbulent lives of longtime friends Lila and Elena, as begun in the enigmatic Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (2012) and The Story of a New Name (2013.)

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Go back to Elena Ferrante’s homepage

 

ASAP Journal

More Talk: A Response / David Kurnick

“We can’t stop talking about Elena Ferrante” we said to each other throughout 2016—on social media, in the classroom, in pressing the Neapolitan novels upon friends and relatives. This collection of essays on Ferrante emerges from a conference panel at the Modern Language Association convention in Philadelphia in January, 2017, convened by the Prose Fiction Division. The pseudonymous Italian writer, who chooses not to reveal herself beyond her writing, had come to new popularity in the US in the past few years, and we found we had a lot to say about feminism, rage, women’s friendships, genre clashes, and bad sex, amongst other topics. We still can’t stop talking about Ferrante, and we trust that when you read these lively, provocative essays, you too will join the chorus.

David Kurnick’s “More Talk” was originally offered as a response to the panel’s essays by Christina LuptonPamela Thurschwell, and Sarah Blackwood and Sarah Mesle. It still serves that purpose wonderfully. 

—Hester Blum, MLA panel moderator

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So it turns out that this panel’s title is in no way straightforward. One of the through-lines in these pieces is the idea that Ferrante is hard to talk about, and that she is most interesting precisely where she finds a way to write what we cannot speak. I’ll try to make clear why I think of that most interesting feature of Ferrante’s work as its realism.

Christina Lupton puts Ferrante in bed with the queer theoretical resistance to the demand that sex be meaningful: as she puts it, Ferrante is “game for giving us just sex, [for] situating Lenù’s experience at this narrative impasse”—at a place that is “difficult to grasp representationally.” More important for Lupton, this kind of good sex—founded on an ignorance about our partner and about the conditions of our own pleasure—is a more accurate model to describe the Anglophone feeling about Ferrante than love, since it allows us to own our ignorance of the contexts from which she writes. Pam Thurschwell, relatedly, draws attention to the “hallucinatory states,” the “gaps” in the texture of the real, that preoccupy Lessing and Ferrante. She reminds us that Ferrante’s term for such cognitive, political and personal blockage, one that gives a title to her non-fiction book, is frantumaglia, a word that also names the felt impasse between writing and motherhood. It’s important that in Thurschwell’s account Lessing offers a vision of women’s writing as constituting its own justification, while Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet is less clear on whether writing redeems anything. No transcendence is Thurschwell’s watchword here—even (again queer-theoretically) No Future.

Among the overlaps between Lupton’s and Thurschwell’s accounts is that they make our pleasure in Ferrante into a theoretical and political problem: for Lupton, our pleasure might be premised on our distance from, even our blithe ignorance about, the Southern European context in which Ferrante writes (this is not, I would guess, the way most Anglophone Ferrante enthusiasts want their fandom described). For Thurschwell, the pleasure in Ferrante is more confounding still, since it’s hard even to understand its source: the Quartet is relentlessly unconsoling, a punishing litany of personal and political resolutions that never arrive. Thurschwell’s Waiting for Godot joke is also a provocation to think about the genres in which we inhabit historical hope and frustration: Berlant’s cruel optimism describes middlebrow culture’s processing of deferred political hope, and it’s clear that Ferrante’s Quartet borrows much of its addictive quality from its formal proximity to soaps and TV serials. But Ferrante’s books are fully conversant with Beckettian high seriousness: we might recall the series’ epigraph from Goethe’s Faust, the references to difference feminism, the allusions to the Aeneid. The books shouldn’t be as much fun as they are: they demand that we ask how we get pleasure from these scenes of damaged life, and what such highbrow signals have to do with that pleasure. Lupton’s and Thurschwell’s questions are asking valuably uncomfortable questions: they put our enjoyment of Ferrante adjacent to literary tourism on the one hand and to prestige-TV binge-watching on the other. This may not exhaust the political and cognitive implications of Ferrante’s novels. But after reading these pieces it becomes necessary to think about how those implications consort with our rituals of liberal self-congratulation.

Sarah Blackwood and Sarah Mesle are most overtly concerned with the pleasure they take in Ferrante, and the irrelevance of most official Ferrante-talk to that pleasure. For them, the difficulty isn’t that it’s hard to talk about Ferrante, but that it’s hard to talk about her well, or in a way that doesn’t “entirely miss the point.” One of the provocations of their piece is that they don’t so much specify what they take the point to be as name some of the forums in which Ferrante talk feels un-pointless to them. On the phone, via texts, in bars, in secret Facebook groups, in certain on-line venues: these are places where it’s possible to talk Ferrante without subjecting her to deadening “criticism.” It will have escaped no one’s notice that MLA panels do not feature on this list. One of the things Blackwood and Mesle are asking is whether in gathering to think about Ferrante we are betraying the “schloop” of reading her; whether in doing so we—or rather they, since this is a pressure unequally felt by women—must obey the demand “to transcend gender’s petty differences,” to pretend that everything is fine even though one of the hard-to-miss points of the Neapolitan Quartet is that everything is not fine. Blackwood and Mesle too position us collectively at an impasse, where it’s hard to know what, here and now, we could say about Ferrante: we just.

By this metric, we’ve all already said too much. (By the metric of “men shut up,” of course, I’m way over my time limit). But I think it’s possible to take these sketches of the impasse as critical provocations, as offering us new questions to put to Ferrante’s work and a new description of her achievement: how is it that the main narrative feature of these books about personal and political impasse is fluency? Why are these books that are so hard to talk about so impossible to stop talking about? For all its emphasis on what escapes structure or refuses intellectual coherence, Ferrante’s Quartet is a formidably structured piece of fictional patterning. This feature of the books, which I think anyone who loves them feels viscerally, is easy to overlook, partly because of our focus on the charismatic critical object constituted by Lenù and Lila’s friendship. The focus is understandable, but I think we miss the texture of that relationship if we isolate it from the socio-historical narrative environment in which it is embedded. In the Frantumaglia collection, there’s a moment in an interview with the novelist Nicola Lagioia in which Lagioia praises Ferrante’s portrayal of the women’s bond and then observes that “this interdependence [between Lila and Lenù] extends throughout the entire world of the two friends: Nino, Rino, Stefano Carracci, the Solara brothers, Carmela, Enzo Scanno, Gigliola, Marisa, Pasquale, Antonio, even Professor Galiani. Despite the fact that their rules of attraction are not so intense as those that bind Elena and Lila, they all remain in the same orbit. To escape each other is impossible.”

This elicits one of Ferrante’s most interesting responses: “Where do I start? In my childhood, my adolescence. Some of the poor Neapolitan neighborhoods were crowded, yes, and rowdy. To gather oneself, so to speak, was physically impossible . . . The idea that every ‘I’ is largely made up of others and by the other wasn’t theoretical; it was a reality. To be alive meant to continually collide with the existence of others and to be collided with.”1 In the Quartet, this becomes as much a narrative as a psychic principle, so that the women’s relationship serves as a portal for others to plug into and out of and thereby to create differently scaled visions of the collective. Think, for one example, of how consistently the duo of Lila and Lenù gets expanded by the addition of Carmela, who silently but durably becomes a semi-permanent member of their unit, particularly at moments of strategic decision-making around neighborhood or national politics (how to position themselves vis-à-vis the Solara brothers, how best to respond to Pasquale’s imprisonment)—in the process sketching how the intensely psychologized closure of two becomes the proto-political feminist aggregate of three. Think, in a different but related register, of how the rivalry and imitation embedded in the central women’s relation gets refracted in Lila’s relation to Alfonso, who in imitating Lila comes into a new version of himself and into newly dangerous relation to Michele Solara; think of how Alfonso’s femininity, which the young Lenù reads in his neat clothing and understands in relation to his slightly elevated class position (he is the son of Don Achille) makes him first a heterosexual object for the young girls, then yet another kind of third for the women, and finally a victim of Naples’ increased violence in the wake of the hard drug trade. Think, in other words, of how breathtakingly supple Ferrante’s narrative grammar is, how relentlessly relational and propulsive a form she gives to every narrative situation, how reliably the central partnership between Lila and Lenù functions as a generator of these narrative totalizations, these widenings of the social and referential frame. Milan and Pisa, Vietnam and IBM, African immigration and the U.S. academy, French theory and the Red Brigades—all of these will find their way into the narrative texture through just such recombinatory expansions.

As we’ve seen, Ferrante’s name for the energy that sponsors this movement is frantumaglia, and I want to close by sketching some of the ways that word’s multiple meanings might color our conversation today. “We are . . . interconnected,” Ferrante says in the interview with Lagioia. “And we should teach ourselves to look deeply at this interconnection—I call it a tangle, or, rather, frantumaglia—to give ourselves adequate tools to describe it. 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.”2 This characterization of frantumaglia as a word for an internalized collective is a crucial expansion of its meaning: earlier she has spoken of it as a dialect word her mother used to capture “a disquiet not otherwise definable . . . a miscellaneous crowd of things in her head, debris in the muddy water of the brain.” It also names a “sense of loss, when we’re sure that everything that seems to us stable, lasting, an anchor for our life, will soon join that landscape of debris.”3 The term is clearly associated with Lila’s recurrent fear of “dissolving boundaries,” her sense of a volcanic instability at the heart of historical, interpersonal—even physical and perceptual—existence. The same sensation finds its way into the experience of the narrators of Ferrante’s three earlier novels, where it is overtly associated with a specifically female experience of psychic and physical dissolution—as when Olga, the narrator of The Days of Abandonment, remembers a school friend who “made bodily noises according to how she felt, with her throat, her ass”—a memory of “the ferocity of women” that Olga “feels . . . in [her] flesh” so powerfully that she needs to sit down on a bench to prevent the sensation that she is about to “dissolve into liquid.”4

Over the course of the collection that bears its name, then, frantumaglia becomes a name for a state of affective confusion; a name for a phenomenological crisis that Ferrante identifies as indicatively female; a name for an availability or vulnerability to the other whose clearest fictional instantiation is the relation of Lila and Lenù; finally, a name for the collective itself, the tangle and tumult of interconnectedness. It should be clear that none of these definitions takes final precedence; the point is rather that each implies or entails the others. This experience of frantumaglia might seem to demand a classically modernist narrativization, one that would do mimetic justice to the experience of cognitive blockage and interruption through techniques of fragmentation, interruption, and imagistic density. And in fact Ferrante’s earlier novels are organized along recognizably modernist lines; with their pained lyricism and their psychic claustrophobia, each of the three earlier books powerfully take up residence in the region of the cognitive and emotional tangle.

Things work otherwise in the Neapolitan Quartet, though. One way to assess the achievement of the series is to recognize that it metabolizes that modernist kernel, takes it up not as some final principle but as a motor of formal and geopolitical expansion. And the potent effect of this narrative poetics is to make Ferrante’s feminist conception of interpersonal relation identical to her realist ambition to multiply the terms of geopolitical relation. Foremost among the remarkable things Ferrante’s novels do, then, is to challenge the stubborn academic consensus according to which modernism is the “smarter” and “harder” other to a stodgy and naïve realism: as intelligent and forceful as the earlier novels are, it is the more accessible Quartet that unquestionably represents the more radical formal innovation, precisely in finding a way to make the tangle of incomprehension not the endpoint of narrative movement but the very engine of a realist endeavor to imagine and populate a historically evolving world.5

Lila is indeed a figure of silence and refusal, the kind of character about whom one wants to say, “I just.” But she also represents for Lenù the imperative of more talk, of social experiment, of intellectual achievement, of artistic construction, of structural understanding. In a scene in the series’ final volume, the women discuss the publication of one of Lenù’s books, and Lila expresses her confusion at the workings of the literary world: “I told you that I don’t understand anything.” Lenù’s internal response is contemptuous: “If you can’t connect your story of the shoes with the story of the computers, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.”6 The words are perhaps the most concise version imaginable of realism’s sense-making project. It matters that they emerge as Lenù attempts to assert her superiority over her less sophisticated friend. But as any reader familiar with the novels’ insistent dialecticism will expect, Lenù immediately goes on to question the vehemence of her response, the quality of her writing, the value of her education. The realist project, in other words, belongs not to either of these women—it resides not in Lila’s pained silences or in Lenù’s A-student facility—but in the attempt to get them in the room together. The exchange—and it seems to me that it condenses the books’ central dynamic—asks us not to take impasse as the Neapolitan Quartet’s final meaning but rather to trace where impasse lives in specific social and historical worlds. The lines ask us to connect the neighborhood’s violence to the appropriation of women’s intellectual work; to connect post-War Italy’s prominence in the style industries to Naples’ underdevelopment; to connect one woman’s frustrated intellectual vocation to the advent of digital technologies; to connect those zeros and ones to the social engineering project Lila undertakes in that same neighborhood. We may not have thought there were new ways to comply with the realist injunction—new ways to narrate the impasses these pieces have drawn our attention to, to connect personal, historical, and geopolitical scales and see all of them thrillingly operative at every moment. But I take it that Ferrante is saying, and that the Neapolitan novels are demonstrating, that that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

 

David Kurnick

David Kurnick teaches nineteenth-century literature at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He is the author of Empty Houses: Theatrical Failure and the Novel (Princeton, 2012) and has written about contemporary fiction for boundary 2 and Public Books.

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Cannonball Read

The Review of the Great Books

The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child (The Neapolitan Novels #2-4) by Elena Ferrante

I really, really liked Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, which is an incredibly blase way to compliment a book so raw and confrontational and, well, brilliant. The remaining three books in the Neapolitan Novels series build on the strong momentum established by the first and, in the process, continue to be some of the most poignant reading I’ve experienced in ages. The feelings that these books provoked in me were strong and visceral, inflamed and tender in their ebb and flow. These are not feel-good stories, but they don’t feel gratuitous in their misery, either. As a woman, my vicarious anger has an undercurrent of resignation, because each injustice and pointed strike at Lila and Elena — the character — (but also, all of the other Neapolitan women in the books) rings a little too true to feel like emotional manipulation.

Taking place from the 1950’s all the way through the 2010’s, beyond coming of age into mature adulthood, the series chronicles the personal and professional achievements and failures of two very intelligent women who are both products of their time, but who also rise above the expectations of the era and of the microculture in their misogynistic, violent Naples neighborhood. For all that they are exceptional, though, the neighborhood has indelibly tagged them. Lila, despite her potential, is never able to leave, while Elena, despite a fancy education and a high-class marriage, is still condescended to because of her background, never allowed to forget how she is different.

The Story of a New Name takes place immediately after Lila’s marriage to the neighborhood grocer, the young man in charge of one of only two of the neighborhood’s prosperous families. Getting bogged down in the details of the plot of each book is kind of missing the point, so I will try to avoid doing it, but I mention the marriage because this is the single moment that changes the two women’s lives. It is the first and most concrete piece of evidence that the lives they are “meant” to have, as women, are not for them. Lila begins chafing at her vows and new identity (her new name) before the ceremony is even over, and the rest of this installment is, for her, about how she struggles to carve out necessary freedoms for herself, both inside and outside of her marriage. Meanwhile, Elena has left the neighborhood to attend secondary school and university. Academically, there is no denying her talent, but she has what we would, now, instantly identify as impostor syndrome, in spades, and she is nearly undone on multiple occasions by a crippling sense of inauthenticity. When she speaks among her educated friends, she always feels like she is pretending at intelligence, only hiding her poor vulgarity; when she as at home in Naples she simultaneously desires to impress with her accomplishments and be accepted as one of them, unchanged. It’s the story of moving within of two communities, but not truly being a part of either.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is a masterful thesis on the feminist axiom “the personal is the political.” It puts a point on the inseparable bond between the women’s professional endeavors and the sociopolitical mores they engage with. Discovering feminism in an official capacity, Elena incisively observes the relationships between women and men in her writing and is struck by the messiness of applying what should be clear-headed logic on the subject to her own relationships with men. As much as this book is about Elena and Lila’s marriages and families, though, it is still at its core very much about the friendship between the two women. In Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, it is an undeniably strained relationship, but the strength in their bond is something beyond amiable appeasement and shared interests. There is something deeper and more elemental that binds them. At times, you wonder why they still bother being friends, with the various trespasses, minor and otherwise, that they commit against each other. But Elena is forcefully inspired by Lila; she’s an unyielding, driving specter in Elena’s creative mind and she represents the well of genius that Elena is only able to access when she’s at her most honest and candid.

A notable condition of the second and third books is that Elena and Lila are separated, so a lot of what Elena reports about Lila’s life is second-hand information, information she finds out much later and is writing in retrospect, or information that was taken straight from a diary that Lila gives Elena for “safekeeping.” This all worked for me to keep Lila involved in the story and to keep Elena connected to her, but finally in The Story of the Lost Child the women are together again, living in Naples. The official reunion is ostensibly a happy one, but many of their interactions remain terse. Elena, who has always written from the perspective of someone who is constantly compared to her friend and found wanting, now feels increasingly compelled to justify herself and her choices to Lila in the flesh. Raising their children together, Elena struggles with how, despite their wildly different paths, they have still ended up in the same place. She interrogates the decisions that led her, a moderately successful woman with her own notoriety, to still have been so moved by men that her and Lila, now both raising children as single women, appear on the surface level to have minimized themselves and their ambitions so to remain comfortably in the neighborhood, just as all of the other girls without the same intelligence and drive did. It’s too reductive to say that it’s merely sad, or disappointing, that Elena winds up where she did, or that Lila’s growing position in the neighborhood seems to come at the direct expense of Elena’s current popularity as an author, as if they sit on opposite ends of a see-saw and one is always looking down on the other if either of them is to be much off the ground.

Ferrante’s character Elena is a writer, and she writes a lot of this meta-criticism about the flaws in her writing. Primarily, despite Elena’s formal education surpassing Lila’s by several stages, Elena attributes to Lila’s writing an unparalleled quality of natural brevity. Elena is always struck by her own writing having a false affect, while revering the clarity of Lila’s unstudied prose as the epitome of skill. As a reader, I’m struck by Ferrante’s skill with language, and — with this feeling possibly being magnified by Ferrante being a pseudonymous author, and wondering how much of this work is auto/biographical — I can’t help but notice that the lauded qualities of Lila’s writing appear to more or less describe Ferrante’s. (Or Elena’s voice, as depicted by Ferrante. How meta is this exactly? Is this Ferrante suggesting that Elena more successfully adopted those attributes of her friend’s writing than she gave herself credit for? Or that it was Elena herself whose writing had those characteristics, but her bouts of inferiority blinded her to it? Or is it Ferrante, herself, at the top line, voicing her authorial insecurities through her character?) In any case, the writing is magnificent. As I’ve seen it said, the pages practically turn themselves. The language is frugal but expansive inside the reader’s mind — a true case of “leaving it to the imagination.” I’m continually astonished at how much Ferrante does with so little, syntactically.

If you weren’t put off by this unhelpfully vague review, I urge you to read these books. I have tried to touch on a few reasons why I find them so excellent, but even more than those definable things there is just something about them overall that makes them unforgettable.

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North Central PA

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

 JVBrown, 

This is the final Neapolitan novel. If you have read them all, you have followed Elena and Lila as they marry, divorce, bear children, and become successful: Elena as an author, Lila as the owner of a computer software business. Despite their success, they continue to live in the neighborhood, with its history of violence and crime. Lila never left, Elena returns to raise her daughters, and they live in different apartments in the same building as their late middle age unfolds. The lifelong friendship between these two women is the core of this story, with episodes from their childhood forming recurring themes. I found each of these novels to be more compelling than the last.

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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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Hudson Review

“A Strangeness in My Mind”: The 2016 Man Booker International Prize Finalists

(…) Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, is the only one of the finalists for the Man Booker International Prize that has been widely reviewed in the United States and broadly marketed. The fourth book in her Neapolitan tetralogy, it concludes the story of the friendship between two women who grew up together in a poor neighborhood in Naples, Elena and Lila, whose lives take very different courses as adults. Unlike the other novels in this review, Ferrante’s tetralogy is a grand realistic project, which reviewers have compared to Balzac, to Tolstoy, to Mann’s Buddenbrooks. It follows the lives of a closely connected set of Neapolitan families from a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood in Naples over a span of about six decades, from the post-World War II period to the present day. (Each novel contains an index of characters in front, with all their relationships described.) The center of the novels is the relationship between Elena and Lila, who meet in first grade and quickly become best friends. The first volume in the tetralogy is called My Brilliant Friend; since Elena is the narrator and fictional author of the books, the title seems to refer to Lila but indeed describes them both in their relationship to each other. Both women of extraordinary intelligence and imagination with a drive to escape the confines of their traditional world and the ways in which it defines women’s lives take different paths. Elena, always a dutiful student, goes to university, escapes Naples, becomes a writer and feminist; Lila, more brilliant and temperamental, leaves school, marries an abusive husband, creates a number of local businesses by using the entrée her male friends and relatives afford, but never realizes her creative gifts. The title of the third volume of the tetralogy, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, identifies this dynamic; the novels ask us to contemplate what leaving and staying mean for the two heroines, whether Elena can ever really leave, and how crippling Lila’s staying becomes. The two women seem almost halves of a single self, alternate lives in a complexly gender-stratified world. The friends love each other, and they are intensely jealous of one another, Elena creating her fiction out of the life she has abandoned but cannot leave.

All four of the volumes of the tetralogy are deeply satisfying, but the last is perhaps the best in bringing together all the strands of the complex world Ferrante creates. My Brilliant Friend begins with a prologue that motivates the telling of the story; Lila disappears, and Elena seeks to bring her back by telling their story. The Story of the Lost Child brings us to that disappearance and the rupture in the friendship it represents. There is indeed a terrible loss of a child at the heart of the novel, but the lost child refers to much else—the lost dolls that Elena and Lila believe the local Mafia chief has stolen from them as children, the biological children from whom they feel estranged, and, most intensely, the childhood selves from which they’ve both departed. The tetralogy vividly depicts the texture of women’s lives: the dailiness of taking care—of children, houses, men—the physicality of menstrua- tion, sex, and pregnancy, the drive of aspiration and inspiration, the weight and web of social constraints. Earlier I quoted Eliot’s Middlemarch; in some sense, Ferrante is redoing Eliot’s project. Eliot begins her novel by comparing her heroine, Dorothea Brooke, to Saint Theresa: “Many Theresas have been born who found for themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes, the offspring of a certain spiritual grandeur ill-matched with the meanness of opportunity; perhaps a tragic failure which found no sacred poet and sank unwept into oblivion.” Lila, in some sense, is a modern day Theresa who fails to find an epic life, just as Elena, in some sense, is Mary Ann Evans; not the least brilliant of these novels’ many achievement is Ferrante’s exploration of the writer’s implication in her fictional project.

This is the first year that the Man Booker International Prize has been given not to a writer in recognition of his or her entire career but to an individual novel. The benefit of such a change is the attention it brings to extraordinary novels not familiar to many English-speaking readers.

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Translationista

Ann Goldstein was awarded the Italian Prose in Translation Award for her translation of The Story of The Lost Child

2016 ALTA TRANSLATION PRIZES ANNOUNCED

SagawaCoverSPDThis weekend at the American Literary Translators Association conference in Oakland, the winners of the two 2016 National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose were announced, along with the Lucien Stryk Prize for a translation from an Asian language, and the Italian Prose in Translation Award. Without further ado, here are the winners:

The National Translation Award in Poetry has gone to Hilary Kaplan for her translation of Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas (Phoneme Media).

The National Translation Award in Prose has gone to Liz Harris, for her translation of Tristano Dies: A Life by Antonio Tabucchi (Archipelago)

The Lucien Stryk Prize has gone to Sawako Nakayasu for her translation of The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa (Canarium Books).

The Italian Prose in Translation Award has gone to Ann Goldstein for her translation of The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (whose name is Elena Ferrante, thank you very much) (Europa Editions).

Congratulations to all this year’s ALTA prize winners!

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Vida – Women in Literary Arts

Report from the Field: A Working-Class Academic on Loving Elena Ferrante

by Valerie Popp

Last September, during a sultry late-summer lunch hour in Manhattan, I had a street encounter that very nearly moved me to tears. I was crossing Broadway near Lincoln Center with a copy of Elena Ferrante’s just-released novel The Story of the Lost Child in my hand. Suddenly someone seized my arm and yelped. Good New Yorker that I am, I was girding myself for a confrontation when the arm-grabber spoke.

“Have you finished that yet?”

Turning, I saw that my assailant was a petite woman with a blonde pixie cut. She gestured to my book as she balanced a collapsing vanilla ice cream cone in one hand and an irascible toddler in the other.

“I just started it,” I replied. “But she’s so good!”

“She’s so good!” the cone-eating pixie echoed. “I just love her!” And she smiled and pulled her child down the sidewalk, and I smiled and returned to work, amazed that someone had taken a moment, on New York’s pugilistic streets, to grab my arm about a book.

There is something raw about how women have responded to Ferrante’s work, especially the Neapolitan quartet. Forget the Instagram joys of “Hot Dudes Reading” (joys which are bounteous, I admit). Everywhere I look I see women with Ferrante’s novels. Hunched over copies of My Brilliant Friend on the subway. Snatching up copies of The Story of a New Name from front tables at the Strand. Peppering tweets with the hashtag #ferrantefever. Pondering questions about Lila as frenemy and Nino as liberal mansplainer extraordinaire. If you’ve ever sat in a humanities class, you’ve definitely met a Nino.

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Silvia Wrote It

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

The Story of the Lost Child is the fourth and final installment of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan chronicles recounting the story of Elena and Lina. Reading the book is like cliff-diving off a high cliff and crashing on the rocks below. It’s a sad ending to a glorious story.

I’m not going to spoil the book for you, but the two protagonists become pregnant and raise their children in the old neighbourhood. One of the two protagonists literally loses her child and begins a slow decent into instability if not madness. A lot of ink is taken up summing up of all the characters and where they’re at in their lives when the book ends in 2006. Lina and Elena are in their 60s, as are the majority of the cast of characters who make up the novel.

Elena is a success but she’s crushed by depression, never becoming the confidant person she could have been. She feels that her career has been marred by that. Elena is a success but she’s consumed by self doubt. Lina too, becomes a success but eventually implodes. Lina disappears, we know that in the first pages of the first novel. Here, we get an inkling as to why; she may have been murdered or simply decided to vanish of her own free will. Not knowing why she’s gone missing is an unsatisfying aspect of the novel.

The series has been a stellar trip about the lives of two remarkable women and the people in their lives. However, the ending is a sad ending to an otherwise at times shocking and always eventful series. I expect characters in their 60s to have misgivings, joys and regrets but Elena and especially Lina, loomed larger than life and their senior years are just plain dull.

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Boston Globe

 
It’s that time of year again: The summer reading list! Here are nearly 80 possibilities, from epic novels to thoughtful essays, meaty histories to gripping mysteries, enthralling memoirs to inspiring sport sagas.

FICTION

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.

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The Weekly Review

Emerging Writers’ Festival authors on books that changed them 

Author Michaela McGuire. Photo: supplied

Michaela McGuire

The Emerging Writers’ Festival director is the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law, and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief.

The book you never wanted to end?

Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child. I read the Neapolitan Novels over two months this year, and it was such an expansive pleasure to be able to spend 2000-odd pages with such brilliantly written characters. The books were a real milestone read.

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New Republic

Does Literary Criticism Have a Grade Inflation Problem?

Lit Hub’s new ratings site exposes the flaws in the wider culture.

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Once upon a reading

Elena Ferrante, “The Story of the Lost Child”

I don’t know if my habit to read three or more books at the same time is good or bad, but it surely gave me the opportunity to discover connections between books I would have never put in the same sentence in other circumstances. For example, it was fun to discover, in two very dissimilar books, Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow and Dan Lungu’s The Little Girl Who Played God, a similar reaction of the characters in front of some landscape while visiting Italy, and which seemed to their awed eyes so impossible picturesque that it had acquired the glossy quality of a postal card. Or to discover that both Alice Munro’s neorealist The View from Castle Rock and Kazuo Ishiguro’s magic realist The Buried Giant managed to find that elusive border between reality and mythology. Not to speak about those times when a book effectively has called another – as Umberto Eco’s Foucault Pendulum did with Alexandrian’s History of the Occult Philosophy – for how could I explain otherwise the fact that I received the second (without even asking) from my former high school teacher just when I was struggling to put in order some random information about occultism wickedly given to me by the first?

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The New York Review of Books

The Violent World of Elena Ferrante

Naples, 1964; photograph by Bruno Barbey

At the start of The Story of the Lost Child, the fourth and final novel of Elena Ferrante’s remarkable Neapolitan quartet, the two women whose turbulent friendship forms the core of the books are entering the second halves of their lives, their first marriages behind them. Elena Greco, the studious narrator, has left poverty-stricken Naples and become an established author of novels and feminist essays. She has left her husband, a brilliant university professor and laborious lover from Italy’s left-leaning bourgeoisie, for the man she has adored since adolescence, a fickle charmer and social climber named Nino Sarratore. With Sarratore comes a return to Naples and the Mezzogiorno after years in the relatively ordered “European” Italy of Pisa, Milan, and Florence.

Raffaella Cerullo—known to Elena as “Lila” and the chief subject of her storytelling—has never left the rubble-filled streets of Naples. Electric and fiery, she appears to have achieved some stability, even financial security, for the first time in her life after the end of her marriage to a violent loan shark. She is living with the devoted Enzo Scanno, whom she has known since neighborhood school days. He takes care of her child and together they have started a computer company called Basic Sight.

That, at least, is the surface of things, which in the pseudonymous Ferrante’s work often conceals the violence and irrationality of life. “Love and sex are unreasonable and brutal,” she writes. For Lila and Elena, they generally are. Everything in the two women’s lives duly unravels—except their fecund, troubled friendship. They are inseparable even when distance intervenes.

Elena has the discipline to channel her gifts, as she shows in the writing of her story. But she could not have done so without the inspiration of Lila, who is the more brilliant but too mercurial to fulfill her promise, whether as an author (the story she wrote as a child, The Blue Fairy, mesmerizes Elena), shoe designer, or entrepreneur. The quartet is set in motion at the beginning of the first book by Lila’s disappearance, prompting Elena to seek to assemble all the frantumaglia, or fragments, that led to her departure. That effort, looking back over a lifetime, yields this work. Ferrante, in a rare interview with The Paris Review, has called frantumaglia the “bits and pieces of uncertain origin which rattle around in your head.” Artistic creation involves linking them through logical and magical patterns. As she writes in The Story of the Lost Child, “Linear explanations are almost always lies.”

The interacting qualities of the two women are central to the quartet, which is at once introspective and sweeping, personal and political, covering the more than six decades of the two women’s lives and the way those lives intersect with Italy’s upheavals, from the revolutionary violence of the leftist…

Read on the New York Review of Books

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Lit Hub

DO AMERICANS HATE FOREIGN FICTION?

ANJALI ENJETI ON THE SERIOUS LACK OF TRANSLATED LITERATURE IN AMERICA

Two years ago at the Jaipur Literature Festival in Rajasthan, India, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and American ex-pat Jhumpa Lahiri, who’d relocated from Brooklyn to the outskirts of Rome, slammed the American book market for its “lack of translation, the lack of energy put into translation.” The following year, Ferrante fever ignited with the release of Italian author Elena Ferrante’s fourth and final installment of the Neopolitan novels, The Story of the Lost Child. Curiosity over Ferrante’s true identity (the author writes under a pen name) transformed into fandom for Ann Goldstein, Ferrante’s translator.

In the two years since Lahiri’s speech, in the eight months since Ferrante released her concluding book in the series, have translations finally broken through in the American book market?

(…)

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Australian Book Industry Awards

THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD won the Australian Book Industry Awards Readers Choice award for International Book of the Year

READER’S CHOICE AWARD WINNERS!

Presenting the winners of the Australian Book Industry Awards, Reader’s Choice 2016. The Reader’s Choice Awards are a chance for you, the public, to have your say on which books you enjoyed reading. Thank you to everyone who voted!

Biography Book of the Year, Reader’s Choice:
Flesh Wounds (Richard Glover, ABC Books, HarperCollins)

General Fiction Book of the Year, Reader’s Choice:
Close Your Eyes (Michael Robotham, Sphere, Hachette Australia Books)

General Non-fiction Book of the Year, Reader’s Choice:
The Dismissal (Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston, Viking, Penguin Books Australia)

Illustrated Book of the Year, Reader’s Choice:
Cornersmith (Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant, Murdoch Books,Murdoch Books)

International Book of the Year, Reader’s Choice:
The Story of the Lost Child (Elena Ferrante, Text Publishing)

Literary Fiction Book of the Year, Reader’s Choice:
The Natural Way of Things (Charlotte Wood, Allen & Unwin, Allen & Unwin Books)

Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, Reader’s Choice:
The Anti-Cool Girl ( Rosie Waterland , 4th Estate, HarperCollins Books Australia)

Book of the Year Older Children, Reader’s Choice:
Illuminae (Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Allen & Unwin, Allen & Unwin Books)

Book of the Year for Younger Children, Reader’s Choice:
The 65-Storey Treehouse ( Andy Griffiths , illusrated by Terry Denton, Pan Australia, Pan Macmillan Australia)

Small Publishers’ Children’s Book of the Year, Reader’s Choice:
Kookoo Kookaburra (Gregg Dreise, Magabala Books)

Small Publishers’ Adult Book of the Year, Reader’s Choice:
Body Lengths (Leisel Jones with Felicity McLean, Nero, Black Inc.)

‪#‎ABIAwards2016‬

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BBC

Man Booker Shortlist: Translating Elena Ferrante

This month the winner of the prestigious Man Booker International Prize will be announced. Weekend is featuring all six of the shortlisted books before the winner is made public. Unusually the $72,000 prizemoney is divided equally between the writer and translator.

This week’s book is The Story Of The Lost Child by Italian writer Elena Ferrante. It’s the final part of a series known as the Neapolitan Quartet, about the sixty-year friendship between Elena, a successful writer, and her childhood friend Lila.

Weekend’s Julian Worricker spoke to the book’s translator Ann Goldstein, who says she has never met Ferrante herself. But her acquaintance with her work goes way back.

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BBC

Man Booker Shortlist: Elena Ferrante On Using A Pseudonym

This month the winner of the prestigious Man Booker International Prize will be announced. Weekend is featuring all six of the shortlisted books before the winner is made public.

This week we look at one of the hot favourites: The Story Of The Lost Child by Italian writer Elena Ferrante. It’s the final part of a series known as the Neapolitan Quartet, about the sixty-year friendship between Elena, a successful writer, and Lila, her friend from childhood. Elena Ferrante refuses to have a public profile, but she does communicate via email and agreed to an exchange with the BBC. Her answers have been voiced by an actress.

Her writing is extremely intimate and emotionally honest. But she herself is pseudonymous. Weekend’s Julian Worricker asked why she keeps such a distance between life and work?

 

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Literary Hub

NAPLES, THE READING LIST: YOUR GUIDE TO THE CITY OF ELENA FERRANTE

ON THE EVE OF SAN GENNARO, 15 BOOKS TO SATISFY YOUR NEAPOLITAN CRAVINGS

April 29, 2016  By John Domini

These days, plenty of people know Elena Ferrante, but not so many have heard of Januarius, patron saint of her native Naples. New Yorkers will recognize the Italian name,San Gennaro, from his festival in Little Italy, the last Saturday in April (tomorrow). Yet over by the Tyrrhenian Sea, this 4th-century martyr may have a greater physical presence than Ferrante herself.

Back when Gennaro’s head was still tumbling away from its body, the story goes, some acolyte stooped to collect vials of his blood. The reliquaries are kept in Naples, and twice a year, the Duomo is packed for the miracle of liquefaction. The more freely the stuff flows, in its gilded containers, the more it buoys up the prayers of the locals, the Napoli D.O.C. Better yet, they get two chances at a miracle, one in September and one late in April.

At some point Ferrante—then still using her actual name—must’ve been among the believers. These days she may no longer live in town, but the city remains an abiding subject for her, integral to her power. So too, as her quartet follows Lenù and Lila around Naples, as it steeps in the beauties and toxins, it generates hunger for more. Readers can take Ferrante tours, now, and they’ve begun seeking other books written in the shadow of Vesuvius.

Piacere mio, my pleasure. I’ll limit my suggestions to titles available in English and pertinent to the novelist’s generation.

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The Guardian

Elena Ferrante and Clarice Lispector up for Best Translated Book award

Alison Flood

The Story of the Lost Child and a posthumous collection of the great Brazilian author’s short stories among 10 finalists

Chinese poet Liu Xia, Brazilian author Clarice Lispector and Angolan writer José Eduardo Agualusa.

The Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, already in the running for the 2016 Man Booker International prize, has made the shortlist for the Best Translated Book award.

Worth $5,000 (£3,500) to both its winning authors and translators, the prize is run by the Three Percent blog at the University of Rochester, and underwritten by Amazon.com’s literary partnership programmes. Ferrante was picked by judges for The Story of the Lost Child, the final novel in her Neapolitan series, which also made the Man Booker International prize shortlist last week. Translated by Ann Goldstein, the novel was called “the first work worthy of the Nobel prize to have come out of Italy for many decades” by the Observer.

Another title shortlisted for the Man Booker International also makes the 10-strong list: A General Theory of Oblivion by Angolan writer José Eduardo Agualusa, translated by Daniel Hahn. The novel tells of a woman who bricks herself into her apartment on the eve of Angolan independence and lives there for 30 years.

The late Brazilian author Clarice Lispector’s Complete Stories is also a finalist for the fiction award, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson. Published last summer for the first time in English, the 85-story collection is “proof that she was – in the company of Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo and her 19th-century countryman Machado de Assis – one of the true originals of Latin American literature”, according to the New York Times.

Judge Amanda Nelson of Book Riot said that “one of the most remarkable things about this collection is that it is so complete”, and that Lispector “is simply better at portraying women than pretty much any other candidate”.

“Lispector gives us the inner lives of women from childhood through very old age,” said Nelson. “Her women are real, they wrestle with marriage, they struggle with motherhood, they make art, they are bored, they have affairs, get old, play the ‘cool girl’ game long before Gillian Flynn’s Amy gave it a name in Gone Girl. Lispector’s stories all in one place say: we have always been here.”

Three Percent also revealed the six poetry collections up for its best translated poetry prize, with China’s Liu Xia picked for Empty Chairs, translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern. Liu is the wife of the imprisoned Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo. In one of her poems, June 2nd, 1989 (for Xiaobo), she writes of how:

I didn’t have a chance
to say a word before you became
a character in the news,
everyone looking up to you
as I was worn down
at the edge of the crowd
just smoking
and watching the sky.

A new myth, maybe, was forming
there, but the sun was so bright
I couldn’t see it.

Alongside Liu’s work, a book collecting the work of eight Afghan women poets from Herat, Load Poems Like Guns, is shortlisted. The collection, edited and translated from the Persian by Farzana Marie, includes poetry by Nadia Anjuman, who wrote about the oppression of Afghan woman and was murdered by her husband in 2005. Judge, translator and publisher Deborah Smith said: “Two things about this book blew me away – one was the strength of the writing itself, and another was the astonishing work of its translator”.

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The Man Booker Prize

Reader’s Guide

 

 

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Flavorwire

Who Wrote the Best Translated Book of 2016?

By |

Three Percent has released the longlist for the 2016 Best Translated Book Award, a prize that comes with a $5,000 payout (for both author and translator) from Amazon, its sponsor. The longlist is appropriately long (25 fiction titles, ten poetry titles) and filled with names famous, familiar, and obscure. Many American readers will be acquainted with the work of Elena Ferrante, Clarice Lispector, Valeria Luiselli, Andrés Neuman, and Ludmilla Ulitskaya; or they may have read last year’s profiles or reviews of Eka Kurniawan, Wolfgang Hilbig, and Yuri Herrera; but they may not be so familiar with the rest of the list. Well, now is the time to get acquainted; many of the books listed here are among the best released in the world in the last year.

There are far too many works of fiction and poetry to give a full account of the longlist, but anyone familiar with contemporary literature in translation will tell you that there are certain frontrunners. Elena Ferrante’s entry is the final volume of her Neapolitan Quartet, which may give the judges cause to award the entire series; it has lost twice in the past, once to László Krasznahorkai’sSeiobo There Below (the greatest novel of recent years), and another time to Can Xue’s worthy The Last Lover. I’d be surprised if Ferrante didn’t win this year, but Ferrante has a worthy, famous competitor in The Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector, which, it may sound strange to say, is more assuredly canonical. Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth is excellent, but it strikes me as too project-like to convince the judges (away from Ferrante or Lispector). In poetry? I’d be surprised if Silvina Ocampo didn’t win, but I haven’t read all of the books.

Nor have I read all of the fiction. Still, my personal favorites (along with the abovementioned) are the novels by Yuri Herrera, Wolfgang Hilbig, Fiston Mwanza Mujila — who could be a dark horse here — and Eka Kurniawan, whose simultaneously released Beauty Is a Wound and Man Tiger could both have been longlisted; in short fiction: Andrés Neuman’s The Things We Don’t Do seems to me one of the finest works of that form in recent years. I don’t think it will win, but I’d be thrilled if it did.

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The Millions

And the Finalists for the Best Translated Book Awards Are…

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.37.44 PM

 

We’re very proud to announce the finalists for this year’s Best Translated Book Awards here on The Millions. This is the ninth iteration of the awards, which have honored a variety of books and authors over the years, including Can Xue (who won in 2015 for The Last Lover) and László Krasznahorkai (the only two-time winner for Satantango and Seiobo There Below). On the poetry side of things, past winners include Rocío Cerón (Diorama), Elisa Biagini (The Guest in the Wood), and Kiwao Nomura (Spectacle & Pigsty), among others.

Five years ago, Amazon started underwriting the awards through their Literary Partnership program, providing $20,000 in cash prizes every year, which is split up equally between the winning authors and translators. After this year’s awards have been granted, the Best Translated Book Awards will have given out $100,000 to international authors and translators.

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Three Percent

The Story of the Lost Child is one of 10 finalists for the 2016 Best Translated Book Award (Fiction)

19 APRIL 16

Ten works of fiction and six poetry collections remain in the running for this year’s Best Translated Book Awards following the announcement of the two shortlists at The Millions website this morning.

These sixteen finalists represent an incredible array of writing styles and reputation, and include the likes of Clarice Lispector, Elena Ferrante, Georgi Gospodinov, Gabrielle Wittkop, Liu Xia, Abdourahman Waberi, and more. These titles were selected from the nearly 570 works of fiction and poetry published in English translation in 2015.

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Korean JoongAng Daily

Korean writer Han Kang in line for prestigious award

The Man Booker Prize recently announced the final list of nominees for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

One of the six shortlisted authors announced last week is Han Kang, who has lately been garnering an amount of attention rare for a Korean writer from the foreign press for her novel “The Vegetarian,” which was published in English last year.

The Man Booker Prize, which began in 1969 in the United Kingdom with the aim of promoting the finest fiction, is one of the top honors for novelists. The prize is granted annually to an original novel, written in English and published in the United Kingdom.

Along with the original prize, the Man Booker International Prize was established in 2005 for translated works. The winning work is awarded 50,000 pounds ($70,900), which is equally divided between the author and the translator.

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Newsday

Elena Ferrante, Orhan Pamuk up for Man Booker International Prize

LONDON – Elusive Italian author Elena Ferrante and Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk are among six finalists for the Man Booker International Prize for fiction.

Ferrante’s Neapolitan tale “The Story of the Lost Child” and Pamuk’s Istanbul-set “A Strangeness in My Mind” are on a shortlist, announced Thursday, that includes books from Asia, Africa and Europe.

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Evening Standard

Londoner’s Diary: Sex, drugs and a locked library at the Savile

Prize could unmask Elena Ferrante

To the Kensington Orangery last night, where the champagne flowed for the Man Booker International Prize. As there wasn’t a name tag ready and waiting, The Londoner was tempted to claim to be nominee Elena Ferrante, author of the quartet of books known at the Neapolitan novels, the last of which, The Story of the Lost Child, is shortlisted for the prize.

Ferrante’s identity is a closely guarded secret and was a much discussed topic of the evening. For The Economist’s books and arts editor, Fiammetta Rocco, the prize has diplomatic possibilities. “If you believe what unites us is stronger than what divides us,” she said, “this is the prize for you.”

The big question now is: if Ferrante wins, will she be appear incognito at the prizegiving?

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The Times of India

Elena Ferrante could be the first-ever anonymous Booker winner

For the first time, the Man Booker International prize could go to an anonymous writer this year, if a story of lifelong friendship in southern Italy beats the other five contestants in a short list announced this week.

“The Story of the Lost Child”, the fourth and final instalment in a tale of friendship, family and power centred on noisy Naples, is up against rivals that include Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk.

The true identity of its writer, who has published this series and three other books under the pen name Elena Ferrante, is one of the best-kept artistic secrets in modern Italy.

“Elena Ferrante was born in Naples. This is all we know about her,” the Booker Prize Foundation said on its website. A spokeswoman for the prize said no anonymous writer had ever won the Man Booker Prize or the Man Booker International Prize.

Before publishing her first novel, Ferrante is widely quoted as having said in a letter to her publishers, “Books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.”Even as the “Neapolitan Novels”, the first of which came out in Italy in 2011, drew worldwide acclaim and sales reportedly exceeded 1 million copies, she did not identify herself.

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The Wire

Culture Review: Banned Film, Lost Dutch Masterpiece, Books for Mental Health and More

2016 International Man Booker prize announced

The 2016 International Man Booker prize shortlist consists of six novels from Turkey, China, Italy, South Korea, Austria and Angola, narrowed down from an original 155 contenders. The winner will be announced in June.

Judges called Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a Lost Child “a veritable feast.” Despite her international fame, Ferrante has never been publicly identified. She interacts with her translator only through her publisher.

Yan Lianke’s The Four Books is set in a labour camp before and during the 1950s famine in China. The novel, which took Lianke 20 years to plan, was banned in China at the time of its publication.

Here’s the full shortlist:

A General Theory of Oblivion, Jose Eduardo Agualusa (Angola)

The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Italy)

The Vegetarian, Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith (South Korea)

The Four Books, Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas (China)

A Strangeness in My Mind, Orhan Pamuk, translated by Ekin Oklap (Turkey)

A Whole Life, Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins (Austria)

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Frontpage

Elusive Italian author Elena Ferrante and Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk are among six finalists for the Man Booker International Prize for fiction

LONDON (AP) — Elusive Italian author Elena Ferrante and Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk are among six finalists for the Man Booker International Prize for fiction.

Ferrante’s Neapolitan tale “The Story of the Lost Child” and Pamuk’s Istanbul-set “A Strangeness in My Mind” are on a shortlist, announced Thursday, that includes books from Asia, Africa and Europe.

Pamuk is one of Turkey’s best-known authors and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006. Ferrante has topped best-seller lists around the world with her four novels of friendship and life in Naples, but her identity remains a mystery. She writes under a pseudonym and rarely gives interviews.

Also among the finalists is Yan Lianke’s “The Four Books,” one of the few Chinese novels to tackle the Great Famine of the 1950s and ’60s, in which millions died. The author’s satirical novels have frequently been banned in China.

The other nominees are Angolan revolution saga “A General Theory of Oblivion” by Jose Eduardo Agualusa; food-themed novel “The Vegetarian” by South Korea’s Han Kang; and Alpine tale “A Whole Life” by Austria’s Robert Seethaler.

Literary critic Boyd Tonkin, who chairs the judging panel, said the six finalists “will take readers both around the globe and to every frontier of fiction.”

The award is the international counterpart to Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize and is open to books published in any language that have been translated into English. The prize was previously a career honor, but changed this year to recognize a single work of fiction.

The 50,000-pound ($71,000) prize is divided evenly between the author and the book’s translator. The winner will be announced in London on May 16.

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National Post

Pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante makes Man Booker International Prize shortlist, win could spell reveal

The Story of the Lost Child with faceless figures as her covers go, much like Ferrante herself.

A week of copious award announcements continued as the Man Booker International Prize shortlist was announced April 14.

The finalists are:

  • A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated by Daniel Hahn (Harvill Secker)
  • The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions)
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith (Portobello Books)
  • The Four Books by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas (Grove Press)
  • A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Ekin Oklap (Knopf Canada)
  • A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins (Anansi International)

The winner of the £50,000 prize will be announced May 16, with each author and translator on the shortlist receiving £1,000.

 

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The Sidney Morning Herald

Elena Ferrante lines up for the Man Booker International Prize

Elena Ferrante's novel, The Story of the Lost Child.

The underlying question about this year’s shortlist for the Man Booker International Prize is whether the real Elena Ferrante will stand up to receive the prize if The Story of the Lost Child, the final novel in her Neapolitan quartet, is named the winner of the £50,000 ($92,000) prize. Will she even attend the presentation?

Because Elena Ferrante, of course, is a pseudonym for the writer who has entranced millions of readers in her native Italy and around the world with her quartet about two female friends in Naples. And it is a pseudonym that has been protected rigorously by her Italian publishers, Edizioni E/O. In Australia her books are published by Text.

Whoever she is, Ferrante is on the shortlist along with Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, who is listed for A Strangeness in My Mind. The other four novelists up for the prize, which will be announced in London on May 16, are: Jose Eduardo Agualusa (A General Theory of Oblivion); Han Kang (The Vegetarian); Robert Seethaler (A Whole Life); and Yan Lianke (The Four Books). The latter is also published in Australia by Text.

Elena Ferrante's novel, The Story of the Lost Child.
Elena Ferrante’s novel, The Story of the Lost Child.Photo: Supplied

The author must share the prize with the translator of the winning novel. Interestingly, 28-year-old Deborah Smith, the translator of South Korean Han Kang’s novel, only started learning Korean when she was 21.

Boyd Tonkin, chair of the judges, said: “Our selection shows that the finest books in translation extend the boundaries not just of our world – but of the art of fiction itself.” More than 150 books were entered for the prize.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/elena-ferrante-lines-up-for-the-man-booker-international-prize-20160414-go6oij.html#ixzz46GNnOTBI
Follow us: @smh on Twitter | sydneymorningherald on Facebook

 

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Bookslive

Shortlist announced for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, including Angolan author Jose Eduardo Agualusa

Alert! The shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize has been revealed.

Six books are in contention for the prize, including Angolan author José Eduardo Agualusa.

The shortlist was whittled down from a longlist of 13. Six languages are represented, with four countries – Angola, Austria, South Korea and Turkey – appearing for the first time.

Following the 2015 Man Booker International Prize, where eight out of 10 finalists had been originally published in a language other than English, the Booker Prize Foundation announced last year that the Man Booker International would in future be awarded to fiction in translation.

Each shortlisted author and translator will receive £1,000 (about R20,000) while the £50,000 (about R1-million) prize will be divided equally between the author and the translator of the winning entry.

The winner will be announced on 16 May.

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The Women’s Review of Books

The Story of the Lost Child Reviewed by Lisa Mullenneaux

Passions run high when you’re talking about the fiction of the pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante, particularly the four- volume coming-of-age series that begins with My Brilliant Friend (2012). “She just nails it,” said a woman in her sixties, who was in the audience for a crowded panel on Ferrante at the PEN World Voices festival last May. To judge from the number attending the event, the quartet has a special resonance for those of us who rode the second wave of feminism in the 1970s and who write for a living.

For starters, we are the age of the narrator Elena Greco (Lenù) and her best friend Raffaella Cerullo (Lila), who sprout like weeds in the cement jungle of postwar Naples and fight for and with each other for sixty years. Secondly, the Neapolitan novels describe an artist’s progress from early success to bad reviews to professional stature—yet the story of Lenù, the writer, is not like any other account of an artist’s development that I have ever read. The “anxiety of influence,” or the “writer in the writer,” to use the literary critic Harold Bloom’s term, is not one of Lenù’s literary forebears, but Lila. As The Story of the Lost Child, the final book in the series, makes clear, the two friends are better together than apart.

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The Man Booker Prize

The Man Booker International Prize 2016 Shortlist Announced

13 April 2016

The Man Booker International Prize has revealed the shortlist of six books in contention for the 2016 Prize, celebrating the finest in global fiction. Each shortlisted author and translator will receive £1,000, while the £50,000 prize will be divided equally between the author and the translator of the winning entry.

The 2016 Man Booker International Shortlist 

Title (imprint) Author (nationality) Translator (nationality)

A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker), José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola), Daniel Hahn (UK)

The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions), Elena Ferrante (Italy), Ann Goldstein (USA)

The Vegetarian (Portobello Books), Han Kang (South Korea), Deborah Smith (UK)

A Strangeness in My Mind (Faber & Faber), Orhan Pamuk (Turkey), Ekin Oklap (Turkey)

A Whole Life (Picador), Robert Seethaler (Austria), Charlotte Collins (UK)

The Four Books (Chatto & Windus), Yan Lianke  (China), Carlos Rojas (USA)

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The Bookseller

Ferrante, Pamuk shortlisted for Man Booker International Prize

Reclusive Italian writer Elena Ferrante and Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk have been named on the six-strong Man Booker International Prize shortlist.

Three titles from independent publishers feature on the list: Ferrante’s The Story of The Lost Child, the final novel in her Neapolitan quartet, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa); Pamuk’s A Stranger in My Mind, translated from Turkish by Ekin Oklap (Faber); and Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, translated from Korean by Deborah Smith (Portobello).

Two books come from Penguin Random House: the Angolan writer Jose Eduardo Agualusa’s A General Theory of Oblivion, translated by Daniel Hahn (Harvill Secker); and Chinese writer Yan Lianke’s The Four Books, translated by Carlos Rojas (Chatto). Picador has the final title, Austrian writer Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life, translated by Charlotte Collins.

The Man Booker International Prize combined with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize last year, and as of this year, rewards a single book rather than the author’s oeuvre. The winning author and translator will split the £50,000 prize, which will be awarded on 16th May.

Boyd Tonkin, chair of the judging panel, commented: “This exhilarating shortlist will take readers both around the globe and to every frontier of fiction. In first-class translations that showcase that unique and precious art, these six books tell unforgettable stories from China and Angola, Austria and Turkey, Italy and South Korea. In setting, they range from a Mao-era re-education camp and a remote Alpine valley to the modern tumult and transformation of cities such as Naples and Istanbul. In form, the titles stretch from a delicate mosaic of linked lives in post-colonial Africa to a mesmerising fable of domestic abuse and revolt in booming east Asia. Our selection shows that the finest books in translation extend the boundaries not just of our world – but of the art of fiction itself. We hope that readers everywhere will share our pleasure and excitement in this shortlist.”

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The Telegraph

Elena Ferrante makes Man Booker International shortlist

Six books are shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize

The pseudonymous Italian author of the bestselling Neapolitan Novels has reached the shortlist of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, which celebrates global fiction in English translation.

Elena Ferrante, whose statement that “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors” has not prevented endless speculation as to her identity, is shortlisted for The Story of the Lost Child, the final instalment of her compelling tetralogy which follows Elena and Lila, two girls from a poor neighbourhood of Naples, across six decades. The series has recently begun development for a TV series; although she was nominated for Italy’s prestigious Strega prize, this would be the first major international prize that Ferrante, the author of seven novels, has won.

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The Guardian

‘Exhilarating’ Man Booker International shortlist spans the world

Six books, set in locations including Istanbul and the Austrian Alps, during periods as mixed as the great famine in China and the Angolan civil war, telling stories of a female friendship in Camorra-controlled Naples and of a Korean wife’s transformative rebellion, have been announced as the finalists for the 2016 Man Booker International prize.

The Nobel prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante, Chinese dissident Yan Lianke, Angolan writer José Eduardo Agualusa, Austrian Robert Seethaler and South Korean Han Kang have all been shortlisted for the award, which celebrates the finest global fiction translated into English. The winner will receive £50,000, to be split evenly between author and translator.

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The Brain Curry…!!!

BOOK REVIEW: THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD – ELENA FERRANTE

4 STARS ****

“Being nominated for the Man Booker is well deserved and if we take into account the entire series, I think she is a definite front runner. I wish her all the best!”

And so, finally I come to the end of this saga.Reading the #NeapolitanBooks has been like a journey almost – of which, sometimes I was a part, and sometimes I was  a removed observer. Ferrante writes very well, her range is remarkable, her expansive web of characters, feelings, emotions and personalities is captivating. Her writing comes from a depth that makes you feel certain that this is her story or a major part of it is a ‘fictionalised’ autobiography – – – and somewhere, possibly the very personal nature of the story compels her to protect her own identity as well as of those who may be easily identifiable from the book.

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The Toronto Star

Found in translation

Literature in translation shows us how much we have in common with those in other countries — and how radically different people’s imaginations can be

Literature in translation shows us how much we have in common with those in other countries — and how wonderfully, radically different people’s imaginations can be. Here are five literary works that have recently been published for the first time in English; they’ve been championed by critics and excited readers too.

The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)

Nine books and twenty-four years into her career, Ferrante (we still don’t know the author’s real identity) is becoming a literary household name on the strength of her Neapolitan Novels and this, the series’ fourth book, has just been longlisted for the Booker International. Her tales of female friendship, class conflict, and domestic strife strike chords with readers in many languages, and speculation about her identity is a global parlour game. At a time when authors supposedly need to sell themselves, her popularity is a curious and happy exception.

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Independent Publisher

THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD has won the Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) GOLD MEDAL in Literary Fiction

2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards Results

Congratulations and sincere thanks to the independent authors and publishers who participated in our 20th annual, 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards contest.

Here are the gold, silver and bronze medalists in our 80 National categories.

For the Regional, E-Book, and Outstanding category medalists, click the links below.

Congratulations to the medalists!

6. LITERARY FICTION

GOLD: The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions)

SILVER: Hesitation Wounds, by Amy Koppelman (The Overlook Press)

BRONZE (tie): Juventud, by Vanessa Blakeslee (Curbside Splendor)

How to Grow an Addict, by J.A. Wright (She Writes Press)

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The Man Booker Prize

The Story of the Lost Child Interview

Elena Ferrante tells us about her belief that ‘books, once they are written, have no need of their authors’, and translator Ann Goldstein reveals what she would say to someone pursuing the identity of Elena Ferrante.

This is the sixth in our series of Man Booker International Prize 2016 longlisted author and translator interviews.

 

Elena Ferrante, author of The Story of the Lost Child

What has it been like to be longlisted?

Very pleasing. I feel a great relief every time my books are warmly welcomed into another language. I am grateful to Ann Goldstein for the care she takes with them.

 

Can you give us a taste of your longlisted novel The Story of the Lost Child?

It’s the final chapter of a story that accompanies its characters from childhood to old age. While Lena, despite a thousand disappointments and compromises, continues to the end to view her own life as blessed with luck, Lila experiences an absolute pain that removes meaning from her life.

 

Is there an author from Italy who you think should be translated into English?

I can think of a long list of talented authors – contemporary Italian literature is very interesting – and I can’t decide, also because I don’t know if the texts I have found most interesting have already been translated or not. So I will limit myself to mentioning the last two books I have read: Valeria Parrella’sTroppa importanza all’amore, and Marina Bellezza by Silvia Avallone.

 

Tell us more about your belief that ‘books, once they are written, have no need of their authors’…

A book always contains and safeguards its author.  When it’s finished, it’s as if the very ability to write is engulfed.  It’s not easy to bring it back to the light, it’s always a gamble. Those who write then, once they have stopped writing, become, like Proust’s Bergotte, unimportant, disappointing even.  For me publishing means deciding to send books into the public arena and counting on the self-sufficiency of the writing.  It’s useless, perhaps out of place, to look for readers: if the books deserve them, they will surely find them.

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The Times of India

Elena Ferrante: Man or woman, we love you!

Lopamudra Ghatak | TNN | Mar 30, 2016, 02.56 PM IST

HIGHLIGHTS

♦ Once you start reading Ferrante’s series, the story-teller’s gender becomes incidental as the plot gains control.
♦ In each of the characters, the hero or the heroine is a multitude of layers, a vicissitude of emotions and a bundle of contradictions. That explains why not a single character in the series is flat – every one of them is a round-up of the good, the bad and also the ugly.

Italian writer Elena Ferrante is in contention for this year’s Man Booker prize for her book, ‘The Story of The Lost Child’. If the author of the Neapolitan series – the last one in the line which has made the nomination – then it will be a surprise in ways more than one.For one, the world doesn’t know what Ferrante really looks like. And it seems that when the writer did ink the deal with the publishers for this and her other books, there was one condition: the writer’s job would be finished with the writing, and beyond that there would be no contribution to publicity or marketing for the book.
We may have heard of reclusive writers and authors who are loners, wanting to remain disconnected. But in an age where personal branding often Trumps (ah, yes, we all know that one) over substance, such shy writers come as as a surprise who want the world to simply appreciate their craft and not their (individual) form.

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Bookriot

INBOX/OUTBOX: APRIL 1, 2016

In the Queue (What I’m Reading Next)

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein — As I said, almost done with this one and I fear my desire to see Elena push Nino off a bridge won’t come to pass. Alas.

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Fiction Advocate

Imaginary Friends

socal mansion

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.

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Flavorwire

Will Elena Ferrante Win Against a Loaded Man Booker International Prize 2016 Longlist?

BY

The Story of the Lost Child

Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child is the frontrunner for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, but if it wins, it will have to beat out a longlist of some of the best translated fiction in the world, one that includes excellent novels by revered and award-winning writers like Marie NDiaye and Kenzaburō Ōe, alongside international up-and-comers like Eka Kurniawan and Fiston Mwanza Mujila. It should be said that the shortlist, announced yesterday, is among the most impressive in world literature, although the its gender imbalance among authors (if not translators) is still disappointing.

The 2016 edition of the prize is especially noteworthy because of its change in format. Last July, the Man Booker Prize announced that its biennial international edition would merge with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, which would create an annual prize that awards a single book rather than an author’s entire oeuvre. The 2015 winner, László Krasznahorkai, won for his entire literary output, including the novels The Melancholy of Resistanceand Seiobo There Below.

This year’s panel of five judges is now tasked with whittling down a longlist of 13 books to a shortlist of five, to be announced on April 14. The shortlisted authors and translators will each receive £1,000. On May 16, the Man Booker International Prize will announce its winning book. The author and translator of the work will be split a £50,000 award.

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The Times

 Will the real Elena Ferrante please stand up?

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Will the real Elena Ferrante please stand up?

Damian Whitworth

The most intriguing literary whodunnit in a generation has taken a new twist this week with an astonishing claim: it was the Neapolitan professor, in her study, with a laptop.

An investigation by an Italian historian-turned-sleuth has suggested the real identity of Elena Ferrante, the pseudonymous author of the “Neapolitan novels”, a quartet of international bestsellers that have been embraced passionately by readers, critics and those who love a bookish parlour game.

As sales of Ferrante’s books have raced past 350,000 in the UK and 1 million worldwide she has attracted fans ranging from the author Zadie Smith and the critic James Wood to Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon and Jeffrey Archer, who says Ferrante “does for Naples what Dickens did for London”.

Her popularity has sparked guesswork and gossip about her identity of a kind not seen since Joe Klein hid behind the “Anonymous” to write Primary Colors, the thinly veiled account of Bill Clinton’s campaign to become the 1992 Democratic presidential candidate.

The Neapolitan quartet tells the story of two girls, Elena and Lila, growing up in a poor Naples neighbourhood. Early on, they are separated by education — one continues at school, the other doesn’t — yet as their lives diverge, the friendship continues. The novels have been hailed for their detailed and deep depiction of female friendship. The women love, hate and use one another, but despite the resentments and rivalries they remain tied by their early friendship.

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The Guardian

My hero: Elena Ferrante by Margaret Drabble

Naples in the early 1960s.

Elena Ferrante’s novels have a driving and unconventional narrative power that has gripped readers across a wide cultural range. Mostly set in Naples, they evoke a city of beauty and violence, and tell stories of aspiration, defeat, birth, sex, death and ambition – thrillers without the vulgarity of contrived plots and sensational crimes.

They do have their literary contrivances; her acclaimed quartet abounds in cleverly deployed postmodern devices such as alter egos, lost texts, recurrent motifs and destroyed manuscripts, but the human interest is so overwhelming that we read on, volume after volume, hardly noticing the sophistication of the narration.

The books are passionate rather than playful, and, unusually, the last of the quartet The Story of the Lost Child, which has just been longlisted for the Man Booker International prize, is the best. She writes with embarrassing frankness about female sexuality and its contradictory impulses, describing jealousy and ugly ordinary sex, particularly in her deeply melancholy The Days of Abandonment, with an unprecedented and shaming veracity that outdoes Doris Lessing. Is she a feminist or a sociologist, or both?

Reading her novels is to sweep through Italian and European history, through many decades of embattled politics, from the shadows of postwar fascism in the 40s and 50s, through the insurgencies and assassinations of the Red Brigade in the 70s, to the cynicism and materialism of the so-called end of history. Her characters are alive and full of impassioned contradictions; they grow old as we grow old. They betray themselves and others as we betray ourselves. Elena Greco and her friend Lila, the one who got away and the one who stays, play out an entangled drama through time. Elena is, like her creator (whoever she may be) an intensely ambitious writer: she is confused, engaged, ardent, brilliant. The range is huge: a lifetime’s oeuvre delivered in a decade.

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The Irish Times

Longlist for International Man Booker prize announced

The longlist for the International Man Booker prize has been announced with 13 authors and their 14 translators in contention for the £50,000 (€65,000) award.

It is the first time a longlist has been announced for the international version of the Man Booker which is now awarded annually on the basis of a single book.

Judges considered 155 books and the prize money will be divided between the author of the winning book and its translator.

The list includes books from 12 countries and nine languages while nominees include two Nobel Prize winners and two debut authors.

The Story of the Lost Child – Italy

Elena Ferrante

Translated by Ann Goldstein

Published by Europa Editions UK

The fourth and final instalment of the Neapolitan Novels series, The Story of the Lost Child is the saga of the friendship between two women: brilliant, bookish Elena and fiery, uncontainable Lila.

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RTE

Anonymous author makes Man Booker longlist

The author behind the best-selling Neapolitan novels is in the running for the Man Booker International Prize, her first major international literary nomination, but the writer’s true identity remains unknown.

The mysterious woman, who writes under the pseudonym Elena Ferrante, has been named on the 13-strong long-list of for The Story of the Lost Child, which is the fourth and final chapter in the Neapolitan novel series.

Daniela Petracco, the UK director of Europa Editions which publishes Ferrante’s work in Britain, told the Independent UK that the author has no plans to reveal her identity in the near future.

“She’s happy to be successful but as far as I can tell, it’s not that important to her. She’s a writer who needs to write in order to live. Having her books read is the most important thing,” he said.

When asked if anyone has come close to finding out Ferrante’s true identity, he said that she has yet to be unmasked and revealed the only people who met her in person are Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri of Edizioni E/O, Europa Editions’ parent company, and Ferrante’s Rome-based publishers.

“No one has succeeded so far,” Petracco said. “She is happy that all of her acclaim has come on the strength of the books alone,” he added.

The Story of the Lost Child centres on a middle-aged, divorced mother devoted to her work as an English professor. After the departure of her grown-up daughters, she takes a holiday on the Italian coast. After a few days things become unsettling; on the beach she encounters a family whose brash behaviour proves menacing.

Her work is published in 39 countries and has sold just under 900,000 copies in the US and more than 300,000 in the UK.

This year’s Man Booker long-list boasts books from twelve countries including Nobel prize-winner Orhan Pamuk and a political novel banned in China.

A shortlist of six books will be revealed on April 14, with each nominated author and translator receiving £1,000. The winning book will then receive a £50,000 prize, which will be divided between the author and translator.

The winner will be announced on May 16 at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

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The Economic Times

Man Booker 2016 nominations out, Elena Ferrante, Orhan Pamuk in contention

The Man Booker International Prize 2016 nominations are out. Nobel prize-winners Orhan Pamuk and Kenzaburo Oe from Japan, and pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante are among the 13 authors in contention for the title.

The Man Booker International Prize celebrates the literary luminaries from around the globe each year.
According to a report published in the Guardian, ‘The longlist has shortlisted 13 books from 155 contenders, and it consists of authors from 12 countries, written in 9 different languages’.

Also, this is the first time “Man Booker International Prize has joined forces with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and is now awarded annually on the basis of a single book. The £50,000 prize will be divided equally between the author of the winning book and its translator. The judges consider ..

 

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The Independent

Man Booker International Prize 2016: Mysterious author Elena Ferrante nominated for prize

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Her work is now published in 39 countries, selling close to 900,000 copies in the US and more than 300,000 in Britain

Nick Clark Arts Correspondent

Her books have sold nearly two million copies worldwide, brought literary tourists flocking to Naples, attracted fans including Zadie Smith and Alice Sebold, and inspired fashions and recipes.

Now the Italian author of the “Neapolitan novels” is in the running for her first major international literary prize. The only problem is that nobody knows – or is telling, at least – the identity of the mysterious woman writing under the pseudonym Elena Ferrante.

Ferrante has been named on the 13-strong longlist of The Man Booker International Prize for The Story of the Lost Child, the last of four novels in her acclaimed Neapolitan series, released last year in Britain.

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BBC

‘Anonymous’ author on international Man Booker longlist

The 13 longlisted books

A best-selling author who writes under a pseudonym has been longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize.

Italian Elena Ferrante is nominated for The Story of the Lost Child, the last of her “Neapolitan” series of novels.

Among the other 12 authors on the longlist is Orhan Pamuk – who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006.

A shortlist of six books will be unveiled on 14 April, with each nominated author and translator receiving £1,000.

The winning book will then receive a £50,000 prize – divided equally between the author and the book’s translator.

The winner will be announced on 16 May at a formal dinner at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Ferrante’s biography in the longlist announcement reads: “Elena Ferrante was born in Naples. This is all we know about her… [she] has stayed resolutely out of public view.”

The author has previously stated her belief that “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors”.

Her anonymity has not stopped her from gaining high profile fans such as Zadie Smith and Alice Sebold.

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The Bookseller

Ferrante and Nobel Prize winners on Man Booker International longlist

by Katherine Cowdrey

The longlist for the Man Booker International Prize 2016 has been revealed, including two Nobel Prize winners, two previous finalists and two debut authors.

The Man Booker International ‘dozen’ of 13 candidates, longlisted for a work of literary fiction translated into English by UK publishers, was whittled down from 155 entries to comprise authors: José Eduardo Agualusa, Elena Ferrante, Han Kang, Maylis de Kerangal, Eka Kurniawan, Yan Lianke, Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Ruduan Nassar, Marie NDiaye, Kenzaburō Ōe, Aki Ollikainen, Orhan Pamuk and Robert Seethaler.

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The Guardian

Man Booker International 2016 longlist includes banned and pseudonymous authors

Elena Ferrante, Orhan Pamuk and Kenzaburō Ōe in running for £50,000 prize for authors and translators, as award rewards individual books for first time

Novels by the pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante, Nobel prize-winner Orhan Pamuk and a political novel banned in mainland China have all been longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International prize, celebrating the finest in global fiction translated to English.

The 13-book longlist was whittled down from 155 and consists of authors from 12 countries, in nine different languages. Two Nobel prize-winners – Pamuk and Japan’s Kenzaburō Ōe – sit alongside two debut authors: Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila for Tram 83 and Finnish author Aki Ollikainen for White Hunger.

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Swirl & Thread

Take-2-300x199I saw these books for the first time in December 2015 in Waterstones Bookshop. I was immediately attracted to the storyline so (as a result of a very BIG hint!!!) I received the first two as a Christmas gift and purchased Books 3 & 4 in January….I was in love!!!

There are four books in this series, all published by Europa Editions. These books were originally written in Italian but brilliantly translated into English by Ann Goldstein.

  1. Book 1 – My Brilliant Friend (Published 2012)
  2. Book 2 – The Story of a New Name (Published 2013)
  3. Book 3 – Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay Behind (Published 2014)
  4. Book 4 – The Story of the Lost Child (Published 2015)

As you can see the books were published in sequence annually, as they were supposed to be read one a year. I went for it & read the whole series, with a small break after Book 2, and completed the series at the end of February 2016.

These amazing books are primarily a story about female friendship set against the backdrop of a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples in the 1950’s and winds its way through the lives of the characters throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s.

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Booklist online

Top 10 Women’s Fiction: 2016.

The top 10 women’s fiction from the last 12 months (reviewed in Booklist between March 1, 2015, and February 15, 2016) cover the spectrum, from romantic chick lit to more than one literary title. These novels deliver something for just about every women’s-fiction fan.

The Story of the Lost Child. By Elena Ferrante. Tr. by Ann Goldstein. 2015. Europa, $18 (9781609452865).

The fourth and final volume of Ferrante’s Neapolitan series finds Elena pursuing love and her writing career with passionate fury in the late 1970s. She moves into her best friend Lila’s building, and the two begin a period of calm stability, uncommon in their decades-long friendship.

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True Love Stories

Book Series Explores the Pain, Passion and Power of Friendship

TS-508094024 Italian woman at bridge

If you’re looking for a series of books you can fall in love with, take a look at Elena Ferrante’s best-selling, four-book series of Neapolitan Novels. We noticed that the last book in the series, The Story of the Lost Child, made a lot of “Best Books of 2015” lists including NPR, the New York Times and O Magazine, so we decided to take a look for ourselves. The books also made our list of favorites. You’re in for a treat!

Here’s a summary of each book for you:


My Brilliant Friend 
is the first book in the series and it’s 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 these two women that 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, Italy. Growing up on these 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 whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, 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, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

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Sydney Review of Books

SHE THINKS SHE IS THE BOSS

BY MELINDA HARVEY

Italy, July 2015. In one of the many delightful old towns dotting the Tuscan hills, a stone’s throw from a seventeenth-century fountain whose wayward spurts and trickles are produced by a child Dionysus squashing grapes, a twenty-something gelatologist works wonders out of a hole-in-the-wall. Holding out a taster spoon to us he says proudly, ‘This is made with Amedei chocolate. Very expensive ingredient! But it’s necessary. I want it to be the greatest.’ And it’s true that his gelato tastes better than anything we tried in Florence. A heatwave is on. In Rome, zoo animals are eating ice-blocks to keep cool. In Milan, judges have given permission to barristers to take off their heavy black robes in court. Our gelatologist has become a very popular young man. An assistant is hired to help him satisfy the high demand. She has fair hair and pale eyes – a modern-day Botticelli in a soda jerk’s hat. She scrapes our gusti into coppette with insouciance. She does not acknowledge us as regular customers, but neither she does she display any disapproval of our sugary diet or bad Italian. She is simply somewhere else, or wishes that she were. And it is easy to believe that she is destined for greater things than this. One afternoon we turn into the shop to find the gelatologist gripping the Botticelli’s chin between his thumb and index finger. Her body is still facing the street but her head has been wrenched to meet his gaze. He is firing off in a rapid, animated Italian; she is enduring the assault through glassy eyes. But now he notices us. His face melts to a smile. Then he says with the confidence of somebody who believes that any misgivings we might be feeling about the scene we have just witnessed will automatically lift with the information he is about to deliver, ‘This girl … She thinks she is the boss!’

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The Huffington Post

Spend Valentine’s Day With The Independent Women Of Literature

Sometimes going stag is the way to go.

Maddie Crum Books and Culture Writer, The Huffington Post

Lila from The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

By the time she’s reached middle age, Lila — one of the women that comprises the very real, complicated friendship that Ferrante’s series centers on — has been married, divorced, and partnered up again. But none of these romantic pursuits have colored her principles, or her ambitious career pursuits. She may be stubborn and competitive, but she’s unabashedly herself.

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The Phraser

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

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.

Naples, Italy

Naples, Italy

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Deccan Herald

Runaway hits

The Story of the Lost Child
By Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
Like the three books that precede it in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, this brilliant conclusion offers a clamorous exploration of female friendship set against a backdrop of poverty, ambition & violence.

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The Hindu

The year that was, in six books

The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante

You must have been sleeping all year if you evaded news of Ferrante. For years Ferrante’s fiction had been published to great acclaim and sold in significant quantities, especially in Italy, but globally 2015 can be called the Year of Ferrante. Lost Child, the concluding volume in the Naples quartet, came out in English translation late in the year, but by then Ferrante fever had already built up, and conversations can still be heard about which of the four books about friends Elena and Lila one should begin with. Believe it or not, many recommend starting with the second, looping back to the first, and then to the third and fourth! There is still a mystery about who Ferrante is, whether “she” is in fact a woman, and there has been much analysis about what it means to be able to remain anonymous in our hyper-wired and networked age. And sportingly, in the interviews she occasionally does, she takes the inevitable question about her “identity”, without of course giving anything away.

 

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The Week

The best fiction books of 2015

1. The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (Europa, $18)

Elena Ferrante’s latest work completes a quartet of novels that just might rank as “the greatest achievement of fiction in the postwar era,” said Charles Finch at theChicago Tribune. The Italian author, who writes under a pen name, has brought such honesty and insight to her portrayal of a profound, decades-long friendship between two women from a Naples slum that the experience of reading the books can be “something close to spiritual.” In this concluding volume, Elena, who narrates, returns to Naples as a successful writer but finds herself again assuming the role of sidekick to brilliant, undereducated Lila, said Maureen Corrigan at NPR. The friends raise their children together, but the rivalry between them never dies, and after Elena breaks a vow and writes a novel about Lila, Lila breaks off contact and vanishes. The book’s conclusion “masterfully returns to the opening moments of the first novel,” revealing depths we couldn’t initially imagine. “Brava, Elena Ferrante, whoever you are.”
A dissent: Compared with the earlier books, the three-decade-long story in this finale feels “more roughly sketched,” said Claire Messud at theFinancial Times.

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The Literary Stew

Best Books of 2015

2015 wasn’t a spectacular reading year for me but I’ve still managed to pick ten good books from the forty-five that I read. It’s still a varied list with two non-fiction novels, two fantasy books, three modern classics and one thriller. I’m writing this post right now on my phone whilst at a beach without a laptop and with a crappy internet connection so please forgive the brief descriptions of each book. Here’s my top ten of 2015 in no particular order.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
The final novel in the Neapolitan series. It’s as brilliant as the previous ones but sadder and more harrowing.

 

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The East-Hampton Star

Best-Read Man’s 10 Best of 2015

By Kurt Wenzel

“The Story of the Lost Child”

By Elena Ferrante

The fourth and final installment of Ms. Ferrante’s Neapolitan cycle. The books follow two women — the brilliant, inward-looking Elena and her larger-than-life friend Lila — as they try to escape their violent, provincial upbringing in Naples. In this volume, Elena returns to Naples to be with the man she has always loved and tries to renew her friendship with Lila.

Like the previous three installments, “The Story of the Lost Child” offers little in the way of plot. Instead, Ms. Ferrante offers lifelike portraits of two of the most flawed and fascinating women in contemporary literature, along with a comprehensive look at a country painfully trying to drag itself from cloying tradition into modernity. (Europa Editions, $18)

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A Little Blog of Books

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

‘The Story of the Lost Child’ is the fourth and final novel by Elena Ferrante in her series of Neapolitan novels translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. While the third volume Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay ended with Elena and Nino seemingly walking off into the sunset, it will come as no surprise to readers that it isn’t long before all is not well in their relationship. Having returned to Naples to be with Nino, Elena is reunited with Lila and becomes embroiled in the politics and violence of their neighbourhood once again.

2015 was the year Elena Ferrante’s consistently excellent series about the friendship and rivalry between childhood friends Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo really took off in the English-speaking world mostly through word-of-mouth recommendations. Even though it’s very rare for me to read consecutive books by the same author, I read ‘The Story of the Lost Child’ immediately after finishing ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’, such is the power of the Neapolitan novels.

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The Artery

Fiction, Biography, Poetry And More — The Best Books Of 2015

Maureen Dezell)

1. “The Story of the Lost Child,” by Elena Ferrante: Ferrante brings her Neapolitan quartet to a poignant, provocative close in “The Story of the Lost Child.” While the book lacks some of the vivacity and bombast of others in the series, it provides a worthy conclusion to a breathtakingly original, 60-year saga of a “splendid, shadowy friendship” between the sober and studious Elena Greco, and her “terrible, dazzling” friend Lila Cerullo. Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels are often described as stories of female friendship. It’s an accurate but anemic depiction of the passionate, fantastically fraught, relationship between the two.

 

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Words Without Borders

WWB Team Picks: Favorite and Future Reads of 2015/2016

Abby Comstock-Gay
WWB Campus Associate Editor

I’ve thought long and hard to say something that is not Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions), since it has gotten so much attention this year and there is a lot more great translated work out there, but this last part of the tetralogy was truly my most memorable literary experience this year. Within the story of Lenu, Ferrante—through the translation of Ann Goldstein—says so much about feminism, politics, friendship, self-doubt, while at the same time painting a picture of a time and a place that is both specifically local and undeniably universal.

 

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Australian Book Review

Books of the year 2015

Ian Donaldson

The story of the lost child - colour OE

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet – My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child (Text, 11/15) – was for me, as evidently for many, the outstanding literary event of the year: a powerful story of female friendship rooted in the poverty of postwar Naples, and subtly overshadowed, as the years pass, by loss, mystery, and moral ambiguity.

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Coastal Illustrated

#FerranteFever is raging

Italy produces few international bestsellers, but in recent years four volumes by an anonymous Italian author have become a fictional juggernaut that no one saw coming. The author is Elena Ferrante, but it’s a pseudonym because she is someone who wishes to remain totally private and succeeds beautifully. Her “Neapolitan Novels” start with “My Brilliant Friend” (2011), followed by “The Story of a New Name” and “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.” The fourth book, published this year, “The Story of the Lost Child,” brings this remarkable epic to a close. The books are high drama — set in an exceptionally vivid world and focusing on the lifelong attachment of two women over a 60-year period.

Lila and Elena inhabit an operatic universe of violence, jealousy, love triangles and political upheaval; they are unforgettable characters in the grand tradition of the 19th-century novel. Growing up in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood in Naples, Elena is the hard-working, conscientious one, who wins a place at a good school; she escapes to a new life in Florence, and becomes the writer who confides this story in intense, analytical detail. Her best friend Lila is the charismatic, fierce, impulsive one who stays at home: a “terrible, dazzling girl” who fascinates everyone in the neighborhood. She drops out of school, marries young and badly.

The novel, taking place from the late 70s to present day, opens when Elena’s circumstances change. She’s lived away from Naples for a long time, but Lila persuades her it’s time to come home. The two become neighbors as well as friends. Proximity and shared experiences make them closer as adults than they ever have been, until tragedy strikes Lila, changing her so utterly that Elena can’t help her.

The novel’s top layer is packed with the usual events of ordinary lives: babies, teenagers, estranged husbands, philandering lovers, troubled siblings, dying parents. This domesticity takes place in a community in which murder is chillingly commonplace, during an era of Italian history known for political instability and corruption. There’s even an earthquake, recounted with terrifying eye-witness immediacy.

The teeming surfaces of the Neapolitan novels — and this one particularly — effectively conceal its depths, but once you find them, they shimmer and move. Shift your focus, and the friendship becomes less the story’s center and more of a premise and framework for Elena to review her life. Another shift and you see how much of the novel’s significant action is contrived but balanced; even the earthquake’s literal seismic shift has metaphoric weight.

So much happens in “The Story of the Lost Child” that it’s almost a shock when it wraps up the various strands to return to the cycle’s opening events. This clever, haunting storytelling has earned the quartet of books and its author a cultish following. Ferrante slowly beguiles her readers — if she hooks you, your reward is an expansive, multi-dimensional testament of friendship and social history, a heady blend of personal and political, intimate and epic. From a literary perspective, Ferrante’s approach is masterly. She uses the melodrama of soap opera to tell a fantastically good story, all the while sneaking in piercing observations, like a file baked into a cake. Whoever Elena Ferrante is, she is often called “a 21st-century Dickens.” Well-deserved praise indeed.

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Kenny Coble

Bookseller at Ekkiott Bay Books

I don’t know anything about how anyone chooses the best books of the year. It’s not like any of us have read every book published and it’s not like there’s any objective way to rank books, so what makes something best? I don’t know. Maybe everyone else does. I’m a favorites person.

These are my fourteen favorite books of 2015, in no particular order.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
I read the last page seven times in a row. Not only did I not want the series to end, but that last page was so perfect, so stunning, so exactly what I needed.

 

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BBC

The 10 best books of 2015

(Credit: iStock)

Jane Ciabattari picks the novels, memoirs and short story collections that deserved a place on your shelf this year.

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Time

The 10 Best Fiction Books

  1. The Story of the Lost Child
    Elena Ferrante

    Ferrante’s wrenching novel, the final volume of her Neapolitan quartet, plays out against a backdrop of political tumult and social upheaval but sticks brilliantly to its focus: the bond between two women, Lila and Elena, whose ambition and charisma at times unite them and at times bitterly divide them.

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The Guardian

Winners and losers: publishers pick the 2015 books they loved, missed and envied

Juliet Mabey
Publisher, Oneworld

I wish I’d published: The book that brought out the green-eyed monster in me (and every editor will know what I mean) is most definitely Mary Beard’s history of ancient Rome, SPQR – it’s exactly the sort of brilliantly researched, authoritatively written and accessible non-fiction that we particularly love to publish. A very close second would be Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (the fourth and final one was published this year). It is terrific to see translated literary fiction achieve this level of success, and hopefully it will encourage readers to explore other writers from around the world – and booksellers to support them.

Lennie Goodings
Publisher, Virago

I wish I’d published: The extraordinary, delicious, maddening, mysterious Elena Ferrante. I have the fourth one, The Story of the Lost Child, to devour over Christmas.

Alexandra Pringle
Editor in chief, Bloomsbury

I wish I’d published: I will have to join the legion of other publishers who I am sure will say Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet. Jhumpa Lahiri told me about her a few years ago and I read them passionately, obsessively, longingly.

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Verso Books

Staff Picks: Books of the Year 2015—Chosen by Verso

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2015); My Brilliant Friend (2012); The Story of a New Name (2013); Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay(2014).

Several of us in the Verso team received our diagnosis this summer from a certified medical doctor who scrutinized our exhausted faces, distracted eyes and dramatic swings of emotion: “I’m sorry. You have come down with a severe case of Ferrante fever. The worst will pass but the hunger will never fade.” This fever of addiction stole sleep, stoked obsession and caused dangerous and foolish behaviour, such as crossing the road whilst reading—but it also brought new and old friends together in a happy haze of intoxication. Thus, here are some snippets from my brilliant friends that illustrate our year of reading Ferrante:

“The clandestine clubbishness that envelopes women who’ve read and immersed themselves in the texts shows how little female desire, anger and vulnerability is accurately and confidently explored in literature and culture. Finding other readers leads to a torrent of questions: which character are you? Did the final page destroy you? What happened with the shoes?”—Dawn Foster

“Are Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels even books? I began to doubt it when I talked about them with other people – mostly women. We returned to life too quickly as we spoke: who was your Lila, the childhood friend who effortlessly dazzled everyone? […] The usual distance between fiction and life collapses when you read Ferrante. She knows it too: writing the Neapolitan quartet, she has said, was like ‘having the chance to live my life over again’.
“It would be enough to have books in which we recognise the truth of women’s lives in all its darkness, but the Neapolitan quartet also has an almost deranging narrative pleasure, delivered in a style that’s more of an admission that the author cares too much about the truth to bother with style. The publication of the fourth and final volume is a terrible moment.”—Joanna Biggs

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Book Chase

The Elena Ferrante Series Reviewed (The Story of the Lost Child)

I recently completed The Story of the Lost Child, the fourth (and final) book in what has become known as the purposely mysterious Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Series.  The books explore the decades long friendship between two Italian women who met as children in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Naples.  My Brilliant Friend, first published in 2012, seemed to come from nowhere as it became a 2015 bestseller in, I suppose, anticipation of the publication later in the year of the fourth book in the series, The Story of the Lost Child.  Between these two came 2013’sThe Story of a New Name and 2014’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.

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New York Magazine / The Cut

‘I’M HAVING A FRIENDSHIP AFFAIR’

A look at the intensely obsessive, deeply meaningful, occasionally undermining, marriage-threatening, slightly pathological platonic intimacy that can happen between women.

By

(…) As girls and young women, we are allowed our friendships. We are afforded our close, intimate, intense relationships with one another. It is accepted and expected of us. On television, in novels, in every corner of popular culture, we are inundated by examples of women enmeshed in joyful, painful, complicated, stormy relationships with each other: the girls of Girls, the women of Sex and the City, the novels of Elena Ferrante. In The Story of a New Name, Lena thinks of her tortured, lifelong friendship with Lila: “It was as if, because of an evil spell, the joy or sorrow of one required the sorrow or joy of the other; even our physical aspect, it seemed to me, shared in that swing.” A friend tells me the image of Strawberry Shortcake and Blueberry Muffin locked arm-in-arm is seared deeply into her brain. Others: Think of Thelma and Louise, Hannah and her sisters,Truth & Beauty, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, the Golden Girls. According to the Times, celebrity female BFFs are the new power couples.

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Material Witness

Five Books Of 2015

I’ve fallen short of my book-a-week target for 2015 by about 10 books, but what’s missing in quantity has been more than made up for in quality.

Picking five favourites has therefore been so difficult – particularly as four could be by the same author – that I’ve cheated a little. (Is quadrilogy an actual word?)

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

There’s not a lot left unsaid about these books, not least by me, as I reviewed #1 My Brilliant Friendin January and #s 2 and 3, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and  Those Who Stay in the summer.

These books had an emotional charge to them that is rarely matched as well as a fierce honesty in the story-telling that made them compelling and uncomfortable in turn. When you start dreaming about characters in the book you’re reading, you know they have either deeply affected you or scared the life out of you. In this case it erred toward the former although Lila is more than capable of the latter.

Closing the book at the end of volume 4, The Story of the Lost Child, was the beginning of a grieving process. I’ve filled the gap these books left – to some extent anyway – with the Ferrante back catalogue. Amazingly, The Days of Abandonment, a story with incredibly strong echoes of the Lila and Lenú saga, managed to turn the emotional intensity up even higher.

These are books to be reckoned with, as memorable as anything I’ve ever read.

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The New York Times Book Review

Poetry Round Table: What’s Your Favorite Poem?

ELENA FERRANTE: Amelia Rosselli (1930-96) is one of the Italian poets of the last century who pushed herself most forcefully, most painfully and most imprudently beyond the limits destiny had set for her. Among her many “superb sheets of disobedience,” I recommend “Sleep” (1953-66, but published in Italy in 1992), a collection of poems written in English in the grip of Italian. I especially love “Well, so, patience to our souls.” I like that word, “patience,” which, in the 10 lines that follow — in a jiffy run, as we are “left alone with our sister / navel” — is struck by aggressive verbs like run, snap, tear and ravish, and by “flaming strands of opaque red lava” while “the wind cries oof! / and goes off.”
— Elena Ferrante is the author, most recently, of the novel “The Story of the Lost Child,” the concluding volume of her Neapolitan tetralogy.

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Forbes

Why You Should Embrace Being A Nobody

by J. Maureen Henderson

One of the biggest literary stories of the year has centered around Elena Ferrante, the Italian novelist who released the final installment in her popular Neapolitan series this past September. The catch? Elena Ferrante is a pen name and the true identity of the author behind the books beloved by critics and readers alike is a mystery. In an interview with Vanity Fair, the publicity-averse novelist addresses the speculation about her identity. For her, the work she pens speaks for itself and would not be strengthened by personal notoriety. Deliberately choosing to be an enigma has given her unprecedented creative freedom:

“Indeed, I have my private life and as far as my public life goes I am fully represented by my books. My choice was something different. I simply decided once and for all, over 20 years ago, to liberate myself from the anxiety of notoriety and the urge to be a part of that circle of successful people, those who believe they have won who-knows-what. This was an important step for me. Today 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,” she says.

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GalleyCat

 

David Macaulay and Elena Ferrante Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

By Maryann Yin

(Debuted at #14 in Paperback Fiction) The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante: “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.” (Sept. 2013)

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Citizen-Times

Rob Neufeld: What’s all the buzz about Elena Ferrante?

Sometimes, a literary phenomenon comes upon the scene, and you just have to lay things down and see what’s up. For instance, there’s the “Neapolitan Quartet” by Elena Ferrante (a pen name; the author’s identity remains a secret).

The final book in this series — “The Story of the Lost Child” — is landing on many best-of-2015 lists, and Ferrante’s being hailed as “one of the great novelists of our time,” as well as the most important Italian writer of her generation.

Belatedly, I go to the first volume, “My Brilliant Friend,” to report what makes her work stand out.

In the prologue, a man named Rino calls his mother’s old friend, Elena Greco, the narrator, to report that Rino’s mom has been missing without a trace for two weeks.

“What a good son,” the narrator says sarcastically, “a large man, forty years old, who hadn’t worked in his life, just a small-time crook and spendthrift. I could imagine how carefully he had done his searching. Not at all. He had no brain, and in his heart he had only himself.”

This is wonderful. We’re going to be led through the story by a narrator with an attitude, and we’ll want to learn how that developed. When the story finishes its 10 years of life from a half a century ago, we’ll come back to the prologue to read more into it.

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Freight Books

Freight Staff and Authors Pick Favourite Reads of 2015

Laura Waddell, Digital Marketing Executive at Freight Books

The most significant reading experience I’ve had in 2015 has beenElena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series translated by Ann Goldstein, the last of which, The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions), was published in English in September. Ferrante depicts what it is to be a working class woman from a Neopolitan village in this story spanning the lifetime of two friends. Although these parallel lives take different paths, Lenu and Lila are inescapably impacted by the class and gender situation of their births throughout, in ways both obvious and eye-openingly subtle. The story of the two friends is set to the backdrop of violent Italian politics in the mid twentieth century. Essentially, the novels are an exploration of pervasive systems of power told through the domestic, romantic and working lives of two characters who utterly got under my skin. Having finished the series I’m still grieving it being over.

 

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Fader

What The Best Authors Of 2015 Read This Year

Paul Murray, Author of The Mark and the Void

Beginning with My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet follows the interweaving lives of two women, Elena and Lila, from their girlhood in Naples through the turbulent Italy of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. It sounded to me when I first heard about it like exactly the kind of thing I wouldn’t like. But the voices of the characters are so powerfully alive, the events so vivid, the relationship between the women so stormy and complex, that the books hit me like a fist, over and over again. The Quartet is a staggering achievement, but it’s also unputdownably exciting, smart, passionate and alive. It will blow you away.

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Oldie

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

Europa Editions £11.99

Review by Teresa Waugh

 

One of the first things I heard about the mysterious Elena Ferrante – before I had read any of her novels – was that she might be a man. A mere glance at a few pages of her writing makes this hypothesis seem unlikely.

A while back my curiosity led me to search the internet for a clue as to her real identity – and indeed I came across an Italian article in which the writer claimed categorically that Elena Ferrante, a woman in her late sixties, was married to a named Milanese publisher. I can no longer find the reference; only the statement that some items have been removed for data protection, all of which feeds my suspicion, that like Roberto Saviano, her fellow Neapolitan and scourge of the Camorra, she is persona non grata with the Naples Mafia whose tentacles now stretch right across Italy.

Or, like Flaubert, Ferrante wishes posterity to believe that the artist ‘has not lived’. Or perhaps like the great Sicilian novelist, Giovanni Verga, she simply wishes that the hand of the writer remain invisible.

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Jezebel

The Best Things Jezebel Staff Read in 2015, Or a Reading List for Your Holiday Downtime

The Best Things Jezebel Staff Read in 2015, Or a Reading List for Your Holiday Downtime

From your favorite purveyors of beautiful online garbage, here are the books, essays and pieces of journalism that’ve stuck with us throughout the year. It’s a long list and a good one: we hope it’s useful as you prepare for the plane trips, family avoidance, blissful solitude and last-minute presents that will close out 2015.

Rachel Vorona Cote

The Neapolitan Novels (especially Book 4), by Elena Ferrante: There are certain books that I finish, only to realize that the desire propelling me to keep reading was a survival mechanism: the tapestry of Lena and Lila’s long intimacy so vividly depicts the way friendships become worlds of their own, the simultaneous ecstasy and peril of investing so much of yourself in another person—and regarding them as a muse. The last book in the series is probably not the *best* of the four; book two, The Story of a New Name, is probably the strongest. But I cannot help but feel the most affection for book four as the installment that traces out the twilight of a capacious friendship. The ending smarts, but in the best way.

Bobby Finger

The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante: This could actually apply to the entire series of Neapolitan novels, all of which I read over the course of the year. Though My Brilliant Friend took some time to fall in love with, it was a love that kept growing—book after book—all the way to TSotLC’s quietly satisfying conclusion. I cared more about the lives of Lila and Lenu than I ever have for two fictional characters, and watching them both traverse through their ever-evolving lives—periodically taking flight, though never leaving each other’s orbit—was as moving and hypnotic a reading experience that I feel is possible for a writer to create. While waiting for TSotLC, I devoured the brief and mysterious Troubling Love, as well, which I found captivating in a host of different ways.

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The Wall Street Journal

Speakeasy – Some Surprises Stand Out in the Best-Book Lists for 2015

By JENNIFER MALONEY

Critics disagreed sharply on the best work of fiction this year, but amid the plethora of best-book-of-the-year lists there were some clear, and surprising, winners.

Two of the biggest surprises were a posthumous short-story collection and a satirical novel about race relations, both of which came seemingly out of nowhere to earn top spots, lifting their profiles – and their sales.

“A Manual for Cleaning Women,” a bracing short-story collection by the late Lucia Berlin, was named on eight out of 21 lists reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Paul Beatty‘s “The Sellout,” a novel in which the black narrator tries to reinstate segregation and slavery, earned at least half a dozen mentions.

That put them both in the company of novels that so far this year had enjoyed much more buzz: Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life” and Elena Ferrante’s “The Story of the Lost Child” (tied with 12 mentions); Lauren Groff’s “Fates and Furies” (nine) and Jonathan Franzen’s “Purity” (seven).

(…)

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Bustle

9 Books With Final Chapters That Completely Shocked You

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The Frisky

Here are the shining gems pulled out of the constantly-flowing river of garbage that culture can be. Treat this as your reading list for the quiet weeks before and after the holidays, or buy any and all of these for anyone you forgot about this year.

A notable chunk of 2015 was spent binge-reading the works of Elena Ferrante, particularlyThe Neapolitan Novels, so it’s no shocker that the Neapolitan finale The Story of The Lost Child was one of my favorite reads of 2015. Seamlessly marrying meticulous prose with the ability to show a bird’s eye view of a city and its people, Ferrante portrays the paths of the two best friends with an honest complexity that forces you to nod and admit your ugliest flaws as you’re reading along. The Neapolitan novels in general, and especially the melancholic conclusion of The Story of The Lost Child forced me to reflect on the occasional jealousies, enduring loyalties and necessary hypocrisy present in my closest friendships. She’s basically a doctor that tears your guts out with her unrelenting-yet-compassionate prose and leaves them piled there in front of you, as you feel like a confused and yet grateful goddamn idiot. Also, she does an amazing job addressing the complex relationships between women and their bodies.

Read her shit, I guarantee even if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll have some sort of uncomfortable and necessary internal dialogues spark up. – Bronwyn Isaac

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Independent

Literary Fiction of the Year by Katy Guest: ‘All this to savour – and then the thrill of a new Harper Lee, too’

Katy Guest

 

Schermata 2015-12-17 alle 16.34.56

(…) Speaking of classics, the fourth in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet was published this year, increasing the number of readers around the world who now realise Ferrante’s brilliance. The Story of the Lost Child (Europa, £11.99) concludes the story of Elena and Lila – one of the most compelling female friendships in fiction.

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The Daily Mail

All Booked up for Christmas

Forget leftover turkey and board games, YOU’s books editor Kate Figes picks titles that will have everyone page-turning through Boxing Day

SAGA ADDICTS THE NEAPOLITAN QUARTET by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions). These four mesmerising books of love and friendship in southern Italy, beginning with My Brilliant Friend and ending with The Story of the Lost Child, will keep everybody quiet and happy over Christmas. RRP £11.99 each.

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The Times

Times writers’ top picks of 2015

French author Michel Houellebecq

Rachel Sylvester
Elena Ferrante is the literary child of Jane Austen and John Steinbeck — her delicately perceptive social observation has an angry undercurrent of political protest. The Neopolitan novels – My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child — had me gripped all year. This series tells the story of two girls, Elena and Lila, growing up in a poor neighbourhood of Naples. Although their paths diverge, their lives remain entwined. It’s a wonderful portrayal of female friendship that also explores sexual jealousy, motherhood and class. The books are beautiful but never mawkish.

Peter Brookes
Elena Ferrante’s four Neopolitan novels are not that patronising put-down, “women’s literature”. For a start, I’ve been totally absorbed by them. A complex story of a female friendship, narrated by a woman, it’s tough and uncompromising, like Naples itself. William Boyd’sSweet Caress also has a female narrator, the photojournalist Amory Clay, whose work takes her to a variety of exotic locations (1930s Berlin, war-torn Vietnam, hippy California), all ripe for a TV adaptation, no doubt. It’s in the same sweep-of-the century genre as his The New Confessions and Any Human Heart, without quite reaching their heights (you can’t quite believe in Amory). Like all Boyd, though, it’s meticulously researched and a gripping read. Clive James, in Latest Readings, serves up brief essays that contain more wisdom, humour and erudition than one would expect from so short a book. A world in a grain of sand.

Alice Thomson
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels feel like a cross between The Godfather, Lace and Proust. Every time you can’t take any more of the violence,corruption, sex and sausage factories, the writing pulls you back. The range of characters is astonishing, but it is the relationship between the two girls from Naples, Elena and Lila, that is so compelling. They feud, compete, support and love each other over the decades under the shadow of Vesuvius. It is a mesmerising tale of Italy in the 20th century, and almost never mentions pizza.

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Electric Lit

Electric Literature’s Best Novels of 2015

The subtitle of The Story of the Lost Child, “The fourth and final Neapolitan Novel,” broadcasts to Ferrante devotees and momentous and bittersweet occasion: the conclusion of the emotional, intellectually stimulating, and, at times, soap-operatic saga of Lila and Lenù, and their lifelong friendship that begins and ends in a working-class neighborhood in Naples. The Neapolitan novels are habitually referred to as a story of female friendship, however that description, especially in light of this stunning fourth novel, has always felt reductive. They are less the story of female friendship that the story of female identity, particularly female intellectual identity, and how relationships–platonic, romantic, and maternal–threaten, challenge and shape that identity.

Readers are highly recommended to enjoy these books sequentially, beginning with My Brilliant Friend, but for those who can’t wait to dive into The Story of the Lost Child may refer to our study guide, “Previously on the Neapolitan Novels.”

– Halimah Marcus, Editorial Director, Electric Literature

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The New Yorker

The Books We Loved in 2015

15-Thurman-Books-2015

This was a year of voyages—and the tempestuous one of reading Elena Ferrante. I bought “My Brilliant Friend” in a New Delhi bookshop and finished it on a barge in Kerala. I read “The Story of a New Name”in a haveli overlooking the Ganges in Varanasi. In Havana, I stayed on the top floor of a spartan convent. I felt I should have been reading “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” under the covers, but it was too hot. It was even hotter in July, in Naples. I bought her first novel, “Troubling Love,” in Italian (“L’Amore Molesto”), in a bookshop on the Via Port’Alba. The protagonist’s mother lived on the corner. “The Days of Abandonment” is a slim volume, so I packed it for a week of sailing on a friend’s boat. It is a novel that you survive, rather than finish. One of my fellow passengers then lent me “The Lost Daughter.” When I came home, I found a copy of “The Story of The Lost Child” in the mountain of mail. Now I am off again, this time to Asia, but, alas, without a Ferrante. I wish I could take “Fragments,” a collection of essays and correspondence, with me, but it hasn’t been published yet. I plan to reread her next year. 

—Judith Thurman

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Literary Hub

LITERARY HUB’S BEST BOOKS OF 2015

These are the books we loved this year.

 

Jess Bergman, Assistant Editor

The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante (trans. Ann Goldstein): I gave myself over to the Neapolitan Novels this past spring, finally convinced by the one-two punch of Jia Tolentino and Dayna Tortorici’s essays on Ferrante. Not one to approach anythinglightly, I became an instant evangelical and converted even my grandmother to Ferrante’s coven. I read The Story of the Lost Child while moving from Philadelphia to New York—a fitting synchronicity, as I expect I’ll miss the company of Elena and Lila, and the streets of Naples, as much as I miss my home city.

 

Emily Firetog, Managing Editor

This year we launched Literary Hub, which meant I was only able to focus on reading (and finishing) short stories or extremely long books/sagas.

Short: Colin Barrett’s Young Skins, which I first read back when I worked with the small Irish press that first put out the collection overseas. Like everyone else on the planet I loved Lucia Berlin’s A Manual For Cleaning Women. Cheers for Lauren Holmes’sBarbara the Slut, which also has one of the best covers this year. And, duh, Joy Williams’s The Visiting Privilege.

Long: I read both of the fourth books of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitian series and Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle (trans. Don Bartlett), although I only finished one of those (Lila forever).

 

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The Wall Street Journal

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2015
Who Read What

Michael Moritz on Elena Ferrante

After turning the last page of “The Story of the Lost Child,” the final volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, it’s easy to issue a long sigh. Few novelists have ever wrought as fine and intense a portrait of the circles and connections that radiate and intersect with the strains (and occasional joys) of a lifelong relationship between two people. The saga of the principals, Lila and Elena, which began in girlish childhood in the squalor of tenement blocks peopled by hoodlums and shopkeepers scratching out an existence, has drawn to a close amid the disappointments, dashed hopes, volcanic outbursts and ruptured connections of late middle age. Yet between these mordant bookends there exists a work for the ages—filled with finely carved characters, intricately etched plots and the entire spectrum of human emotion—all translated into exquisite English.

Mr. Moritz is co-author, with Alex Ferguson, of “Leading” and chairman of Sequoia Capital.

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Contemporary Psychotherapy

The Neapolitan Novels of Elena Ferrante in the context of Self-Actualisation

Sheila Mitchell

Elena Ferrante is an Italian author who grew up in Naples. She now lives in Turin and is noted for a quartet of novels about Naples and the people who lived there. The novels are My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child. They are consecutive and focus on a relationship between two women, Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, spanning six decades of their lives. This is their story, a story told so poignantly, honestly and intensely that Ferrante took the world by surprise.

Ferrante describes the love-hate relationship between the two women in great detail. It is a story of love, power, class and gender. The stories are told always in the first person. Elena, who, despite her academic and social success, is portrayed as passive, envious and submissive to Lila. Lila, on the other hand, is a blaming, projecting person, submissive to no one. Naples itself is portrayed as another character in the novels. Through them, Ferrante brings together, in an extreme, condensed and volatile form, all the fault lines in modern Italy. The novels themselves sound autobiographical, but which (or both) of the two characters represent Ferrante is a mystery.

The two women seem like opposites, like Jung’s shadow archetypes – the Queen (Empress) and the Shadow Queen. The Queen ‘represents power and authority in women who symbolically rule over anything from a corporation to the home’ and is also ‘associated with positive arrogance and a need to protect one’s personal and emotional power’. Contrary to this, the Shadow Queen ‘can slip into aggressive and destructive patterns of behaviour, particularly when authority or control is challenged’. (Myss, 2003:84). In this way her two main characters can be two parts of the same, sliding seamlessly from one of power to one who is powerless and back again.

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San Francisco Chronicle

Top 10 books of 2015

San Francisco Chronicle | December 15, 2015 Updated: December 15, 2015 9:15am

THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD included in the San Francisco Chronicle list of “Best Books of 2015.”

 

 

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On Point

The Best Books Of 2015

The best books of 2015: “Fates and Furies,” “Between the World and Me,” “Purity” and a whole lot more.

A collection of the covers of some of the best books of 2015. (Images Courtesy The Publishers)

Every December we bring in book readers and sellers and critics and ask them to share their favorite books of the year. Some years there is lots of overlap on those lists. Some years, they’re all over the place. This is one of those sprawling years. Look around. Ta-Nehisis Coates makes lots of lists with “Between the World and Me.” Elena Ferrante is up there. Helen Macdonald, with “H is for Hawk.”  Then it’s a free-for-all. But a rich free-for-all. Full of great reads. This hour, On Point, we put our net in the river for the best books of 2015. And it’s a good catch. Stay tuned.

— Tom Ashbrook

 

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Public books

FERRANTE, IN HISTORY

DAVID KURNICK

December 15, 2015 — What happens when the most ambitious rethinking of the politics of realism in recent memory can’t be attached to a face? (Can they give the Nobel Prize to a pseudonym?) Now that the Neapolitan tetralogy is complete, it’s clear that Elena Ferrante’s decision to remain biographically unavailable is her greatest gift to readers, and maybe her boldest creative gesture. Her intransigence has protected these books from the ambient noise that threatens to engulf any truly original cultural artifact: the vaguely bullying blurb delirium (The Story of the Lost Child comes prefaced with seven pages of it); the debate over the cheesy pastel covers; the reports that Knausgaard fans and Ferrante partisans are brawling in Park Slope.1

Who really cares about any of it when the books are so sheerly interesting? Ferrante’s inaccessibility to public consumption feels designed to help her books survive whatever storms of silliness are kicked up by the enthusiasm they have sparked. Her self-erasure is more than a challenge to the celebrity logic of contemporary literary culture. It has meant that readers are forced—are free—to confront these novels in all their unassimilable intensity. To paraphrase the most pitiless sentence in the final installment: we’re going to have to resign ourselves to not seeing her.

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Reviews for The Days of Abandonment

Days of Abandonment, Europa Editions, 2005

Bookriot

100 MUST-READ INDIE PRESS BOOKS

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (Translator) (Europa Editions): A national bestseller for almost an entire year, The Days of Abandonment shocked and captivated its Italian public when first published. It is the gripping story of a woman’s descent into devastating emptiness after being abandoned by her husband with two young children to care for. When she finds herself literally trapped within the four walls of their high-rise apartment, she is forced to confront her ghosts, the potential loss of her own identity, and the possibility that life may never return to normal.

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The Seattle Review of Books

Anca L. Szilágyi
August 10, 2017

(…) Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, translated by Ann Goldstein, was so good it ruined me for other books for a long time. Darker and tighter than the sprawling My Brilliant Friend, it drills into the psyche of Olga, a woman spiraling out of control after her husband leaves her and their two young children. In one scene, Olga tells her daughter to poke her in the thigh with a knife to keep her from being distracted. Ants infest the apartment, the dog dies from insecticide, the hot summer days give everything a sheen of violence. A lot happens in a short space. But there’s more to women in translation than Ferrante, no?

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Flying Houses

The Days of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante (2002) (Transl. Ann Goldstein)

About a year ago, after seeing Suicide Squad, my longest-time friend started talking about this Italian author who wrote under a pseudonym, raving in particular about her novel concerning a woman being left by her husband.  I forgot the name of the writer–but there were enough details to remember (female, Italian, pseudonym) that I could piece together who she was.

I finally got around to picking up The Days of Abandonment in late June, and took it with me on a recent trip to New York.  Just as we were landing in New York, my seat neighbor inquired if the book was good, and I recited the above regarding the recommendation.  He told me he had read My Brilliant Friend and the other trilogy.  I told him I was surprised it was published in 2002, but that I hadn’t heard of it until now.  He said he thought it was because Hollywood had come knocking.

The Days of Abandonment is a first-person narrative from the perspective of Olga, a 38-year-old mother of two (Gianni and Illaria), recently left by her husband, Mario.  To get more detailed, Mario leaves her for a younger woman, the identity of whom is unexpected, and sort of obvious at the same time.  Olga basically falls apart, and the novel is about her going crazy.  It culminates in a sort of nightmare day from the hell, after which she gains some form of clarity on her situation.

Ultimately, it is a very satisfying novel, and sprinkled with that sort of European attention to detail and simplicity of style that feels effortless.  The opening line is a perfect example, immediately reminiscent of another European master (Camus):

“One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me.” (9)

Okay, that is not nearly as simple as the opening of The Stranger, but that same sense of the immediate impact of sorrow is struck.  The novel takes the shape of 47 relatively short chapters of varying length, which feel more like sketches of scenes.  It seems to take place over the course of six months, but the primary action in the novel is the day that comes right around month four (Saturday, August 4th), chapter 18 – 34, pp. 88-151.  A great deal of this section has to do with the locks on the front door.  She manages to lock herself and her family inside of their apartment because she cannot undo the locks.  She has a special set installed, with two keyholes that have to be turned just right.  As a person that has had to call a locksmith to get into his apartment after his key broke off in the door, at least once, maybe twice, I could identify highly with this section.  However, it goes a little bit too far!  Here is one example I randomly flipped to:

“But I knew immediately, even before trying, that the door wouldn’t open.  And when I held the key and tried to turn it, the thing that I had predicted a minute before happened.  The key wouldn’t turn.
I was gripped by anxiety, precisely the wrong reaction.  I applied more pressure, chaotically.  I tried to turn the key first to the left, then to the right.  No luck.  Then I tried to take it out of the lock, but it wouldn’t come out, it remained in the keyhole as if metal had fused to metal.  I beat my fists against the panels, I pushed with my shoulder, I tried the key again, suddenly my body woke up, I was consumed by desperation.  When I stopped, I discovered that I was covered with sweat.  My nightgown was stuck to me, but my teeth were chattering.  I felt cold, in spite of the heat of the day.”  (117)

She has a new set of locks installed after a set of earrings from Mario’s grandmother go missing.  She has a vaguely unpleasant, vaguely sexual experience with the two men installing the locks, particularly the older of the two.  The book is filled with such vignettes.  Her complicated feelings about herself as a sexual being culminate in an encounter which ends up becoming an unlikely, ambivalent romance.

Her relationship with the family dog, Otto, is also worth comment.  Otto is arguably a bigger character than either of the children, because she feels more saddled with him than the children.  It seems as if Mario was the one to get him, but does not take him with him, and she resents the additional responsibility.  But as always tends to happen, she develops a bond with the animal–however, not before a somewhat shocking incident in the park following another woman’s reproach after he scares her and her baby:

“When he didn’t stop I raised the branch that I had in my hand menacingly, but even then he wouldn’t be silent.  This enraged me, and I hit him hard.  I heard the whistling in the air and saw his look of astonishment when the blow struck his ear.  Stupid dog, stupid dog, whom Mario had given as a puppy to Gianni and Ilaria, who had grown up in our house, had become an affectionate creature–but really he was a gift from my husband to himself, who had dreamed of a dog like that since he was a child, not something wished for by Gianni and Ilaria, spoiled dog, dog that always got its own way.  Now I was shouting at him, beast, bad dog, and I heard myself clearly, I was lashing and lashing and lashing, as he huddled, yelping, his body hugging the ground, ears low, sad and motionless under that incomprehensible hail of blows.
‘What are you doing?’ the woman murmured.
When I didn’t answer but continued to hit Otto, she hurried away, pushing the carriage with one hand, frightened now not by the dog but by me.” (54)

There could be many more things to say about this novel, but I don’t believe in spoiling several of the smaller details.  For example I found this feature in the New Yorker by James Wood which covers much of the same ground of this review, but divulges a few more details.  It is also probably much better written because it was composed and edited as part of a day job, rather than a hobby masquerading as an entryway into the limited commercial landscape of art.  Suffice to say, sometimes spoilers are necessary to explain my estimation of a novel’s worth, but I think the halfway point of a story is (generally) a fair boundary.  It spoils nothing to say however, that anybody who has ever been dumped or left to their own devices–especially those left in Olga’s unfortunate position–will find some measure of solace in this work.  Regardless of one’s perspective, there is great humanity and truth within it, and a likely catharsis for the reader.

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Contemporary Psychotherapy

BookREVIEW: Days of Abandonment

Reviewer Lynda Woodroffe

Mother and housewife Olga, 38, is left by her husband Mario, 40, for a girl they have both known since she was fifteen.  Olga and Mario have two children and a dog, and live in a flat in a tower block in Turin. This is a story of a midlife crisis; of Mario who questions his male power, and Olga, whose fantasy life gets popped like a balloon.

Throughout her marriage Olga spent most of her time pleasing her husband, feeding his every whim to ensure that he remained hers. Like every woman who believed the myth of the princess who wins her prince, Olga became the housewife who lived her life through her husband and children – an unlived life, a life without appreciation and gratitude, a life of unmet needs, and neglect for personal development and talent: ‘I had put aside my own aspirations to go along with his. At every crisis of despair I had set aside my own crises to comfort him … I had taken care of the house, I had taken care of the meals, I had taken care of the children, I had taken care of all the boring details of everyday life…’ (p63).

But when Mario saw Carla, someone younger and fresher, he wanted her, so he went for her and won her. And this is where the story starts, with the opening line of the book reading: ‘One April afternoon… my husband announced that he wanted to leave me…’

The trauma at being abandoned and becoming a single parent led to many negative reactions for Olga. She neglected her children, forgot to feed them, did not notice when her son was ill, and leant heavily on her daughter for support. In the following weeks she nosedived from a lack of focus to complete breakdown, through an agonizing loss of her sense of self and her short-term memory. She embarked on a fantasy world, unable to conceive of the mess her now empty life had become, rearing up like a void before her. She neurotically scrubbed the flat clean before letting out the dog, who needed walking. When it returned it was ill and eventually died, probably from ingesting rat poison. In her self-deprecation, she believed she killed the dog and, perhaps, poisoned her own son: ‘Give back to me a sense of proportion. What was I?  A woman worn out by four months of tension and grief; not, surely, a witch who, out of desperation, secretes a poison that can give a fever to her male child, kill a domestic animal….’ (p118).

Meanwhile, in the fog of her unreality, Olga self-harmed to stay present:

‘“Why did you put that clip on your arm?” asked her daughter Ilaria. … The tiny pain it caused me had become a constitutional part of my flesh…

“It helps me remember. Today is a day when everything is slipping my mind, I don’t know what to do.”

“I’ll help you.”

“Really?” I got up, took from the desk a metal paper cutter. “Hold this…. If you see me getting distracted, poke me…. Prick me until I feel it”.’ (p133)

In an attempt to relieve the pain, to create a distraction and to tell herself that she was still attractive, Olga seduced an undesirable neighbour, Carrano, a man who could play romantic music, but who could not make love. This led to self-disgust and frustration with whom she had become. She questioned her own identity and blamed herself for the loss of her marriage, asking herself obsessively what had happened in those ten years of matrimony: ‘For Mario I – I shuddered – had never been Olga. The meanings, the meaning of her life – I suddenly understood – were only a dazzlement of late adolescence, my illusion of stability.’ (p124)

Later, in discussion about custody of the children, her husband told her that she had to have the children more often because ‘…. You’re their mother’. (p185) Is he not their father?

Ferrante does not hold back on her characterization of abandonment. It is detailed and upsetting to say the least. Olga is so isolated and lost and this, I feel, is surprisingly universal. Ferrante describes what all women may feel following such an abandonment: that their lives will never be the same again.

While Olga’s life indeed never will be the same again, her mid-life crisis may be the end of the first part of her life and a time for change and, perhaps, betterment. Carl Jung believed that this time of life was a normal part of adult maturation, an opportunity for change. Jung (1971) identified five stages of life resulting in individuation, which arrived between the ages of 38 and 44 and which he called a creative illness. This crisis was the primary task of the second half of life.

The late adolescence that Ferrante’s Olga mentioned in this book (p124) is also synonymous with the Intimacy v. Isolation conflict listed in Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory about the development of the personality (1950, p.255), whereby ‘.. the young adult, emerging from the search for and the insistence on identity, is eager and willing to fuse his identity with that of others … the avoidance of such experiences because of a fear of ego-loss may lead to a deep sense of isolation and consequent self-absorption’.

Erikson’s stages suggest that Olga’s regret at the loss of this seemingly ecstatic time can transform into another stage, the midlife crisis, which occurs during the 35-64 years and is a time for questioning the meaning and purpose of one’s life.

This devastating but short story gives us a cameo of a woman in the throes of change through loss, disbelief, to mistrust, and, hopefully, of a woman who will learn through her dismal experience and become fulfilled by her later discoveries. Elena Ferrante, author of seven other books about Italian women (particularly of Neapolitan women) and their lives and relationships, does not fail in her accurate sketches, which will resonate with all women across the world.

Lynda Woodroffe is a psychotherapist based in North West London and a member of the Contemporary Psychotherapyeditorial board.
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Los Angeles Review of Books

Elena Ferrante: The Mad Adventures of Serious Ladies

by GD Dess

JULY 29, 2017

WRITERS FROM Charlotte Brontë, Virginia Woolf, Jane Bowles, and Mary McCarthy to Emma Cline, Ottessa Moshfegh, Sheila Heti, and Robin Wasserman have written remarkable novels about female friendship, but no one has tackled the complex search for female personal identity, and the construction of a feminine self through lifelong friendship, that is at the core of Elena Ferrante’s project in the quartet of works known as the Neapolitan novels: My Brilliant Friend (2011), The Story of a New Name (2012), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2013), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015).

The ferocity of Ferrante’s writing style is what strikes most readers first. Her language is muscular, never orotund. It feels spoken, almost confessional. There appears to be no mitigation between her consciousness and the words on the page. In a 2015 interview in the Paris Review she said that sincerity is “the engine of every literary project.” She went on to say that she strives for literary truth in her writing, which she defines as “entirely a matter of wording” and “directly proportional to the energy that one is able to impress on the sentence.” This is a skill Ferrante says she has acquired over the years.

Not everyone agrees. Writing in The New York Review of Books, Tim Parks, the writer, critic, and translator of many leading Italian authors (Alberto Moravia, Antonio Tabucchi, Italo Calvino) claimed he can’t read more than 50 pages of Ferrante’s writing and finds it “wearisomely concocted, determinedly melodramatic.” He cites the scene of a fight between two neighbors. The women grapple with each other and roll down the stairs “entwined.” One of their heads hits the floor of the landing — “a few inches from my shoes,” reports Elena, “like a white melon that has slipped from your hand.” Parks comments: “As in a B movie, a head hits the floor a few inches from our hero’s shoes. Then comes the half-hearted attempt to transform cartoon reportage into literature: ‘like a white melon that has slipped from your hand.’” He finds Ferrante makes “no effort of the imagination,” simply “announces melodrama.” Indeed, he is “astonished that other people are not irritated by this lazy writing.”

James Wood has suggested that Ferrante’s writing is influenced by second-wave feminist writers such as Margaret Drabble and Hélène Cixous, and Ferrante has acknowledged her familiarity with the work of Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva. In a 2015 interview, when asked what fiction or nonfiction has most affected her, Ferrante also names Donna J. Haraway and “an old book” by Adriana Cavarero, Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood (1997). This is a useful clue. In her book, Cavarero directly addresses the subject of female identity. She posits that identity is not an innate quality we master and express, but rather the outcome of a relational practice, something given to us from another, in the form of a narratable “life-story.”

Cavarero first makes this point in “The Paradox of Ulysses,” using the scene from the Odyssey in which Ulysses listens to a blind rhapsode recount his exploits in the Trojan war and weeps, because for the first time he has become aware of the meaning of the story of which he is the hero. She then provides a “lived” example: the story of Amalia and Emilia, two women who meet at an adult education class devoted to raising the consciousness of women. [1] Emilia talks about herself constantly, telling Amalia that she has lived a repressed life. Yet she cannot shape a coherent narrative: “she wasn’t able to connect any of it up.” Amelia helps her by writing the story of her life based on what she has heard. “Once I wrote the story of her life […] she always carried it in her handbag and read it again and again,” and, like Ulysses, she was “overcome by emotion.” The story of Emilia’s life set down in writing by Amelia made her recognize that “my ‘I’ exists.” She needed this ontological affirmation of herself.

Cavarero’s conception of the formation of the feminine “I” factors directly into Ferrante’s writing. In a 2016 interview, Ferrante explained that “the female ‘I’ in particular, with its long history of oppression and repression, tends to shatter as it’s tossed around, and to reappear and shatter again, always in an unpredictable way.” Most of her female characters do, in fact, harbor an “other” violent “I,” one that emerges from anger, resentment, or a deep psychological wound. In The Days of Abandonment (2002), a pre-Neapolitan novel, the narrator, Olga, “accidently” feeds her husband pasta with crushed glass in it after he tells her he is leaving her; later, she physically attacks him in the street when she sees him with his new lover. In The Lost Daughter (2006), the violence is more subtle. Leda, a divorced mother of two, is vacationing at the beach. She befriends a mother, Nina, and her young daughter Elena. One day, spontaneously, Leda steals the little girl’s doll. [2] She tells us she took the doll because it “guarded the love of Nina and Elena, their bond, their reciprocal passion. She was the shining testimony of perfect motherhood.” While Nina and her daughter endure no end of pain and suffering because of the doll’s disappearance, Leda hides the doll in her apartment. It becomes a talisman, bringing back memories of her unhappy married life and the pain she caused her daughters by abandoning them and her husband for another man. The theft of the doll is a symbolic reenactment of shattering the “perfect motherhood.” And the violence she inflicts on the mother and daughter, seeing them suffer as she suffered, yields a perverse pleasure that assuages her wounded psyche.

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Of all Ferrante’s female protagonists, the narrator of the Neapolitan novels, Elena Greco, is the least interesting. Nevertheless, she is the direct descendent of the women Ferrante has been writing about for decades: they are all divorced or separated, vaguely middle aged, educated, industrious; for the most part they have risen above the poverty of their youth, but have had to fight for the nominal bourgeois social station they now inhabit. They are no strangers to rage, resentment, and existential angst, and they all attempt to discover themselves, to become who they are, or who they continually hope to be.

In The Days of Abandonment, Olga is abandoned by her husband and graphically chronicles her descent into a temporary psychotic state after his departure. As she struggles to remain “healthy” while surviving the dissolution of her married identity she ponders what will become of her. “What was I?” she wonders, and tells us: “This was the reality that I was about to discover, behind the appearance of so many years. I was already no longer I, I was someone else.” And this someone else wanted “to be me.”

We find this same struggle to recognize oneself in The Lost Daughter. Its narrator, Leda, tells us: “I had a sense of dissolving, as if I, an orderly pile of dust, had been blown about by the wind all day and now was suspended in the air without a shape.” While Elena is shrewder and more calculating than Ferrante’s previous heroines, her desires are more banal — “I want to get a driver’s license, I want to travel, I want to have a telephone, a television, I’ve never had anything” — and directed solely toward attaining success and the bourgeois lifestyle that accompanies it. But, while she wants these things, she keeps her wants suppressed and hidden from those around her, and asks herself if this is because she is “frightened by the violence with which, in fact, in [her] innermost self, [she] wanted things, people, praise, triumphs.”

In Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, after she is published and married and successful, a reflective Elena informs us she has always been fascinated by the word “become”: “Become. It was a verb that had always obsessed me […] I wanted to become, even though I had never known what. And I had become, that was certain, but without an object, without a real passion, without a determined ambition.”

At one point, Elena’s mother-in-law gives her some books on Italian feminism by Carla Lonzi, one of the founders of the Rivolta Femminile, an Italian feminist collective. Elena says she knows well enough what it means to be a woman, and puts them away. But one day she picks up Lonzi’s seminal manifesto, “Let’s Spit on Hegel,” and it leaves her agape: “How,” she wonders “is it possible […] that a woman knows how to think like that. I worked so hard on books, but I endured them, I never actually used them, I never turned them against themselves. This is thinking. This is thinking against. I — after so much exertion — don’t know how to think.” Weary of her marriage, of domestic banality, Elena is suffocated by the life she chose. She tries to imagine what another life could be, wonders how she can create her “I,” but her imagination fails her. She is jealous of her sister-in-law who is single, attends political meetings, and is active in feminist causes.

Elena’s life careens from one thing to another; it is always “complicated” and hurried. She develops an “eagerness for violation” and chooses to engage suitors: “I was attracted by any man who gave me the slightest encouragement. Tall, short, thin, fat, ugly, handsome, old, married or a bachelor, if the [man] praised an observation of mine […] my availability communicated itself.” But, despite her education and exposure to “literary” texts, her desire to “become” someone doesn’t lead her to seek the causes of her taedium vitae, or to transform herself and transcend her current situation: it leads only to a man other than her husband. Once again, Ferrante references Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, whose heroine experiences a similar restlessness after marriage. No sooner is Emma Bovary ensconced in her country house with her husband than she finds herself unhappy — burdened with household chores and so disappointed in marriage that she begins to wish she was back in the convent in which she was raised. She dreams of escaping her fate. “But how,” Emma wonders, “to speak about so elusive a malaise, one that keeps changing its shape like the clouds and its direction like the winds?”

This modern-day malady from which Emma and Elena suffer, “malaise,” is related to ennui — what we prosaically refer to as boredom. It is the “noonday demon” of the ancient Christian fathers, and Baudelaire’s “delicate monster.” What Flaubert’s and Ferrante’s characters are trying to articulate is a presentiment that the eternal return of days — days filled with chores and the petty needs of others — can’t be all there is. What nags at them is the feeling that strikes us all when, in a funk, we ask ourselves: Is this really my life? Is this all there is? What would “more” be?

Elena’s own malaise remains similarly unnamable. Ferrante allows Elena to bemoan her unhappy life for well over a thousand pages, to wallow in the “cycle of ennui,” from which there may sometimes be no escape except the one offered by Flaubert. Of course, Elena doesn’t meet a tragic end. Ferrante does finally allow her to free herself (at least temporarily) from her lifelong predicament and shows us, briefly, what living without “the monster” would be like. This demonstration takes place late in the last volume of the tetralogy, at which point Elena has gained literary recognition, abandoned her husband and her children, and has been living with her lover, Nino, for a year and a half: “It was then that — we said to each other — our true life had begun. And what we called true life was that impression of miraculous splendor that never abandoned us even when everyday horrors took the stage. […] We hurried to dinner, to good food, wine, sex.” So “true life” appears to be nothing more than the commonplaces of bourgeois material success. Elena includes Nino in her declaration, but he doesn’t seem to have bought into this view. While she is waxing exuberant about the “true life” they are leading, he is busy having sex with the nanny. Soon, the couple separates. As Elena discovers, her notion of “true life” is just as misguided as Emma’s belief that “certain portions of the earth must produce happiness — as though it were a plant native only to those soils and doomed to languish elsewhere.”

What is deeply disappointing about Elena is her inability to transform herself — even though she seemingly has the intellectual capacity for it. We feel that if she had perhaps dedicated herself more to intellectual and spiritual matters instead of “cultivating resentment” she might have progressed toward some sort of enlightenment. At times, we feel the tension between her lucid self-awareness and latent self-actualization. Ferrante keeps us teetering with anticipation of change as we read page after page of Elena’s ruthless psychological insights, and witness her pathological excavation of her feelings. We keep hoping for a catharsis that never comes. One could argue, with reference to Adorno, that the “jargon of authenticity” she employs in search of her ever-elusive “I” is nothing more than narcissism.

The truly interesting character in the Neapolitan novels is Lila. She is a marvel. Unconventional, volatile, aggressive, ambitious, by turns emotionally stingy and generous, she is both intellectually gifted and entrepreneurial. She is self-possessed and unpossessable. By the time she is an adolescent, it is apparent to Elena that Lila “took the facts and in a natural way charged them with tension; she intensified reality as she reduced it to words, she injected it with energy.” While Elena worries about her appearance and her attractiveness to boys, Lila has already apprehended how the world works. From an early age, she is keenly aware of both the social and political injustices people of her impoverished class (whom the cruel, bitter teacher Maestra Oliviero refers to as “plebs”) are forced to suffer; and she also grasps, with Roquentin-like perspicacity, the meaninglessness of existence.

At 15, just before Lila is married, Elena, proud of her book learning, attempts to impress her friend with her knowledge of theology. Lila responds tartly: “You still waste time with those things? […] There are microbes everywhere that make us sick and die. There are wars. There is a poverty that makes us all cruel. Every second something might happen that will cause you such suffering that you’ll never have enough tears.” Throughout her childhood and youth, Lila takes more beatings than MMA champion Ronda Rousey. Her father throws her out the window and breaks her arm. Her brother pummels her over a disagreement about the shoes they are designing. “Every time Lila and I met,” says Elena, “I saw a new bruise.” Her boyfriend, and later husband, Stefano, beats her relentlessly, sometimes even punching her in the face. He rapes her on their honeymoon, from which she returns black and blue, and her married life is characterized by systematic abuse. Elena is continually amazed at her friend’s capacity for suffering, but Lila explains: “What can beatings do to me? A little time goes by and I’m better than before.”

Lila is “capable of anything.” Within the first year of her marriage, she embarks on a reckless affair with the love of Elena’s life, Nino. She then leaves her husband, an act unheard of in those days, to move in with him. As Nino says, “[S]he doesn’t know how to submit to reality […] and takes no account of police, the law, the state.” When they break up she takes another lover, with whom she founds a business and makes a success of herself. When, in The Story of a New Name, the Mafioso Michele Solara and his brother want to use her photograph to sell shoes that she has designed, Lila defaces the picture; using glue, scissors, paper, paint, she “erases” herself, refusing to allow others to use her image, refusing to be appropriated for any purpose. In the final volume, The Story of the Lost Child, even after having had great success in the computer business, she tells Elena, “I want to leave nothing, my favorite key is the one that deletes.”

Like Elena, Lila writes. Over the years, she amasses volumes of notebooks of her thoughts and observations, and in The Story of a New Name she gives them to Elena to keep her husband from finding them. Lila makes Elena promise she won’t read them. Naturally, Elena devours the texts. She is overwhelmed and “diminished” by them. She devotes herself to learning passages by heart — “the ones that thrilled me, the ones that hypnotized me, the ones that humiliated me. Behind their naturalness was surely some artifice, but I couldn’t discover what it was.” Eventually, she throws the notebooks off the Solferino bridge into the River Arno, in order to free herself from feeling Lila “on me and in me.” But she can’t erase Lila from herself.

Late in life Lila begins another writing project, one she will not share with Elena, which once again makes Elena feel inadequate. When Elena then suggests she may write about Lila, Lila says, “Let me be.” She tells Elena to write about someone else, “But about me no, don’t you dare, promise.” Lila wants nothing more than to disappear, while Elena “wanted her to last […] I wanted it to be I who made her last.” She wants to write her life-story.

Against Lila’s wishes Elena writes and publishes a book about the two of them, which she titles A Friendship. It is — implausibly — only 80 pages long. The book is a success and revives Elena’s sagging career, but after its publication, the two women never speak again and Lila disappears. Thus, contrary to Cavarero’s contention, which invokes Ulysses listening to his own life-story, Lila doesn’t need a life-story written about her in order to affirm her “I.” If another were to write her life-story, she would be turned into “fiction,” taken possession of. And just as she never let anyone possess her throughout her life, she has no intention of allowing that to happen once she is gone. She won’t participate in a practice that reduces her ontological presence to words on a page, a fetishized object between covers. By vanishing, she asserts her right to live a “mere empirical existence.” It is a brilliant move on Ferrante’s part to allow her subject to refuse subjugation to the art of “story telling,” even as she (and Elena) tell her story in the very book we are reading.

Long before the end of the novel, Elena goes to visit Lila, who is at her nadir, a proletariat slaving away at a sausage factory right out of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Elena has come to brag about her success as a writer: “I had made that whole journey mainly to show [Lila] what she had lost and what I had won.” Instead, she finds Lila

explaining to me that I had won nothing, that in the world there is nothing to win, that her life was full of varied and foolish adventures as much as mine, and that time simply slipped away without any meaning, and it was good just to see each other every so often to hear the mad sound of the brain of one echo in the mad sound of the brain of the other.

And indeed, Ferrante’s searching Elena and elusive Lila will continue to echo each other, and to resonate for readers, in all their irreducible complexity.

¤

GD Dess is the author of the novel Harold Hardscrabble.

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[1] The story of Amalia and Emilia recounted by Cavarero first appeared in Sexual Difference: A Theory of Social-Symbolic Practice, one of the most famous books of Italian feminism. Sexual Difference may also have influenced Ferrante’s thinking about the friendship between Elena and Lila, the two main characters in the Neapolitan novels. The social practice of “entrustment,” the idea that one woman “entrusts” herself symbolically to another woman is one of the major ideas of Italian feminism. In My Brilliant Friend, Elena tells us of her decision to reject her mother as a model and give herself over to Lila: “I decided that I had to model myself on that girl, never let her out of my sight.” This practice is viewed as necessary “because of the irrepressible need to find a faithful mediation between oneself and the world: someone similar to oneself who acts as a mirror and a term of comparison, an interpreter, a defender and judge in the negotiations between oneself and the world.”

[2] Children are regularly treated brusquely, beaten, and/or suffer from benign, and not-so-benign, neglect in Ferrante’s novels. In the essay “What an Ugly Child She Is,” Ferrante responds to a Swedish publisher’s refusal to publish The Days of Abandonment because of the “morally reprehensible” way in which the protagonist treats her children. In that novel, Olga is chiefly guilty of neglect and indifference, abruptness and aloofness in her treatment of them; she does not harm them physically, although she is a bit rough in removing the makeup from her daughter who has, to her disgust, made herself up to look like her.

In defense of her portrayal of Olga’s behavior, Ferrante references Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and the scene in which Emma Bovary, upon being pestered for attention by her young daughter, Berthe, angrily shoves the girl with her elbow, causing the child to fall against a chest of drawers and cut herself. The wound begins to bleed. She lies to the maid, telling her: “The baby fell down and hurt herself playing.” The wound is superficial. Emma stops worrying about what she had done, forgives herself for her abusive behavior, and chides herself for being “upset over so small a matter.” And then, still sitting by her daughter’s side as she recuperates, adding insult to injury, she thinks: “It’s a strange thing […] what an ugly child she is.”

Ferrante comments that only a man could write such a sentence. She claims (“angrily, bitterly”) that men “are able to have their female characters say what women truly think and say and live but do not dare write.” She says her attempt has been, “over the years, to take that sentence out of French and place it somewhere on a page of my own.”

She does create a scene similar to Flaubert’s in The Lost Daughter. Leda, the narrator, tells us that when her daughter was young, she gave her a doll that had belonged to her since infancy. Leda expected her daughter to love the doll. But her daughter strips the doll of her clothes and scribbles over her with markers. When Leda discovers her sitting on the doll one afternoon, she loses her temper, “gives her a nasty shove,” and throws the doll over the balcony. It is run over and destroyed by the passing traffic. Leda’s only (ominous) comment about this incident: “How many things are done and said to children behind the closed doors of houses.”

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Literary Hub

10 BOOKS ON ECSTATICALLY MAD WOMEN

JESSIE CHAFFEE READS DEEPLY INTO EMPTINESS, FEAR, DESIRE, AND ELATION

July 3, 2017  By Jessie Chaffee

When I was 22, I developed an eating disorder, an experience equal parts horror and euphoria that took me outside of myself, turning me into someone I wasn’t, or perhaps revealing a part of me that had always been there. Intellectually, I recognized that I was negating, erasing, and isolating myself. But my emotional experience was not one of loneliness or loss. On the contrary, I often felt painfully clear, high, satiated, connected to something more than myself. I felt ecstatic.

By the time I sought help, I was whittled down, haunted, and searching for a way to describe those months when I had disappeared from my life. I had always identified as a writer, but anorexia stripped me of words, alienating me from the world as I previously understood it and from the language I used to give shape to that world. In its wake, I was searching for a new language, one that, as a lifelong reader, I hadn’t yet witnessed in literature.

And then a close friend handed me a copy of Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight. Like many people, I had read Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, a retelling of Jane Eyre from the perspective of Bertha (aka, “the madwoman in the attic”), but this novel, published decades earlier, was different. It was unlike anything I’d ever read in its depiction of a woman who is losing herself to the seduction of alcoholism, the ghosts of her past, and the increasingly self-destructive decisions she makes as she tries to survive both. What was new was not the content but the telling. Rhys collapses the distance between the reader and her protagonist. We don’t witness Sasha’s descent; we live it. We feel the too-small dirty hotel room, the jeers and stares of strangers who may or may not actually be there, the grief and weight of memory. And we feel the messy intermingling of emptiness, fear, desire, and elation as reality unravels, and language with it, along the beautiful and horrific knife-edge of addiction.

Good Morning, Midnight gave me not only a mirror for my own experience, but it altered completely the type of work I wanted to produce as a writer. I consumed the slim, used paperback in a single sitting—and consumed is the right word, as it nourished me, became a part of me, and then left me hungry for more writing like it. From Rhys, it was not a far leap to Marguerite Duras and then Elena Ferrante and Claire Messud, all women who write about women on the fringes grappling with the most foundational questions of meaning and identity. These writers deal in contradictions, in the seductive gray areas where the high lives, in the things that might destroy us but that we nevertheless pursue. Their protagonists are complicated, flawed, brilliant, extreme, and, quite often, ecstatic.

I began writing my novel out of a desire to be in conversation with those writers, and to give language, through fiction, to an experience that had left me mute. In the writing I realized that there was another group of women writers whose stories I needed to read—the Catholic mystical saints, women who claimed a direct relationship to God through their ecstatic visions, and who recorded those visions in fiery and sensual language. Their vitae read like the ancestors of Rhys and Ferrante. Their ecstasies were not always celebrated—they were also used as evidence that they were possessed, deceitful, or calculating in their ambition. But like the protagonists of their contemporary counterparts, the saints’ telling leaves no room for doubts as we live the experiences with them.

Below are my favorite works about ecstatic women brought to life by my favorite women writers. These narratives don’t grant us the safety of distance or room for judgment, but place us within the protagonists’ realities, daring us to feel what they feel, and suggesting that if ecstasy is madness, then we the readers are mad too. 

Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment, tr. Ann Goldstein

Written before the uber-popular Neopolitan novels, this slim, visceral work follows a woman’s violent struggle to make meaning in the chaos and isolation that follows the dissolution of her marriage:

I was not the woman who breaks into pieces under the blows of abandonment and absence, who goes mad, who dies. Only a few fragments had splintered off, for the rest I was well. I was whole and whole I would remain. To those who hurt me, I react giving back in kind. I am the queen of spades, I am the wasp that stings, I am the dark serpent. I am the invulnerable animal who passes through the fire and is not burned.

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Kwbu

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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Magnet

FROM THE DESK OF MATT POND PA: ELENA FERRANTE’S “THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT”

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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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
$15.00

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.
Augusta

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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

“Frantumaglia”

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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Reviews for The Lost Daughter

The Lost Daughter, Europa Editions, 2008

The Rumpus

WHAT TO READ WHEN YOU DON’T WANT SUMMER TO END

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante

When Leda’s daughters leave home to be with their father in Canada, Leda anticipates a period of loneliness and longing. Instead, she feels liberated, and decides to take a holiday by the sea, in a small coastal town in southern Italy. But after a few days of calm and quiet, things begin to take a menacing turn. Leda encounters a family whose brash presence proves unsettling, at times even threatening. When a small, seemingly meaningless, event occurs, Leda is overwhelmed by memories of the difficult and unconventional choices she made as a mother and their consequences for herself and her family.

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Los Angeles Review of Books

Elena Ferrante: The Mad Adventures of Serious Ladies

by GD Dess

JULY 29, 2017

WRITERS FROM Charlotte Brontë, Virginia Woolf, Jane Bowles, and Mary McCarthy to Emma Cline, Ottessa Moshfegh, Sheila Heti, and Robin Wasserman have written remarkable novels about female friendship, but no one has tackled the complex search for female personal identity, and the construction of a feminine self through lifelong friendship, that is at the core of Elena Ferrante’s project in the quartet of works known as the Neapolitan novels: My Brilliant Friend (2011), The Story of a New Name (2012), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2013), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015).

The ferocity of Ferrante’s writing style is what strikes most readers first. Her language is muscular, never orotund. It feels spoken, almost confessional. There appears to be no mitigation between her consciousness and the words on the page. In a 2015 interview in the Paris Review she said that sincerity is “the engine of every literary project.” She went on to say that she strives for literary truth in her writing, which she defines as “entirely a matter of wording” and “directly proportional to the energy that one is able to impress on the sentence.” This is a skill Ferrante says she has acquired over the years.

Not everyone agrees. Writing in The New York Review of Books, Tim Parks, the writer, critic, and translator of many leading Italian authors (Alberto Moravia, Antonio Tabucchi, Italo Calvino) claimed he can’t read more than 50 pages of Ferrante’s writing and finds it “wearisomely concocted, determinedly melodramatic.” He cites the scene of a fight between two neighbors. The women grapple with each other and roll down the stairs “entwined.” One of their heads hits the floor of the landing — “a few inches from my shoes,” reports Elena, “like a white melon that has slipped from your hand.” Parks comments: “As in a B movie, a head hits the floor a few inches from our hero’s shoes. Then comes the half-hearted attempt to transform cartoon reportage into literature: ‘like a white melon that has slipped from your hand.’” He finds Ferrante makes “no effort of the imagination,” simply “announces melodrama.” Indeed, he is “astonished that other people are not irritated by this lazy writing.”

James Wood has suggested that Ferrante’s writing is influenced by second-wave feminist writers such as Margaret Drabble and Hélène Cixous, and Ferrante has acknowledged her familiarity with the work of Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva. In a 2015 interview, when asked what fiction or nonfiction has most affected her, Ferrante also names Donna J. Haraway and “an old book” by Adriana Cavarero, Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood (1997). This is a useful clue. In her book, Cavarero directly addresses the subject of female identity. She posits that identity is not an innate quality we master and express, but rather the outcome of a relational practice, something given to us from another, in the form of a narratable “life-story.”

Cavarero first makes this point in “The Paradox of Ulysses,” using the scene from the Odyssey in which Ulysses listens to a blind rhapsode recount his exploits in the Trojan war and weeps, because for the first time he has become aware of the meaning of the story of which he is the hero. She then provides a “lived” example: the story of Amalia and Emilia, two women who meet at an adult education class devoted to raising the consciousness of women. [1] Emilia talks about herself constantly, telling Amalia that she has lived a repressed life. Yet she cannot shape a coherent narrative: “she wasn’t able to connect any of it up.” Amelia helps her by writing the story of her life based on what she has heard. “Once I wrote the story of her life […] she always carried it in her handbag and read it again and again,” and, like Ulysses, she was “overcome by emotion.” The story of Emilia’s life set down in writing by Amelia made her recognize that “my ‘I’ exists.” She needed this ontological affirmation of herself.

Cavarero’s conception of the formation of the feminine “I” factors directly into Ferrante’s writing. In a 2016 interview, Ferrante explained that “the female ‘I’ in particular, with its long history of oppression and repression, tends to shatter as it’s tossed around, and to reappear and shatter again, always in an unpredictable way.” Most of her female characters do, in fact, harbor an “other” violent “I,” one that emerges from anger, resentment, or a deep psychological wound. In The Days of Abandonment (2002), a pre-Neapolitan novel, the narrator, Olga, “accidently” feeds her husband pasta with crushed glass in it after he tells her he is leaving her; later, she physically attacks him in the street when she sees him with his new lover. In The Lost Daughter (2006), the violence is more subtle. Leda, a divorced mother of two, is vacationing at the beach. She befriends a mother, Nina, and her young daughter Elena. One day, spontaneously, Leda steals the little girl’s doll. [2] She tells us she took the doll because it “guarded the love of Nina and Elena, their bond, their reciprocal passion. She was the shining testimony of perfect motherhood.” While Nina and her daughter endure no end of pain and suffering because of the doll’s disappearance, Leda hides the doll in her apartment. It becomes a talisman, bringing back memories of her unhappy married life and the pain she caused her daughters by abandoning them and her husband for another man. The theft of the doll is a symbolic reenactment of shattering the “perfect motherhood.” And the violence she inflicts on the mother and daughter, seeing them suffer as she suffered, yields a perverse pleasure that assuages her wounded psyche.

¤

Of all Ferrante’s female protagonists, the narrator of the Neapolitan novels, Elena Greco, is the least interesting. Nevertheless, she is the direct descendent of the women Ferrante has been writing about for decades: they are all divorced or separated, vaguely middle aged, educated, industrious; for the most part they have risen above the poverty of their youth, but have had to fight for the nominal bourgeois social station they now inhabit. They are no strangers to rage, resentment, and existential angst, and they all attempt to discover themselves, to become who they are, or who they continually hope to be.

In The Days of Abandonment, Olga is abandoned by her husband and graphically chronicles her descent into a temporary psychotic state after his departure. As she struggles to remain “healthy” while surviving the dissolution of her married identity she ponders what will become of her. “What was I?” she wonders, and tells us: “This was the reality that I was about to discover, behind the appearance of so many years. I was already no longer I, I was someone else.” And this someone else wanted “to be me.”

We find this same struggle to recognize oneself in The Lost Daughter. Its narrator, Leda, tells us: “I had a sense of dissolving, as if I, an orderly pile of dust, had been blown about by the wind all day and now was suspended in the air without a shape.” While Elena is shrewder and more calculating than Ferrante’s previous heroines, her desires are more banal — “I want to get a driver’s license, I want to travel, I want to have a telephone, a television, I’ve never had anything” — and directed solely toward attaining success and the bourgeois lifestyle that accompanies it. But, while she wants these things, she keeps her wants suppressed and hidden from those around her, and asks herself if this is because she is “frightened by the violence with which, in fact, in [her] innermost self, [she] wanted things, people, praise, triumphs.”

In Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, after she is published and married and successful, a reflective Elena informs us she has always been fascinated by the word “become”: “Become. It was a verb that had always obsessed me […] I wanted to become, even though I had never known what. And I had become, that was certain, but without an object, without a real passion, without a determined ambition.”

At one point, Elena’s mother-in-law gives her some books on Italian feminism by Carla Lonzi, one of the founders of the Rivolta Femminile, an Italian feminist collective. Elena says she knows well enough what it means to be a woman, and puts them away. But one day she picks up Lonzi’s seminal manifesto, “Let’s Spit on Hegel,” and it leaves her agape: “How,” she wonders “is it possible […] that a woman knows how to think like that. I worked so hard on books, but I endured them, I never actually used them, I never turned them against themselves. This is thinking. This is thinking against. I — after so much exertion — don’t know how to think.” Weary of her marriage, of domestic banality, Elena is suffocated by the life she chose. She tries to imagine what another life could be, wonders how she can create her “I,” but her imagination fails her. She is jealous of her sister-in-law who is single, attends political meetings, and is active in feminist causes.

Elena’s life careens from one thing to another; it is always “complicated” and hurried. She develops an “eagerness for violation” and chooses to engage suitors: “I was attracted by any man who gave me the slightest encouragement. Tall, short, thin, fat, ugly, handsome, old, married or a bachelor, if the [man] praised an observation of mine […] my availability communicated itself.” But, despite her education and exposure to “literary” texts, her desire to “become” someone doesn’t lead her to seek the causes of her taedium vitae, or to transform herself and transcend her current situation: it leads only to a man other than her husband. Once again, Ferrante references Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, whose heroine experiences a similar restlessness after marriage. No sooner is Emma Bovary ensconced in her country house with her husband than she finds herself unhappy — burdened with household chores and so disappointed in marriage that she begins to wish she was back in the convent in which she was raised. She dreams of escaping her fate. “But how,” Emma wonders, “to speak about so elusive a malaise, one that keeps changing its shape like the clouds and its direction like the winds?”

This modern-day malady from which Emma and Elena suffer, “malaise,” is related to ennui — what we prosaically refer to as boredom. It is the “noonday demon” of the ancient Christian fathers, and Baudelaire’s “delicate monster.” What Flaubert’s and Ferrante’s characters are trying to articulate is a presentiment that the eternal return of days — days filled with chores and the petty needs of others — can’t be all there is. What nags at them is the feeling that strikes us all when, in a funk, we ask ourselves: Is this really my life? Is this all there is? What would “more” be?

Elena’s own malaise remains similarly unnamable. Ferrante allows Elena to bemoan her unhappy life for well over a thousand pages, to wallow in the “cycle of ennui,” from which there may sometimes be no escape except the one offered by Flaubert. Of course, Elena doesn’t meet a tragic end. Ferrante does finally allow her to free herself (at least temporarily) from her lifelong predicament and shows us, briefly, what living without “the monster” would be like. This demonstration takes place late in the last volume of the tetralogy, at which point Elena has gained literary recognition, abandoned her husband and her children, and has been living with her lover, Nino, for a year and a half: “It was then that — we said to each other — our true life had begun. And what we called true life was that impression of miraculous splendor that never abandoned us even when everyday horrors took the stage. […] We hurried to dinner, to good food, wine, sex.” So “true life” appears to be nothing more than the commonplaces of bourgeois material success. Elena includes Nino in her declaration, but he doesn’t seem to have bought into this view. While she is waxing exuberant about the “true life” they are leading, he is busy having sex with the nanny. Soon, the couple separates. As Elena discovers, her notion of “true life” is just as misguided as Emma’s belief that “certain portions of the earth must produce happiness — as though it were a plant native only to those soils and doomed to languish elsewhere.”

What is deeply disappointing about Elena is her inability to transform herself — even though she seemingly has the intellectual capacity for it. We feel that if she had perhaps dedicated herself more to intellectual and spiritual matters instead of “cultivating resentment” she might have progressed toward some sort of enlightenment. At times, we feel the tension between her lucid self-awareness and latent self-actualization. Ferrante keeps us teetering with anticipation of change as we read page after page of Elena’s ruthless psychological insights, and witness her pathological excavation of her feelings. We keep hoping for a catharsis that never comes. One could argue, with reference to Adorno, that the “jargon of authenticity” she employs in search of her ever-elusive “I” is nothing more than narcissism.

The truly interesting character in the Neapolitan novels is Lila. She is a marvel. Unconventional, volatile, aggressive, ambitious, by turns emotionally stingy and generous, she is both intellectually gifted and entrepreneurial. She is self-possessed and unpossessable. By the time she is an adolescent, it is apparent to Elena that Lila “took the facts and in a natural way charged them with tension; she intensified reality as she reduced it to words, she injected it with energy.” While Elena worries about her appearance and her attractiveness to boys, Lila has already apprehended how the world works. From an early age, she is keenly aware of both the social and political injustices people of her impoverished class (whom the cruel, bitter teacher Maestra Oliviero refers to as “plebs”) are forced to suffer; and she also grasps, with Roquentin-like perspicacity, the meaninglessness of existence.

At 15, just before Lila is married, Elena, proud of her book learning, attempts to impress her friend with her knowledge of theology. Lila responds tartly: “You still waste time with those things? […] There are microbes everywhere that make us sick and die. There are wars. There is a poverty that makes us all cruel. Every second something might happen that will cause you such suffering that you’ll never have enough tears.” Throughout her childhood and youth, Lila takes more beatings than MMA champion Ronda Rousey. Her father throws her out the window and breaks her arm. Her brother pummels her over a disagreement about the shoes they are designing. “Every time Lila and I met,” says Elena, “I saw a new bruise.” Her boyfriend, and later husband, Stefano, beats her relentlessly, sometimes even punching her in the face. He rapes her on their honeymoon, from which she returns black and blue, and her married life is characterized by systematic abuse. Elena is continually amazed at her friend’s capacity for suffering, but Lila explains: “What can beatings do to me? A little time goes by and I’m better than before.”

Lila is “capable of anything.” Within the first year of her marriage, she embarks on a reckless affair with the love of Elena’s life, Nino. She then leaves her husband, an act unheard of in those days, to move in with him. As Nino says, “[S]he doesn’t know how to submit to reality […] and takes no account of police, the law, the state.” When they break up she takes another lover, with whom she founds a business and makes a success of herself. When, in The Story of a New Name, the Mafioso Michele Solara and his brother want to use her photograph to sell shoes that she has designed, Lila defaces the picture; using glue, scissors, paper, paint, she “erases” herself, refusing to allow others to use her image, refusing to be appropriated for any purpose. In the final volume, The Story of the Lost Child, even after having had great success in the computer business, she tells Elena, “I want to leave nothing, my favorite key is the one that deletes.”

Like Elena, Lila writes. Over the years, she amasses volumes of notebooks of her thoughts and observations, and in The Story of a New Name she gives them to Elena to keep her husband from finding them. Lila makes Elena promise she won’t read them. Naturally, Elena devours the texts. She is overwhelmed and “diminished” by them. She devotes herself to learning passages by heart — “the ones that thrilled me, the ones that hypnotized me, the ones that humiliated me. Behind their naturalness was surely some artifice, but I couldn’t discover what it was.” Eventually, she throws the notebooks off the Solferino bridge into the River Arno, in order to free herself from feeling Lila “on me and in me.” But she can’t erase Lila from herself.

Late in life Lila begins another writing project, one she will not share with Elena, which once again makes Elena feel inadequate. When Elena then suggests she may write about Lila, Lila says, “Let me be.” She tells Elena to write about someone else, “But about me no, don’t you dare, promise.” Lila wants nothing more than to disappear, while Elena “wanted her to last […] I wanted it to be I who made her last.” She wants to write her life-story.

Against Lila’s wishes Elena writes and publishes a book about the two of them, which she titles A Friendship. It is — implausibly — only 80 pages long. The book is a success and revives Elena’s sagging career, but after its publication, the two women never speak again and Lila disappears. Thus, contrary to Cavarero’s contention, which invokes Ulysses listening to his own life-story, Lila doesn’t need a life-story written about her in order to affirm her “I.” If another were to write her life-story, she would be turned into “fiction,” taken possession of. And just as she never let anyone possess her throughout her life, she has no intention of allowing that to happen once she is gone. She won’t participate in a practice that reduces her ontological presence to words on a page, a fetishized object between covers. By vanishing, she asserts her right to live a “mere empirical existence.” It is a brilliant move on Ferrante’s part to allow her subject to refuse subjugation to the art of “story telling,” even as she (and Elena) tell her story in the very book we are reading.

Long before the end of the novel, Elena goes to visit Lila, who is at her nadir, a proletariat slaving away at a sausage factory right out of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Elena has come to brag about her success as a writer: “I had made that whole journey mainly to show [Lila] what she had lost and what I had won.” Instead, she finds Lila

explaining to me that I had won nothing, that in the world there is nothing to win, that her life was full of varied and foolish adventures as much as mine, and that time simply slipped away without any meaning, and it was good just to see each other every so often to hear the mad sound of the brain of one echo in the mad sound of the brain of the other.

And indeed, Ferrante’s searching Elena and elusive Lila will continue to echo each other, and to resonate for readers, in all their irreducible complexity.

¤

GD Dess is the author of the novel Harold Hardscrabble.

¤

[1] The story of Amalia and Emilia recounted by Cavarero first appeared in Sexual Difference: A Theory of Social-Symbolic Practice, one of the most famous books of Italian feminism. Sexual Difference may also have influenced Ferrante’s thinking about the friendship between Elena and Lila, the two main characters in the Neapolitan novels. The social practice of “entrustment,” the idea that one woman “entrusts” herself symbolically to another woman is one of the major ideas of Italian feminism. In My Brilliant Friend, Elena tells us of her decision to reject her mother as a model and give herself over to Lila: “I decided that I had to model myself on that girl, never let her out of my sight.” This practice is viewed as necessary “because of the irrepressible need to find a faithful mediation between oneself and the world: someone similar to oneself who acts as a mirror and a term of comparison, an interpreter, a defender and judge in the negotiations between oneself and the world.”

[2] Children are regularly treated brusquely, beaten, and/or suffer from benign, and not-so-benign, neglect in Ferrante’s novels. In the essay “What an Ugly Child She Is,” Ferrante responds to a Swedish publisher’s refusal to publish The Days of Abandonment because of the “morally reprehensible” way in which the protagonist treats her children. In that novel, Olga is chiefly guilty of neglect and indifference, abruptness and aloofness in her treatment of them; she does not harm them physically, although she is a bit rough in removing the makeup from her daughter who has, to her disgust, made herself up to look like her.

In defense of her portrayal of Olga’s behavior, Ferrante references Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and the scene in which Emma Bovary, upon being pestered for attention by her young daughter, Berthe, angrily shoves the girl with her elbow, causing the child to fall against a chest of drawers and cut herself. The wound begins to bleed. She lies to the maid, telling her: “The baby fell down and hurt herself playing.” The wound is superficial. Emma stops worrying about what she had done, forgives herself for her abusive behavior, and chides herself for being “upset over so small a matter.” And then, still sitting by her daughter’s side as she recuperates, adding insult to injury, she thinks: “It’s a strange thing […] what an ugly child she is.”

Ferrante comments that only a man could write such a sentence. She claims (“angrily, bitterly”) that men “are able to have their female characters say what women truly think and say and live but do not dare write.” She says her attempt has been, “over the years, to take that sentence out of French and place it somewhere on a page of my own.”

She does create a scene similar to Flaubert’s in The Lost Daughter. Leda, the narrator, tells us that when her daughter was young, she gave her a doll that had belonged to her since infancy. Leda expected her daughter to love the doll. But her daughter strips the doll of her clothes and scribbles over her with markers. When Leda discovers her sitting on the doll one afternoon, she loses her temper, “gives her a nasty shove,” and throws the doll over the balcony. It is run over and destroyed by the passing traffic. Leda’s only (ominous) comment about this incident: “How many things are done and said to children behind the closed doors of houses.”

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Hyperallergic

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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Tony’s Reading List

‘THE LOST DAUGHTER’ BY ELENA FERRANTE (REVIEW)

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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European Literature Network

My Feverish Ferrante Summer: Three #RivetingReviews of Elena Ferrante’s early novels by Rosie Goldsmith

Over three days this summer, before the unmasking of the identity of Italy’s most famous writer,Elena Ferrante, I sat down on our terrace in Italy to read and review for you Ferrante’s first three novels translated into English. My Italian friends insisted they were even better that The Quartet. They were right. And The Lost Daughter is the best of all of them.

I’ve decided to publish my reviews as I wrote them this summer, before the unveiling. She will always be for me ‘the writer Elena Ferrante’. I read and reviewed the complete Neapolitan Quartet exactly a year ago, on the same terrace, overlooking the mountains of the Alpi Apuane in Northern Tuscany. They disturbed and excited me. Ferrante today plays a large role in my literary life and I suspect she always will. No one rivets me quite like Elena Ferrante.
So here are my #RivetingReviews of Elena Ferrante’s first three novels in English – all translated by the incomparable Ann Goldstein, all published in the UK by Europa Editions.

 

THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT (I Giorni dell’Abbandono)

(2002 Italian/2005 English)

The narrator Olga is thirty-eight, a burgeoning writer, a mother of two children, married to Mario, a successful academic and living in Turin.

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… closed the front door carefully behind him, leaving me turned to stone beside the sink.

So begins this ground-breaking, earth-shattering novel, with the breakdown of Olga and Mario’s ‘happy’ marriage after fifteen years; the first novel from Ferrante to be translated into English, setting out for us the confident tone, bold ideas, razor-sharp observations and precipitous literary heights that reverberate through all her work; as if, with these early novels, she is building up to her War and Peace, her Anna Karenina (Ferrante obviously loves Tolstoy) – the famous Naples Quartet. Olga is ofcourse originally from Naples. Ferrante’s defining links with Naples are ever-present.

The women we meet in her novels are all in some way like Olga – obsessive, fearless and trying to understand the absence of sense – the phrase that Mario uses about this own life and their marriage when he leaves her. But Olga is the one to examine this absence, not Mario, who quickly moves on to a new life, leaving her to imprison herself within the four walls of her mind, her life and her home in Turin.

‘Happiness’ is rare in Ferrante’s books and marriages are rarely ‘happy’. The breakdown of this marriage and this woman’s life is described in intimate detail. Olga documents her personal hell after discovering her husband’s infidelity; the depths of her self-degradation; the cruelty, obscenity, perversion and violence she becomes capable of; her animal madness and the monster she unleashes in herself as she goes to the darkest depths of myself and before she is able to return to some kind of adult normality. Ultimately she does not follow her much-read Anna Karenina to her death but instead enters a whirlpool sucking me in, emerging to find a form of enlightenment, not happiness but enough ‘sense’ to live with.

No other writer I know delves as deeply into a woman’s heart and mind as Ferrante, and with such beautiful, lyrical and scorchingly hot prose. As a reader I feel I’m swimming in a whirlpool of excruciating honesty.

Olga is different from Ferrante’s later heroines in that she is initially likeable and straightforward. A protagonist you care for, can like and feel sympathy with when her beloved husband leaves her and her children.

Life had been drained out of me like blood and saliva and mucus from a patient during an operation.

But as always Ferrante ends up risking the alienation of her readers by making her characters quite unpleasant and unlikable in their self-destruction and self-analysis. I doubt Ferrante cares. She doesn’t need to care. This is immersive, essential, honest, painful and vital writing. No wonder, I often think, she wishes to remain anonymous. This way she enjoys total artistic freedom.

What can we deduce about the identity of Ferrante from this book, and the issues and style that reappear in future novels? She knows about motherhood, marriage and children; about friendship, grief, academia, the writer’s life, publishing; she knows about clothes, dressmaking and fabrics (!); she knows Italy and especially Naples and has obviously travelled internationally.

How literary and lyrical Olga is! Like the women in most of Ferrante’s novels she loves words, books and writing. I myself jotted down whole chunks of her novels, so as to imprint their depth and detail on my brain. For example, this, on grief: I was the sentinel of grief, keeping watch along with a crowd of dead words. And on writing: I spent the warm mornings of early autumn sitting on a bench in the rocky garden, writing. In appearance they were notes for a possible book, at least that’s what I called them. I wanted to cut myself to pieces—I said to myself—I wanted to study myself with precision and cruelty, recount the evil of these terrible months completely. And finally: In order to write well, I need to go to the heart of every question, of a smaller, safer place. Eliminate the superfluous. Narrow the field. To write truly is to speak from the depths of the maternal womb.

 

TROUBLING LOVE (L’Amore Molesto)

(1992 Italian; 2007 English)

Like all ‘classics’, you imagine Ferrante to have been around ‘for ever’, but she hasn’t and has only existed in English for ten years. But what a distinctive style, from this very first novel (in Italian). Before she wrote it, she extracted the promise of anonymity from her Italian publishers EDIZIONI E/0 – who have honoured her promise. Ferrante wrote to them:
I believe that 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. This anonymity she believed would give her a space of absolute creative freedom, a freedom all the more necessary because her books stick “a finger in certain wounds I have that are still infected.

In this novel, ‘the troubling love’ described is that between mothers and children, husbands and wives, men and women – and, as we know from Lina and Elena, in the Quartet – between women too; describing the violence, passion and cruelty of this love with torrential prose and exquisite elegance. Naples is dirty, dark, passionate, loud and dramatic. No one is content. Relationships are unhappy.

What is the source of the seething suffering that Ferrante exposes in each novel? Why is she so raw and bleeding? The more I read her books the more I want to interview her, to know about her, because I simply can’t imagine that at least some of what she writes stems from truth. There is a relentless, ruthless drive to the writing; a breathlessness, as if she’s whispering to us, let’s make the pages burn with my writing, let’s make the men suffer who torment us.

 This is not just feminism or any -ism but a unique view of life, which is so daringly honest that thousands of readers round the world are saying ‘thank you’ (and some ‘no, thank you’!). Ferrante always digs deep and says things that others dare not say. The storylines are riveting (what an achievement) but it’s the pace and lack of pauses and paragraphs in the narrative that make you turn the page in breathless anticipation. Then there’s the thrill of that first sentence of each novel:
My mother drowned on the night of May 23rd, my birthday, in the sea at a place called Spaccavento, a few miles from Minturno.

The abuse, violence, obscenity, humiliation, fetishes and disgust of ‘Troubling Love’ are ‘real’ but at a poetic remove. Delia, the 45- year oldest daughter of Amalia – whose death is the pivot of the novel – is the narrator. She relates horror upon horror of her family life while simultaneously reliving it and analysing it. By writing the horrors down she understands, we understand, why they happen. This is the confessional novel at its most profound and painful. It is a novel of recovered memory.

Delia revisits her past and the people closest to her. A single act, when she was five, changed their lives for ever. We get a portrait of Amalia, a beautiful and vital mother who refuses to allow a brutal, psychopathically jealous husband to take over her mind and body (whilst she enjoys the fetishist attentions of another man). It is a portrait of a child’s spiteful blame and jealous love of a mother. Delia blames Amalia for ruining her life and reducing it to that of a dessicated, loveless automata. She explores her complex love-hate relationship with her mother by going back, digging deep and confronting the men who dominated both their lives. There are also moments of joyful release, bursting out of the novel like fireworks, but at heart it is very troubling.

Delia’s empathy and identification with her mother, and her cruel judgement of her, mean that by the end of the novel the two selves, mother and daughter, collide in a spectacular firework finale.

 

 

THE LOST DAUGHTER (La Figlia Oscura)

(2006 Italian/2008 English)

Three Ferrante novels in three days! I feel as though I’ve been galloping through a long night, through hail and rain and snow and lightning and tropical storms. The cumulative effect of reading Ferrante in one gulp is exhaustion and elation. I am convinced now – more than I ever was reading The Quartet (and observing the passion and fame that now surrounds her) – that Ferrante is a major biographer of women’s lives. No, she is not a man. No man could ever write in this way about the unexplored, unexplained (till now), mysterious, hidden, shameful and exultant inner, intimate lives of women and about their sexual, emotional and creative yearnings.

Ferrante has told me things about myself, and the women I share this planet with, that I have never heard before or – to be honest – wanted to confront. We critics speak of her writing as ‘raw’ and honest. I don’t warm to her women much; they wouldn’t be my friends: in fact, the more I read her, the more distanced I feel from the Ferrante-archetype she seems to be describing in each novel.

Leda is the narrator here. Is she perhaps Elena Ferrante? Of all the novels this is my favourite. All her novels are different; they are also all the same. The protagonists are intelligent, questioning mothers, daughters and wives who are also writers or academics. They were born in Naples and spend much of their later lives questioning their identity and shaking off their origins. The women often have similar names – Elena, Leda, Lina. There are always dramatic turning points and revelations and confrontations – mostly with themselves. Often their lives are ‘perfect’ on the surface but, as they themselves reveal, they are ‘imperfect’ beneath. The stories are visceral and shocking. In each novel, the protagonist turns herself inside out.

Leda is nearly fifty, a successful, internationally respected Professor of English Literature at Florence University. She was born in Naples but left to study. She married another academic and had two daughters, Bianca and Marta, who though they never appear in the novel are described in such great detail that we feel we know them too. Leda divorced a long time ago, her daughters live in Canada with her ex (who seems, for once, a nice man with not too many flaws – unusual for men in a Ferrante novel!) and Leda lives a comfortable existence alone as an academic.

When my daughters moved to Toronto, where their father had lived and worked for years, I was embarrassed and amazed to discover that I wasn’t upset; rather, I felt light, as if only then had I definitively brought them into the world. For the first time in almost twenty-five years I was not aware of the anxiety of having to take care of them. The house was neat, as if no one lived there, I no longer had the constant bother of shopping and doing the laundry.

The novel begins with a bang (typical Ferrante) – a car crash. Within just two pages Leda describes how she crashed her car after returning from her summer holiday and lands in hospital, with her family and friends gathered around her, even coming all the way from Toronto. She survives, the only serious wound in her left side, an inexplicable lesion. But why did she crash the car? At the origin, she tells us, was a gesture of mine that made no sense… because it was senseless.

Leda decides that she won’t talk to anyone about this gesture except ‘us’. For the rest of the novel she confides in us (her readers) the details of her summer on the beach and her growing obsession with a young Neapolitan woman, Nina, and her toddler daughter, Elena, playing together on the beach with a doll. Who is the lost child here? Leda, Elena or Nina, or indeed Bianca and Marta? Prepare to gallop through the wind, rain and sun to find out. And then go and lie down (as I had to!).

Reviewed by Rosie Goldsmith

 

Rosie Goldsmith is Director of the European Literature Network. She was a BBC senior broadcaster for 20 years and is today an arts journalist, presenter, linguist, and with Max Easterman a media trainer for ‘Sounds Right’.

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Off the shelf

12 Novels That Celebrate the Joys and Challenges of Motherhood

For Mother’s Day, we’ve collected these beautiful and moving stories of mothers—their delights and their struggles. With memorable and colorful characters, they explore the unique journeys of female characters through life as parents and professionals, lovers and leaders.

The Lost Daughter
by Elena Ferrante

THE LOST DAUGHTER is a compelling and perceptive meditation on womanhood and motherhood. A middle-aged divorcée is alone for the first time in years when her daughters leave home to live with their father and her initial unexpected sense of liberty quickly turns to ferocious introspection.

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Bronzos Bookstore

 

We all know about Man Caves, those oases of masculinity in the predominately female domestic space, equipped with stereotypically macho decor and entertainment. The gender geography of Brazos Bookstore has turned this cultural idea on its head with the Girl Cave, our tongue-in-cheek name for the back-of-store nerve-center run by Augusta, Brooke, and Ülrika. Augusta manages inventory, Brooke oversees returns and shipping, and Ülrika covers everything from gift buying to various programs for our many young readers. And somehow, despite all the hours they put in to keep the bookstore’s blood pumping, they find time to do some serious amounts of reading. In this week’s Brazos Book List, we’re doing some literary spelunking, rappelling into the learned depths of our beloved Girl Cave. Check out these recent recommendations, on our shelves now!

THE LOST DAUGHTER begins as a story about a woman finding freedom in middle age. After her daughters leave Italy to go live with their father in Canada, the protagonist is surprised to feel relief, rather than sadness. She decides to celebrate by taking a vacation to the south. For a few days, she is relishing her new life, but when she meets a strange family her trip takes a dark turn. Elena Ferrante is the it-woman of contemporary international fiction, and this is one of her best books. I love it.

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EarlyWord

Elena Ferrante, Children’s Author

In addition to her bestselling Neapolitan novels, the mysterious Elena Ferrante has written a book for children aged 6-10.

The Beach at Night (Europa Editions; ISBN 9781609453701; Dec. 6, 2016; it may not yet be on wholesaler sites), reports The Wall Street Journal, will hit shelves later this year,

“Star translator,” Ann Goldstein, who translated Ferrante’s blockbuster adult titles into English will translate this tale as well.

Previously published in Italy in 2007, sales were tepid, reportsWSJ, but Ferrante’s U.S. publisher, Europa, says that was before she became a household name and booksellers were “perplexed” by how to position it.

All that has changed, prompting the re-release in America.


The Beach at Night
is a spinoff of an earlier Ferrante novel, The Lost Daughter, which includes a scene of  an adult stealing a doll from a child during a seaside vacation. Abandoned rather than stolen in the new book, the doll is left alone to face the terrors of the night in Ferrante’s newest.

Is that a story that will work for young readers? According to the WSJ, Ferrante, known for her often dark adult novels, “doesn’t sugarcoat things for young readers.”

The British trade publication, The Bookseller offers this summary:

“Celina [the lost doll] is having a terrible night, one full of jealousy for the new kitten, Minù, feelings of abandonment and sadness, misadventures at the hands of the beach attendant, and dark dreams. But she will be happily found by Mati, her child, once the sun rises.”

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The Irish Times

Danielle McLaughlin: ‘I think we need different books at different times’

Our Book Club author on Eimear McBride, Maud Gonne McBride, Elena Ferrante, Wide Sargasso Sea and why dead people, naturally, are her dream dinner party guests

by Martin Doyle

 What lessons has Danielle McLaughlin learned about life from reading? “To question. To see things from different viewpoints. That there are as many versions of a particular story as there are people involved. That some stories don’t get told at all”

What was the first book to make an impression on you?

I recall being terrified as a very small child by the Ladybird version of Rumpelstiltskin so that definitely made an impression on me, albeit not a happy one.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Anne of Green Gables.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

Earlier this year I discovered Elena Ferrante. I love The Lost Daughter.

(…)

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The Sidney Morning Herald

Elena Ferrante review: Three novellas that show the Neapolitan’s development

July 25, 2015

Andrew Rieme

<i>The Days of Abandonment</i>, by Elena Ferrante.

I’ve heard it said that only women can fully appreciate the achievement of Elena Ferrante, the pseudonymous Italian novelist of obsessively guarded privacy. It is certainly true that I have never experienced the agony of childbirth. I have never known the adolescent trauma of inexplicable bleeding. Nor have I felt what life is like for a single woman – an abandoned wife or one that has left her husband – forced to deal with her grief and fury. I have not felt the love-hate that Ferrante’s protagonists harbour against their mothers and children, or their jealousy of younger, more attractive women. I have not suffered the sexual indignities and outrages her characters endure.

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Reviews for Troubling love

Elena Ferrante, Troubling Love, Europa Editions, 2006

Literary Hub

BOOKS TO WARP YOUR SENSE OF REALITY

A DISORIENTING READING LIST FROM JAC JEMC

In the realm of book blurbs, “losing oneself in a story” is one of the most unavoidable clichés. See also: “gripping reads,” “page-turners,” a book you “can’t put it down.” The specific experience of “losing oneself,” though, has a dissociative implication. Why is this the measure of a book’s worth? Why is the best-case scenario being able to leave one’s self behind? What happens when we, as readers, lose ourselves to a story that has also become disoriented in some way? Where do these circles of the Venn diagram overlap?

As a reader, my favorite way of losing myself is by investing myself in a storyline that falters in its security. I love the feeling of being knocked off-kilter, unsure of what’s to be trusted. This often coincides with the methods of communication getting scrambled in some way. Maybe the narrator changes the way they’re speaking and that alters my relationship to how literally I’m supposed to take their words. Maybe a certain expectation had been set as to the type of story I was being told, and it becomes clear that the story is shifting its course. Maybe reality appears to unhinge and allow in more possible varieties of event than had previously been expected.

I become engrossed in figuring out some new version of logic and regaining my equilibrium. Some fiction does you the service of providing answers, some allows you room to interpret, and some stays open until the very end, lingering in uncertainty.  Whether I’ve worked my way out of the maze or not by the end, it is these disorienting texts that interest me the most. Below are six titles that have done just this for me.

Elena Ferrante, Troubling Love

Everyone loves the Neapolitan Quartet, and for good reason, but my favorite of Ferrante’s books is Troubling Love, a disgusting ride in a broken down elevator of a book, opening onto different hallucinatory floors. The viscera of this book had me longing for a grosser literature that didn’t ignore the body in the way it usually does. The narrator, Delia, is unsure of her memories in a way that feels familiar and dangerous. Her mother is not who Delia thought she was and these revelations have both Delia and the reader wondering who to trust. Every scene feels like it might be a dream, and, the reader is forced to proceed with a tentative faith, testing possibilities and reconciling that all of the truths might exist at once.

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The Quietus

25 Years Of Troubling Love: Ferrante’s Women & The Fight For Privacy

Lauren Strain , March 5th, 2017 13:41

For two decades, Italian author Elena Ferrante maintained her privacy – until a recent article claimed to reveal her ‘true’ identity. Twenty-five years after the publication of her first novel, Lauren Strain considers the example that her fight for selfhood – and the struggles of the women in her novels – sets for us today. 

“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.”

Consider the motivations of a man who, on reading this statement, sets out to deprive the speaker of that freedom they have found.

This was the pursuit of journalist Claudio Gatti, who in an incendiary article published by the New York Review of Books last October, announced his belief that the pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante was, in fact, a translator named Anita Raja. He’d spent months rooting through real estate records and other financial data, including anonymously obtained details of payments to Raja from her publishers.

Ferrante, the author of three unsettling novellas and the globally popular Neapolitan Novels series, has maintained an avowed silence as to her ‘real’ identity since she began publishing in 1992, insisting that everything a reader may wish to know about a writer is contained within the work itself. As a result she has been able to create for herself a rare and precious thing, especially for a woman in the media spotlight: an autonomous creative space free of judgement or expectation, in which to work without scrutiny or boundary. It is something she explains the value of several times in Frantumaglia, a volume of letters and interviews that her publishers, Edizione E/O, describe as a “twenty-five-year history of an attempt to show that the function of an author is all in the writing” but which Gatti argues provides grounds to unmask her.

That a woman’s word is neither believed nor respected is hardly a surprise. But what’s been particularly nauseating about Gatti’s and other journalists’ efforts to ‘out’ Ferrante is that, if you’re even slightly familiar with her work, you’ll know that her whole output is an examination of the lives of women who are denied their right to self-determination.

Spirited, clever and aspirant, Ferrante’s women grow up in oppressive neighbourhoods polluted by fear and fascistic family ties. Under relentless pressure to behave one way, to look another – to be who others want them to be rather than what they choose for themselves – they commonly experience a sense of brokenness, of coming apart. They fragment, dissolve and sometimes even disappear completely.

In Ferrante’s debut novel, Troubling Love, artist Delia tries to trace the final movements of her mother, Amalia, who after a life suffocated by the demands of men – a husband who beat her and a lover who never stopped pursuing her – has drowned herself in the sea. In My Brilliant Friend, the first instalment in the Neapolitan series, childhood best friends Lenù and Lila both endure frightening feelings of disintegration at the hands of their violent, 1950s Naples community. Most famous are Lila’s episodes of “dissolving margins”, when things seem literally as well as inwardly to blur (“she had often had the sensation of moving for a few fractions of a second into a person or a thing or a number or a syllable, violating its edges”), but Lenù also experiences similar dysmorphic terrors: “sometimes I had the impression that, while every animated being around me was speeding up the rhythms of its life, solid surfaces turned soft under my fingers or swelled up,” she writes. “It seemed to me that my own body, if you touched it, was distended… I felt squeezed in that vise along with the mass of everyday things and people… as if everything, thus compacted, and always tighter, were grinding me up, reducing me to a repulsive cream.” This horror of a loss of solidity echoes Ferrante’s earlier novel, The Days of Abandonment, where a wife left reeling from her husband’s sudden departure must gather all her strength to overcome a profound internal shattering.

But while many of these nightmarish passages suggest the threat of breakdown, the books also offer the possibility that Ferrante’s women, by withdrawing from the language and roles expected of them, are able if not to resist then at least to evade their oppressors. Troubling Love‘s Amalia, leaving home in strangers’ clothes, indulging in forbidden behaviours and concealing her tracks, denies her pursuers’ desires and eludes capture. Lila’s final vanishing, meanwhile, fulfils a long-held intention: “She wanted not only to disappear herself… but also to eliminate the entire life that she had left behind”, writes Lenù in My Brilliant Friend.

There is a sense in which, by becoming unreachable, unknowable and even unintelligible, perhaps these women can claim for themselves a space outside of the viciously patriarchal culture they inhabit. It’s an idea Ferrante puts forward herself in an interview included in Frantumaglia: “The disappearance of women should be interpreted not only as giving up the fight against the violence of the world but also as clear rejection,” she tells Belgium’s De Standaard. “There is an expression in Italian whose double meaning is untranslatable: ‘Io non ci sto.’ Literally it means: I’m not here, in this place, before what you’re suggesting. In common usage, it means, instead: I don’t agree, I don’t want to. Rejection means shunning the games of those who crush the weak.”

Surely it is possible, too, to see Ferrante’s absenting of herself from the media circus as a rebuke of this kind. In remaining pseudonymous and participating only on her own terms (she answers select interviews in writing, via her publisher), the author enacts a sort of dissolution of her own. It is interesting to see this refusal to engage as a political act; of a piece with the concerns of her work, and perhaps even an extension of it.

Which is to say that, when Gatti so clinically peels back Ferrante’s skin, he also rolls back a 25-year project, a body of work that spans a quarter of a century. When he invades Ferrante’s hard-fought space, he tramples, too, on the content of her seven novels and the lives that they narrate. It is this that makes the reveal of Ferrante’s identity more than just gossip, and symbolic of the very struggles that lie at the heart of her stories.

The dogged determination on the part of critics to forcibly expose a woman who has chosen a particular way of life has been a useful reminder that, still, in 2017, those who follow their own path face expectation to conform, even from people who would consider themselves permissive. Fortunately, in Ferrante’s case the work itself is armoured against this kind of assault, since its other key theme, alongside her women’s battle for autonomy, is the futility of anyone’s attempt to define them. Over the course of 1500 pages, Lenù’s resolution at the outset of My Brilliant Friend to not let Lila “win,” to “write all the details of our story” and record the definitive version of their history, proves impossible; and in Troubling Love, Delia, giving up the search for her mother, finds that she “couldn’t impose on her the prison of a single adjective.” Ultimately, Ferrante’s canon asks the question: Who knows Lila but Lila? Who knows Lenù but Lenù? Who knows Ferrante but Ferrante? Who knows you, but you?

At a time when women’s control over their bodies in even ‘progressive’ societies is increasingly challenged, when they are dismissed and degraded by their political leaders, Ferrante’s refusal to allow others jurisdiction over her image sets an emboldening example for women everywhere. While she stresses that her work is not written with an expressly feminist or other ideological message (“I don’t like stories that are a programmatic enactment of the theory of the group one belongs to,” she says in a letter to her publisher), her comments made on a more personal level about the precarity of women’s position seem to carry a clear warning.

“Girls like my daughters appear convinced that the freedom they’ve inherited is part of the natural state of affairs and not the temporary outcome of a long battle that is still being waged, and in which everything could suddenly be lost,” she said in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2015, later expanding in The Gentlewoman: “even in those areas where many of our rights are safe, it’s still hard to be a woman who challenges the way in which even the most cultured and forward-thinking men represent us.”

We encounter these men in the pages of Ferrante’s novels, in the figures of Donato and Nino Sarratore, whose learning and cultivated airs do not prevent them from abusing the women around them. We encounter them in the workplace, in education and at the highest levels of society. And we encounter them, too, in our current year, in “the premier literary-intellectual magazine in the English language,” striving to undo an entire life’s work.

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Arcade

 by VICTOR XAVIER ZAROUR ZARZAR

The love told of in L’amore molesto is a maddening kind of love. It can be, like the Italian word used to describe it, annoying, bothersome, irritating—nasty, even. Or, borrowing from the English translation of the novel, troubling. This love, between a mother and a daughter, is, one might say, the most primal kind of love. It is the original love. And while Ferrante’s novel does not reveal what love itself is, it certainly makes it clear that the act of loving and being loved is a viscous affair. One we cannot escape from, as it adheres to the self as skin does to flesh. We can only, this novel suggests, try to understand it, or rather, mold it and reimagine it in an effort to make it coherent—palatable. It is precisely this imaginative exercise that stands at the center of Ferrante’s first published novel, which opens with the death of a mother. Unlike Camus’s Meursault, Delia knows the exact date and place of her mother’s death: “Mia madre annegò la notte del 23 maggio, giorno del mio compleanno, nel tratto di mare di fronte alla località che chiamano Spaccavento, a pochi chilometri da Minturno” (8). This death, like the eponymous love, is primordial, inasmuch as it sets in motion Delia’s investigation of her mother’s last days. L’amore molesto, thus, opens with one of the essential tropes of the detective novel, and it borrows from the genre in that the action must move backwards in order to move forward. Yet Delia’s examination of her mother’s death is really a proxy for her investigation of the maternal figure (sagoma—figure, outline, contour, shape—is a word that repeatedly comes up in the novel) and the relationship that it bears to her past, present, and future self.

It is no coincidence that the event which inaugurates this process happens on the day of Delia’s birthday. Amalia’s death is the necessary catalyst for Delia’s rebirth, which can only be realized through the separation from the maternal womb. The occasion arrives, we might think, belatedly (forty five years, to the day). We see echoes here of Irigaray’s 1981 essay on mother-daughter relationships: “what I wanted from you Mother, was this: that in giving me life, you still remain alive” (quoted in Hirsch 137).  Only through death can life come, and as the novel opens with this event, Delia must revisit the imaginary and real places of her childhood. Images of regression abound in the novel. Most prominent, perhaps, is the sea, the perennial trope of things generative. It is at once the place where Amalia’s life ends, and the place where, at the end of the book, Delia will come to have her own version of an epiphany. But it is the in-between—the journey to this epiphany—that takes up the bulk of the book. We learn that although Delia had left her native Naples years ago to live in Rome, she never succeeded in shaking off her mother’s influence. Whenever her mother visited her and took to clean the apartment, Delia confesses, she felt, curled up in bed, like a “bambina con le rughe” (16). This infantilization continues throughout the book, originating from Delia’s fear of abandonment—her constant clinging to her mother and the jealousy she feels at the thought of having to share her affection: “La sua socievolezza mi infastidiva” (17). What troubles her (what maddens, upsets her) about Amalia’s sociability is the realization that her mother is a woman of her own who is capable of giving herself over to other people besides her daughter. It must be said, however, that it is Amalia’s rapport with men that most troubles her daughter, as little to nothing is made of her affection for other women, not even her other daughters.

This fear of abandonment is present in Delia from her early childhood days, when she would impatiently wait for her mother by the window: “l’ansia diventava così incontenibile che debordava in tremiti del corpo” (29). In the face of this overflow, the child’s reaction, to lock herself in a closet, is telling. She sees this as “un antidote efficace” (32). The closet, an enclosed and dark space, is strongly suggestive of a womb in which the little girl takes refuge when overpowered by the fear of losing her mother. Such a tight space provides comfort and, of course, harks back to the prenatal stage, when mother and daughter inhabited the same body, neither separated by the act of birth nor estranged from each other by the phallocentric apparatus. It gives Delia a sense of grasp over her mother that she never truly achieves in reality. When she finally loses her, Delia’s first instinct is to hold on to her dead body “per non finire chissà dove” (56). Although it is clear that she will, in fact, end up somewhere, the fear expressed in this statement shows the extent to which daughter has molded her own self in association with, as well as against, the image (the figure) of the mother.

Once her mother has been taken by the sea, Delia is unanchored, even more so because she is abruptly confronted with her aging mother’s sexuality. The provocative underwear that Amalia was wearing when she drowned is presented as a clue that will advance the structure of the mystery, as well as tangible evidence of Delia’s suspicions (and fears) that her mother was, in fact, a sexual being. L’amore molesto is perhaps at its darkest and most poignant in the moments when we witness the ways in which the obsessive jealousy of Delia’s violent father (who, very tellingly, remains nameless) is mirrored in Delia herself. Certainly the parallels hold only to a very limited extent; Delia’s father remains steeped in, and a representative of, a patriarchal oppressive society. Nevertheless, Delia’s own policing of her mother’s life is many a time presented as a paternal inheritance. By paternal inheritance I do not only mean what her father in particular has passed on to her, but also what she has absorbed from the Neapolitan society in which she grew up. Such a society has not only set women against—and as the possession of—men, but it has also altered male relationships, making men alternate between a fiery protectiveness of what is perceived as one’s property and a complicity in the state of dominance. A simple ride on the tram, the novel suggests, suffices to witness this condition:

I passeggeri in piedi si curvavano su di noi respirandoci addosso. Le donne soffocavano tra i corpi maschili, sbuffando per quella vicinanza occasionale, fastidiosa anche se all’apparenza incolpevole. I maschi, nella ressa, si servivano delle femmine per giocare in silenzio tra sé e sé. Uno fissava una ragazza bruna con occhi ironici per vedere se abbassava lo sguardo. Uno pescava un po’ di pizzo tra un bottone e l’altro di una camicetta o arpionava con lo sguardo una bretella. (597)

Yet, in this world, Ferrante reminds us that it is not only men who police the female body, but even women themselves. Even when Delia recognizes that such a fiercely protective and territorial attitude was all but self-obliterating to her father, she internalizes his fears about Amalia’s body, especially when it is displayed in public: “Allora mi prendeva la smania di proteggere mia madre dal contatto con gli uomini, come avevo visto che faceva sempre mio padre in quella circostanza. Mi disponevo come uno scudo alle sue spalle e me ne stavo crocefissa alle gambe di lei […]” (612 emphasis mine).

Of course, this acquired anxiety damages Delia’s own relationship with her mother. Female as they are, Delia and the women around her have grown up speaking the language of the aggressor; they have been defined in terms that are fundamentally alien to their condition, and this has led to an estrangement both from themselves and from one another. Delia is aware of this fact (perhaps she is more critical of it in her mother than in herself) and alludes to it when she writes: “Forse adesso ero sotto quel cavalcavia perché […] di nuovo mia madre, prima che diventasse mia madre, fosse incalzata dall’uomo con cui avrebbe fatto l’amore, che l’avrebbe coperta col suo cognome, che l’avrebbe cancellata col suo alfabeto” (1428). In this sense, the English translation of the novel might take on a new meaning if we are willing to read troubling as a verb instead of an adjective: Troubling Love is about men troubling the love between women. The effacement instigated by the imposition of a phallocentric language obscures the relationships between women and renders communication more difficult. Having been oppressed and conditioned by the males around her, Delia must find a different way, a more feminine way perhaps, of understanding her relationship with her mother. This search can be formulated in terms of Kristeva’s chora or Cixous’s écriture feminine; thus, Delia’s main and most difficult task is to try to understand the mother-daughter relationship in intimate terms that are removed from those imposed by the men around her.

To what extent is this possible? Delia carries this inheritance like a burden. Her relationship to her mother has been so damaged that it, too, has become a burden.  Ferrante literalizes this burden in the scene of the funeral: “Durante il funerale mi sorpresi a pensare che finalmente non avevo più l’obbligo di preoccuparmi per lei. Subito dopo avvertii un flusso tiepido e mi sentii bagnata tra le gambe” (67). As brilliant as this literary move is, there is many ways in which we can read Delia’s particularly violent period at her mother’s funeral. On the one hand, menstruation is a common signifier for the life that did not come to be realized; on the other hand, it is the ultimate affirmation of the possibility to create life. We are told that the discharge is particularly powerful (“Il flusso di sangue era copioso”). Its potency sets Delia, living and bleeding, in stark contrast with her mother, whose coffin she decides to carry on her shoulders along with other men, even if “le donne non portano bare in spalla.” The coffin, of course, becomes the literalized burden, a sort of object correlative. “Quando la bara era stata deposta nel carro,” Delia writes, “e questo si era avviato, erano bastati pochi passi e un sollievo colpevole perché la tensione precipitasse in quel fiotto segreto del ventre” (92). If the coffin precipitates and increases the blood flow, it is because, as mentioned above, Amalia’s death has become the rebirth of her daughter, and, in performing the ritualistic carrying of the coffin, Delia is, in a way, going through her own rite of initiation: a second first-menstruation, characterized by its force. This connection does not escape Delia, who very directly—and effectively—juxtaposes her and her mother’s situations: “Mia madre era stata sotterrata da becchini maleducati in fondo a un interrato maleodorante di ceri e di fiori marci. Io avevo mal di reni e crampi al ventre” (147).

There is certainly also the element of a bodily sense of release. On a superficial narrative level, Delia connects the realization that she does not need to worry about her mother anymore to her menstruation (“non avevo più l’obbligo di preoccuparmi per lei”), and thus presents it as a sort of breathing out and letting go. But it is more complicated than that. We learn that Delia is not able to shed a single tear for her mother. Her body, I would argue, finds a psychosomatic outlet for this bottled-up and unresolved anxiety in the stream of blood (in this book, bodily fluids—semen, urine, blood, tears, sweat—are as ubiquitous as they are almost undistinguishable from one another). In other words, Delia, at this point, is still reluctant to face many aspects of her relationship with Amalia. Although her journey has begun, she must still come to a fuller understanding of the inner mechanisms of her and her mother’s psychological rapport. And it is precisely as if her body, at that moment, were alerting her to something, for it is first and foremost through the physical experience—the sensual, and by extension, the sexual—that this understanding can come about.

Not by chance does Delia only manage to cry when, later that day, she remembers her own menstruating mother:

Vidi nella penombra mia madre a gambe larghe che sganciava una spilla di sicurezza, si staccava dal sesso, come se fossero incollati, dei panni di lino insanguinati, si girava senza sorpresa e mi diceva con calma: «Esci, che fai qui?». Scoppiai a piangere, per la prima volta dopo molti anni. Piansi battendo una mano quasi a intervalli fissi sul lavandino, come per imporre un ritmo alle lacrime. (119)

Delia’s imposition of a rhythm to her tears is reminiscent of Kristeva’s chora and the assumption that a more feminine language would be lyrical, highly attentive to rhythm, more instinctual and inextricably linked to the body. Regardless of whether one reads it in psychoanalytic terms, one can see how Ferrante’s highly curated prose in L’amore molesto is in itself a receptacle of meaning, detached from content. It is in the utterance itself, in the reimagining and wording of her past, that Delia will arrive at some sort of realization, as she acknowledges when, toward the end, she writes: “Dire è incatenare tempi e spazi perduti” (1763). The truth hides in the dark corners of her utterances (and we cannot fail to observe how comfortably this novel inhabits dark spaces). It also hides in the hidden spaces of the body. Delia remains profoundly marked by this scene because of its visceral quality, and it is the experience of inhabiting a female body in a male context that connects mother and daughter. Later in the book, the furtive quality of the moment discussed above will be replicated, though overturned, when Amalia accidentally walks into Delia’s room and catches her looking at her genitalia in a little mirror. This connection between the two women—with the burden it represents for Delia—is seemingly unbreakable. Any distance that she might try to impose between herself and her mother seems to ultimately vanish. Delia’s intense desire to dettach from her mother and finally become herself is shown in the juxtaposition between: “accadeva dopo che negli anni, per odio, per paura, avevo desiderato di perdere ogni radice in lei, fino alle più profonde […] Tutto rifatto, per diventare io e staccarmi da lei” (776), and, later in the book, “mi resi conto con tenerezza inattesa che invece avevo Amalia sotto la pelle, come un liquido caldo che mi era stato iniettato chissà quando” (1094). But part of Delia’s anxiety seems to come from the fact that the same was not true for her mother—that she did not have Amelia under her skin.

If there is constant regression in the book, brought about by compulsive remembrance, it is shown most glaringly in those moments when Delia wishes to connect with and understand her mother’s body, perhaps as a means to return to the prenatal stage. She promptly smells the brassiere that Amalia was wearing when she died. Similarly, when going through her mother’s apartment, she notices: “Di lato alla tazza c’era una busta della spazzatura semicolma. Dentro non c’erano rifiuti; c’era invece quel lezzo di corpo affaticato che conservano i panni sporchi o fatti di tessuto invecchiato, intrisi in ogni fibra degli umori di decenni” (247). She finds her mother in that stench, and later tries to inhabit her body by wearing her underwear. This act is executed as compensation for all those years she was denied the maternal body; not only would Amalia not allow her daughter to touch her, but she also remained “morbidamente ambigua come sapeva essere” (543). This maternal interdiction stands behind Delia’s desire to inhabit her mother’s body. The book is filled with such moments. Even when using her mother’s face cream, Delia remarks on the trace her mother’s finger has left. She goes on to erase it and leave her own trace on top of it. “Ciò che di lei non mi era stato concesso,” writes Delia, “volevo cancellarglielo dal corpo. Così niente più si sarebbe perso o disperso lontano da me, perché finalmente tutto era già stato perduto” (774). The desire for the annihilation of the other remains a fundamental part in the development of the self, and in this moment Delia seems to be reenacting Freud’s fort/da game. In other words, rather than submissively enduring her mother’s absence, Delia takes it on herself to anticipate the loss—take charge of it—by enabling it herself, and thus, in a way, keeping her mother all to herself.

Elizabeth Bishop told us how to be better equipped for loss. Practice losing farther, losing faster, she said. And although she remained skeptical about the results of such practice when it came to the big loss, she nonetheless kept losing compulsively. Delia, too, exemplifies the back and forth freighted with tension between losing and clinging. Language, in this context, is particularly relevant. Although I have mentioned that the women in L’amore molesto are forced to define and speak themselves with the language of the oppressor, Neapolitan dialect is, on one level, associated with Amalia. It is one of the fundamental aspects of her upbringing that Delia most staunchly attempts to leave behind: “Era la lingua di mia madre, che avevo cercato inutilmente di dimenticare insieme a tante altre cose sue” (149). But more than the language of her mother, Neapolitan becomes associated with the abuse inflicted on her mother by Naples and its men. For Delia, every iteration in Neapolitan becomes a reenactment of the violence inflicted on her and her mother. For this reason, she has tried—unsuccessfully—to detach herself completely from it by adopting a curated Italian (here, we are assuming, too, that Delia, and not Ferrante, is the author of the novel). Neapolitan becomes a narrative technique that enables both anamnesis and analepsis. Even before Delia comes back to her native Naples, she experiences a moment of regression after one of the cryptic calls she gets from her mother the night before her death. During this call, Amalia utters obscenities at her daughter over the phone: “Quelle oscenità mi causarono una scomposta regressione” (46).

In a way, then, even before the death that marks the beginning of a journey, Delia is propelled into her past life by the appearance of dialect. But this is not a joyful, nostalgic dialect, Ferrante warns us. It is a dialect that, in the book, is almost exclusively spoken in obscenities, yelled in insults, grunted and spat at passing women. It is tainted with abuse, as exemplified in one of the novel’s most disconcerting moments, when Caserta, “in un sibilo incalzante e sempre più sguaiato,” directs at Delia “un fiotto di oscenità in dialetto, un morbido rivolo di suoni che coinvolse in un frullato di seme, saliva, feci, orina, dentro orifizi d’ogni genere, me, le mie sorelle, mia madre” (131). This passage, perhaps more than any other in the text, highlights the interconnectedness of the bodily, the spoken word, and the ways in which the latter is used as a tool to suppress the former. The only other instance in the entire novel where the word fiottoappears is when Delia speaks of her menstruation—“quel fiotto segreto del ventre.” The word emphasizes the forceful discharge of both Delia’s body and Caserta’s oppressive words. Fiotto, a gush or spurt, conveys the sense of a sudden overflow, which the word “stream,” as used in the English translation, does not. More than that, the word juxtaposes the public setting of Caserta’s abuse (he is, after all, yelling at her in the street, in broad daylight) to the most intimate nature of menstruation, thus signaling just how engrained violence is and the extent to which aggression can penetrate into the darkest crevices of the self. This becomes more evident by the involvement of “me, my sisters, my mother.” Ferrante is being loud and clear: this is not an isolated event, but rather a singular occurrence of a common fact that involves the aggression perpetrated on women. In that moment, Caserta becomes everyman, in the way that Delia becomes everywoman. The frullato, a smoothie (or as Goldstein translates it, a concoction), takes this image even further, alluding to the consumption of this violence, the way in which these women—porous women—have to absorb abuse on a daily basis “dentro orifizi d’ogni genere.” This ingestion, Ferrante suggests, is as commonplace as the ingestion of food; it enters and is exchanged by bodies in the way that “semen, saliva, feces, and urine” are. Insults are the currency that Neapolitan men seem to trade in.

It is undoubtedly a conscious decision on Ferrante’s part not to incorporate any Neapolitan dialect in her novel. There is not one word of dialect in the book, and the narrative constantly distances itself from Neapolitan in different ways and on varying degrees. In the passage cited above, for instance, Delia narrates speech by saying she was reached by a “fiotto di oscenità in dialetto.” We do not know what these obscenities sound like in dialect, but their seamless incorporation into the narrative might make the lack of reported speech less conspicuous. This technique places more distance between the reader and the event that is being described, while, in a sense, suggesting that there is less distance between the narrator and the narrative, for the former has absorbed the latter. This last point might be pertinent insofar as we argue that Delia is trying to distance herself as much as she can from Neapolitan dialect, but is ultimately helpless as she was born into it, and is thus enveloped by it, at least subconsciously. At any rate, there is, on a conscious plane, a clear refusal to allow Neapolitan dialect any direct and active role in the narration. We see this even more clearly in those instances where Ferrante does report speech that is spoken in dialect; here, however, instead of transcribing the actual words, she reports them in standard Italian.

During her conversation with Caserta on the phone, we are told that he says: “«Non sono Amalia», in falsetto, e poi riprese in un dialetto strettissimo: «Lasciami all’ultimo piano la busta coi panni sporchi. Me l’avevi promessa. E guarda bene: troverai la valigia con le tue cose. Te l’ho messa lì»” (314). This is misleading; it might give off the impression that Delia is citing verbatim what Caserta has said, while, in reality, she is filtering his words through her own consciousness. What Caserta says in dialect, she translates into Italian. We must ask: why this insistence on keeping Neapolitan out of the picture? We get an answer in one of the moments when Delia herself narrates her speech in dialect: “Nei suoni che articolavo a disagio, c’era l’eco delle liti violente tra Amalia e mio padre, tra mio padre e i parenti di lei, tra lei e i parenti di mio padre” (149). Dialect, as I stated before, bears the imprint of the abuse that Delia and her mother have suffered. By trying to keep it at bay from her own life, and thus from her narrative, Delia is making an effort to distance herself from the violence, all the while showing how impossible it is. Dialect, like love, is viscous—it sticks to Delia and will not let go of her, just like her past: “Le oscenità in dialetto – le uniche oscenità che riuscivano a far combaciare nella mia testa suono e senso in modo da materializzare un sesso molesto per il suo realismo aggressivo, gaudente e vischioso” (1391).

This last passage links, once again, the linguistic and the bodily, enabling us to read in Delia’s aversion to Neapolitan not only a refusal to re-inhabit the violent spaces of her childhood, but also a fear of facing her mother’s sexuality, the “sesso molesto per il suo realismo aggressivo, gaudente e vischioso.” There are, in fact, no examples of joyful or satisfying sexuality in L’amore molesto. All sex seems to be just that, molesto. There is, of course, the image of Amalia as a liberated woman who enjoys her sexuality, but we only see this through the anxious memory of Delia, whose one sexual encounter with Antonio after the funeral is described in painfully awkward terms. There is an overflow (here, too) in Delia’s body, but contrary to what we would think, there is no gratification. We learn that her sexuality has been one of many ways in which she has tried to inhabit her mother’s skin. If she let Antonio touch her as a child, it was only because she wanted Antonio to become his father, so that she could become Delia: “Ero io ed ero lei. Io-lei ci incontravamo con Caserta” (1732). Similarly, when Antonio’s grandfather molests the five-year-old Delia, she reports to her father the incident, but as if it had happened between Caserta and Amalia. This last fact repositions the narrative and comes as a realization toward the end of the novel. On the one hand, Delia confesses to the own unreliability of her memory, while, on the other, by admitting to herself, and, by extension, to readers, that she was partly responsible for her parents’ divorce and Amalia’s punishment, her jealousy and desire to replace her father (and all men) come to the surface. It is implied, of course, that coming to the surface is the beginning of coming-to-terms.

So how exactly does this coming-to-terms happen, if indeed it does? I would suggest that it is through Delia’s recreation of her childhood in the period after her mother’s death that the process of detachment begins. The novel remains, in this aspect, unresolved, yet there is an inkling of hope that Delia might actually be able to—eventually—separate herself from her mother’s figure. This recreation, or simply the aspect of creation, is central to L’amore molesto. We must not forget that Amalia was a seamstress, and it is precisely through her profession, through creating garments, adapting fabrics to changing times and fads—by making something where nothing was, that Amalia is able to delineate the contours of her own identity, much as she would delineate the contours of dresses—the figures—on large pieces of fabric: “Mi piacque insperatamente, con sorpresa, quella donna che in qualche modo s’era inventata fino alla fine la sua storia giocando per conto suo con stoffe vuote” (1333). This is the ultimate legacy that she bequeaths to her daughter, whose uses her own kind of fabric—memories—to fabricate a story with which to make sense of her life. We soon find out that Amalia’s provocative underwear was, in fact, meant as a gift for her daughter. In light of this, we can argue that what she is giving Delia after her death is really a new skin, under which Amalia herself will live no longer.

It matters little whether Amalia actually had a sexual relationship with Caserta—or whether she did in fact cheat on her husband when Delia was young. What matters is that Delia can conjure up experiences—lived or imagined—from her past and fabricate something out of them. If childhood is a tissue of lies that endure in the imperfect, then it is the acknowledgment of this fact, perhaps, that constitutes truth. This is the shape that Delia’s ultimate realization takes: “La storia poteva essere più debole o più avvincente di quella che mi ero raccontata. Bastava tirare via un filo e seguirlo nella sua linearità semplificatoria” (1789). The story that Delia creates in her mind about her mother’s last hours might, for all that matters, have not happened at all; what counts is that it was formulated, that it took the shape of a story. The book ends on an ambiguous note. After drawing on her ID so as to make herself look like her mother, Delia writes: “Amalia c’era stata. Io ero Amalia” (1860). This complete identification with the mother figure might, on a more literal level, be taken as an assertion of the impossibility of ridding oneself of that figure. I would suggest, however, that it is only because she has finally come to terms with her own story, and because she can fully embrace the mother figure and identify with it, that Delia can finally delineate the contours of her own identity. That final act strikes me as more humorous, reflective of a more mature Delia who has left her mother and her old self not in the past, but in the imperfect. That is, in the continuous existence of things left behind.

 

Works Cited

Ferrante, Elena. L’amore Molesto. Roma: Edizioni e/o, 1999. Print.

Hirsch, Marianne. The Mother/daughter Plot: Narrative, Psychoanalysis, Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989. Google books.

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European Literature Network

My Feverish Ferrante Summer: Three #RivetingReviews of Elena Ferrante’s early novels by Rosie Goldsmith

Over three days this summer, before the unmasking of the identity of Italy’s most famous writer,Elena Ferrante, I sat down on our terrace in Italy to read and review for you Ferrante’s first three novels translated into English. My Italian friends insisted they were even better that The Quartet. They were right. And The Lost Daughter is the best of all of them.

I’ve decided to publish my reviews as I wrote them this summer, before the unveiling. She will always be for me ‘the writer Elena Ferrante’. I read and reviewed the complete Neapolitan Quartet exactly a year ago, on the same terrace, overlooking the mountains of the Alpi Apuane in Northern Tuscany. They disturbed and excited me. Ferrante today plays a large role in my literary life and I suspect she always will. No one rivets me quite like Elena Ferrante.
So here are my #RivetingReviews of Elena Ferrante’s first three novels in English – all translated by the incomparable Ann Goldstein, all published in the UK by Europa Editions.

 

THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT (I Giorni dell’Abbandono)

(2002 Italian/2005 English)

The narrator Olga is thirty-eight, a burgeoning writer, a mother of two children, married to Mario, a successful academic and living in Turin.

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… closed the front door carefully behind him, leaving me turned to stone beside the sink.

So begins this ground-breaking, earth-shattering novel, with the breakdown of Olga and Mario’s ‘happy’ marriage after fifteen years; the first novel from Ferrante to be translated into English, setting out for us the confident tone, bold ideas, razor-sharp observations and precipitous literary heights that reverberate through all her work; as if, with these early novels, she is building up to her War and Peace, her Anna Karenina (Ferrante obviously loves Tolstoy) – the famous Naples Quartet. Olga is ofcourse originally from Naples. Ferrante’s defining links with Naples are ever-present.

The women we meet in her novels are all in some way like Olga – obsessive, fearless and trying to understand the absence of sense – the phrase that Mario uses about this own life and their marriage when he leaves her. But Olga is the one to examine this absence, not Mario, who quickly moves on to a new life, leaving her to imprison herself within the four walls of her mind, her life and her home in Turin.

‘Happiness’ is rare in Ferrante’s books and marriages are rarely ‘happy’. The breakdown of this marriage and this woman’s life is described in intimate detail. Olga documents her personal hell after discovering her husband’s infidelity; the depths of her self-degradation; the cruelty, obscenity, perversion and violence she becomes capable of; her animal madness and the monster she unleashes in herself as she goes to the darkest depths of myself and before she is able to return to some kind of adult normality. Ultimately she does not follow her much-read Anna Karenina to her death but instead enters a whirlpool sucking me in, emerging to find a form of enlightenment, not happiness but enough ‘sense’ to live with.

No other writer I know delves as deeply into a woman’s heart and mind as Ferrante, and with such beautiful, lyrical and scorchingly hot prose. As a reader I feel I’m swimming in a whirlpool of excruciating honesty.

Olga is different from Ferrante’s later heroines in that she is initially likeable and straightforward. A protagonist you care for, can like and feel sympathy with when her beloved husband leaves her and her children.

Life had been drained out of me like blood and saliva and mucus from a patient during an operation.

But as always Ferrante ends up risking the alienation of her readers by making her characters quite unpleasant and unlikable in their self-destruction and self-analysis. I doubt Ferrante cares. She doesn’t need to care. This is immersive, essential, honest, painful and vital writing. No wonder, I often think, she wishes to remain anonymous. This way she enjoys total artistic freedom.

What can we deduce about the identity of Ferrante from this book, and the issues and style that reappear in future novels? She knows about motherhood, marriage and children; about friendship, grief, academia, the writer’s life, publishing; she knows about clothes, dressmaking and fabrics (!); she knows Italy and especially Naples and has obviously travelled internationally.

How literary and lyrical Olga is! Like the women in most of Ferrante’s novels she loves words, books and writing. I myself jotted down whole chunks of her novels, so as to imprint their depth and detail on my brain. For example, this, on grief: I was the sentinel of grief, keeping watch along with a crowd of dead words. And on writing: I spent the warm mornings of early autumn sitting on a bench in the rocky garden, writing. In appearance they were notes for a possible book, at least that’s what I called them. I wanted to cut myself to pieces—I said to myself—I wanted to study myself with precision and cruelty, recount the evil of these terrible months completely. And finally: In order to write well, I need to go to the heart of every question, of a smaller, safer place. Eliminate the superfluous. Narrow the field. To write truly is to speak from the depths of the maternal womb.

 

TROUBLING LOVE (L’Amore Molesto)

(1992 Italian; 2007 English)

Like all ‘classics’, you imagine Ferrante to have been around ‘for ever’, but she hasn’t and has only existed in English for ten years. But what a distinctive style, from this very first novel (in Italian). Before she wrote it, she extracted the promise of anonymity from her Italian publishers EDIZIONI E/0 – who have honoured her promise. Ferrante wrote to them:
I believe that 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. This anonymity she believed would give her a space of absolute creative freedom, a freedom all the more necessary because her books stick “a finger in certain wounds I have that are still infected.

In this novel, ‘the troubling love’ described is that between mothers and children, husbands and wives, men and women – and, as we know from Lina and Elena, in the Quartet – between women too; describing the violence, passion and cruelty of this love with torrential prose and exquisite elegance. Naples is dirty, dark, passionate, loud and dramatic. No one is content. Relationships are unhappy.

What is the source of the seething suffering that Ferrante exposes in each novel? Why is she so raw and bleeding? The more I read her books the more I want to interview her, to know about her, because I simply can’t imagine that at least some of what she writes stems from truth. There is a relentless, ruthless drive to the writing; a breathlessness, as if she’s whispering to us, let’s make the pages burn with my writing, let’s make the men suffer who torment us.

 This is not just feminism or any -ism but a unique view of life, which is so daringly honest that thousands of readers round the world are saying ‘thank you’ (and some ‘no, thank you’!). Ferrante always digs deep and says things that others dare not say. The storylines are riveting (what an achievement) but it’s the pace and lack of pauses and paragraphs in the narrative that make you turn the page in breathless anticipation. Then there’s the thrill of that first sentence of each novel:
My mother drowned on the night of May 23rd, my birthday, in the sea at a place called Spaccavento, a few miles from Minturno.

The abuse, violence, obscenity, humiliation, fetishes and disgust of ‘Troubling Love’ are ‘real’ but at a poetic remove. Delia, the 45- year oldest daughter of Amalia – whose death is the pivot of the novel – is the narrator. She relates horror upon horror of her family life while simultaneously reliving it and analysing it. By writing the horrors down she understands, we understand, why they happen. This is the confessional novel at its most profound and painful. It is a novel of recovered memory.

Delia revisits her past and the people closest to her. A single act, when she was five, changed their lives for ever. We get a portrait of Amalia, a beautiful and vital mother who refuses to allow a brutal, psychopathically jealous husband to take over her mind and body (whilst she enjoys the fetishist attentions of another man). It is a portrait of a child’s spiteful blame and jealous love of a mother. Delia blames Amalia for ruining her life and reducing it to that of a dessicated, loveless automata. She explores her complex love-hate relationship with her mother by going back, digging deep and confronting the men who dominated both their lives. There are also moments of joyful release, bursting out of the novel like fireworks, but at heart it is very troubling.

Delia’s empathy and identification with her mother, and her cruel judgement of her, mean that by the end of the novel the two selves, mother and daughter, collide in a spectacular firework finale.

 

 

THE LOST DAUGHTER (La Figlia Oscura)

(2006 Italian/2008 English)

Three Ferrante novels in three days! I feel as though I’ve been galloping through a long night, through hail and rain and snow and lightning and tropical storms. The cumulative effect of reading Ferrante in one gulp is exhaustion and elation. I am convinced now – more than I ever was reading The Quartet (and observing the passion and fame that now surrounds her) – that Ferrante is a major biographer of women’s lives. No, she is not a man. No man could ever write in this way about the unexplored, unexplained (till now), mysterious, hidden, shameful and exultant inner, intimate lives of women and about their sexual, emotional and creative yearnings.

Ferrante has told me things about myself, and the women I share this planet with, that I have never heard before or – to be honest – wanted to confront. We critics speak of her writing as ‘raw’ and honest. I don’t warm to her women much; they wouldn’t be my friends: in fact, the more I read her, the more distanced I feel from the Ferrante-archetype she seems to be describing in each novel.

Leda is the narrator here. Is she perhaps Elena Ferrante? Of all the novels this is my favourite. All her novels are different; they are also all the same. The protagonists are intelligent, questioning mothers, daughters and wives who are also writers or academics. They were born in Naples and spend much of their later lives questioning their identity and shaking off their origins. The women often have similar names – Elena, Leda, Lina. There are always dramatic turning points and revelations and confrontations – mostly with themselves. Often their lives are ‘perfect’ on the surface but, as they themselves reveal, they are ‘imperfect’ beneath. The stories are visceral and shocking. In each novel, the protagonist turns herself inside out.

Leda is nearly fifty, a successful, internationally respected Professor of English Literature at Florence University. She was born in Naples but left to study. She married another academic and had two daughters, Bianca and Marta, who though they never appear in the novel are described in such great detail that we feel we know them too. Leda divorced a long time ago, her daughters live in Canada with her ex (who seems, for once, a nice man with not too many flaws – unusual for men in a Ferrante novel!) and Leda lives a comfortable existence alone as an academic.

When my daughters moved to Toronto, where their father had lived and worked for years, I was embarrassed and amazed to discover that I wasn’t upset; rather, I felt light, as if only then had I definitively brought them into the world. For the first time in almost twenty-five years I was not aware of the anxiety of having to take care of them. The house was neat, as if no one lived there, I no longer had the constant bother of shopping and doing the laundry.

The novel begins with a bang (typical Ferrante) – a car crash. Within just two pages Leda describes how she crashed her car after returning from her summer holiday and lands in hospital, with her family and friends gathered around her, even coming all the way from Toronto. She survives, the only serious wound in her left side, an inexplicable lesion. But why did she crash the car? At the origin, she tells us, was a gesture of mine that made no sense… because it was senseless.

Leda decides that she won’t talk to anyone about this gesture except ‘us’. For the rest of the novel she confides in us (her readers) the details of her summer on the beach and her growing obsession with a young Neapolitan woman, Nina, and her toddler daughter, Elena, playing together on the beach with a doll. Who is the lost child here? Leda, Elena or Nina, or indeed Bianca and Marta? Prepare to gallop through the wind, rain and sun to find out. And then go and lie down (as I had to!).

Reviewed by Rosie Goldsmith

 

Rosie Goldsmith is Director of the European Literature Network. She was a BBC senior broadcaster for 20 years and is today an arts journalist, presenter, linguist, and with Max Easterman a media trainer for ‘Sounds Right’.

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The Sidney Morning Herald

Elena Ferrante review: Three novellas that show the Neapolitan’s development

July 25, 2015

Andrew Rieme

<i>The Days of Abandonment</i>, by Elena Ferrante.

I’ve heard it said that only women can fully appreciate the achievement of Elena Ferrante, the pseudonymous Italian novelist of obsessively guarded privacy. It is certainly true that I have never experienced the agony of childbirth. I have never known the adolescent trauma of inexplicable bleeding. Nor have I felt what life is like for a single woman – an abandoned wife or one that has left her husband – forced to deal with her grief and fury. I have not felt the love-hate that Ferrante’s protagonists harbour against their mothers and children, or their jealousy of younger, more attractive women. I have not suffered the sexual indignities and outrages her characters endure.

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Tweed’s

Elena Ferrante, Part 1: The Early Novels

Translated by Ann Goldstein
Europa Editions
Reviewed by Randy Rosenthal

 

You might know Elena Ferrante as that anonymous Italian author nobody knows anything about. In the only interview she’s given—conducted by her publishers and featured in the Paris Review—Ferrante explains that the reason she has completely shunned public life and uses a pen name is so readers focus on her words and not her persona. Unlike most authors, who are pressured to tweet and post about their new publications and reviews, and who sheepishly implore friends and fans to attend their readings, Ferrante says her anonymity has allowed her to avoid “the self-promotion obsessively imposed by the media.” Self-promotion feels cheap because it cheapens the work of art; the focus becomes the author and not the author’s books. While avoiding this trap, Ferrante has been able to write some truly phenomenal books—so phenomenal that she herself has become a phenomenon.

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Moonlolly in the city

Troubling Love – book review

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If, like me, you’ve fallen hard for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and the idea of waiting another three months for the final instalment is unbearable, Troubling Love is the perfect fix to tide you over. Or perhaps you’ve yet to be introduced to Ferrante; in which case I’m massively jealous because you have the biggest treat in store for you! Stop wasting your time reading this review and pick up My Brilliant Friend asap. And you might as well order Books II and III while you’re at it, because you’re not going to be able to stop reading…

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Jezebel

The Promise in Elena Ferrante
The Promise in Elena Ferrante
by Jia Tolentino

In a year so crammed with both cultural stasis and accelerated political mania that it resembled nothing else so strongly as a trash fire, there was Elena Ferrante, oasis of the terrifyingly good. The pseudonymous Italian author has made a quiet, graceful transition from cult fame to widespread obsession, and rightly: she’s equally pulpy and brilliant, her plots setting fire to “the female experience” in all its traps and correspondent pleasures while her style accumulates a cold philosophical divinity, increasingly cerebral and bloodless as it becomes bloodier and wild.

At a time where—on the internet, at least—backlash against feminine voices is matched only by women’s insistence on keeping our voice, Ferrante is a third path out of a battle you didn’t expect to find yourself fighting. Her work is more than this, of course, in the way that all great female writers are more than the adjective that still tends to precede them. But I have loved Ferrante’s work this year for one thing in particular: Each of her narrators is a woman whose life has been carved out by other people’s ideas of what a woman should be—let’s call this the original position of “the female experience”—but whose story is defined by violent rejections of this position, a willingness to sacrifice identity to instincts, to shut out all other judgment except for her harsh, dark, freeing own.

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Open Letters Monthly

Peer Review: Elena Ferrante’s Hunger, Rebellion, and Rage

By

 

Elena Ferrante is such a badass! — Elif Batuman

The critical response to Italian novelist Elena Ferrante has been so uncannily consistent it’s enough to make you suspect collusion. (To what end, though? Good question: I’ll come back to that.) The following statements, for example, have become axiomatic, a critical credo recited with every invocation of her fiction:

1. She is mysterious.
2. She is angry.
3. She is honest.

The first of these points is certainly true: little definite is known about Ferrante, including her real name or even whether she is in fact a woman. The second and third, however, are assumptions, inferences from the voice that speaks from her novels, which signals the fourth, sometimes implicit, pillar of Ferrante criticism: that the author and her creations are one.

Ferrante has published six novels. The first to appear in English translation was The Days of Abandonment in 2005; right out of the gate, Janet Maslin’s New York Times review established both the tone and the substance of what has become the standard Ferrante narrative:

Using the secret of her identity to elevate this book’s already high drama, the author (Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym) describes the violent rupture of a marriage with all the inner tranquility that you might associate with Medea.

In short, we don’t know who she is, but we know, and welcome, the literary quality of her anger: “the raging, torrential voice of the author is something rare.”

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The Seattle Times

“Troubling Love”: Groping for answers in a forgotten past

Judging by her first two novels, Italian author Elena Ferrante has a rare talent for sucking readers into a roiling cauldron of grief, rage, guilt and desire.

In “Troubling Love,” Ferrante’s first novel (but her second to be translated into English), a woman named Delia is stunned to learn that the drowned body of her mother Amalia, clad only in an expensive piece of lingerie, has been found in the sea near a small Italian town.

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