Reviews

Reviews for Frantumaglia

Frantumaglia, Europa Editions, 2016

The Buffalo News

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

By Jeff Simon

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

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

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

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

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

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World Literature Today

Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey by Elena Ferrante

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

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

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

Lisa Mullenneaux
University of Maryland University College

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The New York Times

Rachel Cusk: By the Book

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The Millions

Writing Without a Face: On ‘Frantumaglia’

By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Post and Courier

Review: ‘Frantumaglia’ explains Elena Ferrante’s anonymity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewer Catherine Holmes teaches English at the College of Charleston.

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lfpress.com

 By Nancy Schiefer, Special to Postmedia Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ferrante is interesting on writing as a sidebar to feminism.

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

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

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

In another interview, Ferrante returns to this theme.

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

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

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

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

Nancy Schiefer is a London freelance writer.

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San Francisco Chronicle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Frantumaglia" Photo: Europa Editions

Photo: Europa Editions

“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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World Literature Today

Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey by Elena Ferrante

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

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

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

Lisa Mullenneaux
University of Maryland University College

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Tony’s Reading List

‘FRANTUMAGLIA’ BY ELENA FERRANTE (REVIEW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Millions

A Year in Reading: 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Year in Reading: Stephen Dodson

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

A Year in Reading: Kaulie Lewis

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


A Year in Reading: Bich Minh Nguyen

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

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

 

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Reviews for My Brilliant Friend

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The New York Times Book Review

By the Book – Chelsea Clinton

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

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

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The Korea Herald

Elena Ferrante’s neorealist novels translated into Korean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)

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The Daily Star

The unsolved mystery of Elena Ferrante

Joe Treasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Verily Mag

ELENA FERRANTE’S ‘MY BRILLIANT FRIEND’ AND THE WORLD-CHANGING POWER OF FEMALE FRIENDSHIPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Times

‘Elena Ferrante was more challenging than Tolstoy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read more)

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The Stage

Casting announced for Elena Ferrante stage adaptation

by Georgia Snow

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

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

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

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

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

Movement is by Sarah Dowling and casting by Charlotte Sutton.

The show is produced by the Rose Theatre Kingston.

 

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Financial Tribune

Ferrante’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Published in Persian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austerely Honest

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

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

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

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

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Murder, she read.

2016 IN REVIEW: CRIME, FICTION, AND WOMEN

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

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CBC News

2016’s most read books at the Vancouver Public Library

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

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

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

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

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

This list is for you, friends.

VPL’s top 10 most checked-out fiction

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

The Story of a New Name

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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Books & Bachelorettes

THE STORY OF A NEW NAME

I enjoyed this novel much more than its predecessor, My Brilliant Friend. After finishing MBF, I was unsure if I wanted to continue to read the series (there are four). After finishing SNN, however, I cannot wait to continue reading.

The Story of a New Name picks up right where My Brilliant Friend leaves off: at Elena’s best friend, Lila’s wedding. Lila, at sixteen, has decided that the only way for her to escape the poverty of her neighborhood and family is to marry the local grocer, who has pulled himself out of poverty via hard work and determination. Elena and Lila have grown up together, constantly competing to be the brightest in their class.

With her marriage to Stefano, Lila quits school and completely devotes herself to Stefano’s business enterprises, as well as Lila’s brother, Rino’s, shoe factory. Elena is thus left alone to navigate high school and eventually college.

While grounded in everyday concerns such as clingy boyfriends, nagging mothers, and homework, the real action in The Story of a New Name takes place in Elena’s mind. The most poignant passages describe Elena’s feelings about growing up, the importance of education, and her relationship with Lila.

The Story of a New Name’s author, Elena Ferrante, made headlines recently when a scholar claimed that he had discovered her true identity (Elena Ferrante is a pen name). The author has always expressed her wish to remain anonymous, and Claudio Gatti’s apparent disregard for her wishes caused quite an uproar.

This debacle is even more interesting when one considers how Elena’s heroine, also named Elena, publishes a novel in The Story of a New Name, and describes at length the pride she feels in seeing her name in print. If Elena Ferrante feels this way, one wonders why she chose to publish under a pen name.
*SPOILER AHEAD* I cannot wait to see where the rest of these novels go (there are two more in the series). I will say, if Elena ends up with Nino, which I am starting to believe may happen, I will be very disappointed because of Nino’s previous relationship with Lila. If, however, Elena ends up with someone else, I will continue to enjoy these novels. I highly recommend them to anyone, in particular any women with close female friends that they have spent their life growing up with.
-A
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The Phraser

Book Review: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

The Story of a New Name is the second book of the Neapolitan Novels.  It’s raw and brilliant, with a light that shines unblinking on its characters

Naples has always hung its washing to catch the air – it’s a city that knows its secrets … and so does Elena Ferrante.  In her novels she packs the unhidden into private lives and passes it on to us.

Street view in the old centre of Naples

Street view in the old centre of Naples

The novel follows Lila, Elena and their peers through courtship, abuse, marriage, summers and work, and we see them now from two angles … from the thick of their lives in Naples, and from the refined distance of academia and college in Pisa.

On the one hand Elena brings her Naples, her life, directly to the table whilst in the other she elevates herself to where we might like to think we sit … apart, better.  Through her we circle the story as she shows us those forced to live with the unbearable while she strives through learning to achieve a purer life.

This might suggest a clear cut support for one side over the other but Elena Ferrante never goes this way.  Instead she gives us empathy and a sense of loss with writing so strong that it’s impossible to choose sides or to know what’s next.  We’re taken deep into friendships, shown brutal truths and left with questions about ourselves.

The two characters that attract the spotlight are Elena and Lila, but there is another that never leaves the pages: Naples.

There are no long physical descriptions of the city instead we are taken straight to its heart, to its crowded core, and shown why it beats like it does.  We see courage, pain, brilliance, ignorance, love and corruption as they entwine in the struggle for the heights of Vomero or the wealthy life of Chiaia.

This is how Naples today still feels – restless, watchful, intense and alive.

Perhaps you are undecided as to whether or not to read these Neapolitan novels … if so, here are three reasons that I hope will persuade you:  first – there is the pleasure of the writing and the power of the tale; second – there is the chance to be led right inside the heart of Naples; and third – there is provocation, the kind that makes you think, such as this for instance from near the end of the novel (page 466):

“…she was 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.”

Book four in the series, The Story of the Lost Child, has just been published.

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Smartificial Sweetener

Currently Reading

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante – This is Book #2 in the Neapolitan Series, continuing the story and the friendship of Lila and Elena.  Lila is newly married and finds herself essentially a prisoner of her husband.  He doesn’t like her going out or working or interacting with any men.  Elena remains in school, furthering her education.  The girls vacation together on the coast for the summer, where Lila falls into a relationship with Elena’s crush, cheating on her husband.  Elena herself loses her virginity that summer, in an unlikely way.  As in the first novel, we see the strength of female friendship, the blatant misogyny that all the women in the story must suffer, and the hope that education gives them.  Excited for Book #3!

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Reviews for Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Those Who Leave and Those Who S

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

By

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

BY

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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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…

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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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Financial Times

Women of 2015: Elena Ferrante, writer

The woman behind some of today’s best-loved literary fiction is determined to remain an enigma. The FT is granted a rare interview

Scenes of Naples in the 1950s and 1960s. The city provides the setting for Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet

In 1991, when her first novel, L’amore molesto (Troubling Love), was about to be published, its author wrote a letter to her Italian publishers. “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 . . . Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least ­expensive author of the publishing house. I’ll spare you even my presence.”

The least expensive, possibly, but certainly the most enigmatic, and by now the most successful. Since then, seven of her novels, published under the pen name Elena Ferrante, have been translated into English, and she has become the best-known Italian writer of literary fiction alive today. In September, the fourth and concluding book of her Neapolitan novels, The Story of the Lost Child, was published. Sales of the Neapolitan quartet have now reached 750,000 in the US and are approaching 250,000 in the UK. Foreign editions stand at 39.

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Vancouver Sun

Top shelf: Critics acclaim the year’s 20 best books

 Vancouver Sun book reviewers share their favourite reads of 2015

The Story of the Lost Child

Elena Ferrante, Europa Editions

The fourth novel in the Neapolitan saga is as compelling as its predecessors. Ferrante describes the friendship of Elena and Lila and sets it against the backdrop of Naples, a city as diverse as the two main characters.

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The New York Times

The Top Books of 2015

In his posthumous book of essays, “And Yet …,” published this year, Christopher Hitchens criticized “the rebarbative notion that people should be more likely to buy and enjoy books at Christmas.” Real readers, after all, consume them all year long. Mr. Hitchens has a valid point, yet the year’s end is a time for summing up, in books as in other things. Hence the lists that follow.

The New York Times has three daily book critics. Because they review different titles, there can be no getting them into a room to vote on a single, unanimous 2015 Top 10 list. But for each there were favorites, and books that stood out from the crowd. In the lists below, we are happy to share them.

Michiko Kakutani and Janet Maslin present their books roughly in order of preference. Dwight Garner’s list is in alphabetical order, by author.

Janet Maslin stepped down from full-time reviewing this year, but she remains a contributor of reviews to The Times. Look for selections from her recently hired replacement, Jennifer Senior, next year in this space.

Michiko Kakutani

“The Story of the Lost Child” By Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions). This concluding volume to the author’s dazzling Neapolitan quartet spans six decades in the lives of its two unforgettable heroines: Elena, the conscientious good girl, and her best friend, the tempestuous Lila. Their intertwining stories give an indelible portrait of Naples, and an intimate understanding of the women’s daily lives and their efforts to juggle the competing claims of men, children, housework and their own artistic aspirations. We see how time changes (and fails to change) old patterns of love and rivalry, and how their lives are imprinted by success and disappointment and almost unbearable loss. (Read the review.)

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Reviews for The Days of Abandonment

Days of Abandonment, Europa Editions, 2005

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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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 Wonky Bookshelf

The Days of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante

elena ferrante's the days of abandonment book cover

The Days of Abandonment is so raw that it makes for a heartbreaking read that is both unsettling and uncomfortable.

From the beginning you are thrown into mind of a narrator who is circling the drain following her husband’s departure. Struggling to cope with her two children, and the dog, our abandoned wife starts to break down.

It’s such a brutal depiction of femininity, motherhood and what it’s like to lose yourself. It’s like a scalpel has scraped away the facade of marital bliss and left us with a woman scorned who becomes mentally unstable. Ferrante’s writing is amazing in parts, sloppy in some, and her interesting observations and frank descriptions offer an unapologetically brutal take on the female psyche.

It’s a book that will have an impact on any reader and whilst it is short, it is very heavy with uncomfortable content that it seems much longer. The first half is nothing short of amazing but Ferrante loses her way in the second half.

Nonetheless, this is a book that will stay with me for a long time purely for how human and haunting it is.

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The Guardian

Fourth of July reading list: from the Hamilton biography to Elena Ferrante

With the tumult of the election and current events, relaxing will be a priority for many Americans over the holiday. Here are some books to whisk you far, far awayMan sleeping with book on chest, close-up.

After living in the United States for over 10 years, here is what I have learned about the Fourth of July: it is more of a barbecuing holiday than anything else. The main idea is to get yourself to a lake and lay about drinking weak American beer, preferably from aluminum cans.

This lifestyle is, however, conducive to reading. This is a particularly excellent year to read a physical paper book, come to think of it, as it will keep you away from your phone and consequently the horrorshow that is current global events. It is my job to follow current literary trends and releases, so here are my recommendations for you.

For the history-and-biography-minded

Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton is already on the American bestseller lists so it hardly requires my recommendation. The book was first published in 2005, but it has been resurrected from the remainder pile by a certain musical you have perhaps heard of. Now that knowing something about the founding fathers has become a trendy thing, I sense a national craze for doorstop-sized accounts of American statesmanhood coming on. Somewhere Doris Kearns Goodwin is salivating for an R&B rendition of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Still, if reading serious American history is your bag, I’d recommend leavening the celebrations with Annette Gordon-Reed’s Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. Gordon-Reed’s book was among the first to properly substantiate and argue for the long-rumoured connection between Jefferson and his slave. She’s also expanded some of her research into the more recent The Hemingses of Monticello, if you simply want a heftier-looking book.

For the thriller-and-mystery-minded

Mass market paperback thrillers are a dime a dozen. The trick is to find something that actually sticks to the ribs. This fall will bring a new release from one of the best crime writers working today, Tana French. But that book, The Trespasser, is actually her sixth. She has five novels you can buy right now, though you should read them in the order in which they were published, starting with In the Woods. I can do you no greater favour in life than recommending that you read her books.

French is not very American, of course. (She lives in Dublin.) Among American writers of the moment, my favourite mystery writer is probably Laura Lippman, whose Wilde Lake was released in April. Her protagonist, Lu Brant, comes to discover that a crime buried in her past was more complicated than it looked. Haunting and atmospheric, it lingers with you after you’ve read it – which I did in a single night some months ago.

For the romance-minded

I read almost no romantic fiction, in part because I barely believe in romance in the age of Tinder. So in my mind, if you like love stories, this Fourth of July is as good a time as any to read Elena Ferrante’s novels. It’s a particularly good idea to start with The Days of Abandonment. The protagonist is at the end of her marriage and at the end of her psychological rope, too. If you like to feel abject despair, this book will work wonders for you.

In this category I would also recommend, with qualifications, Emma Cline’s The Girls. The metaphors are laid on with a trowel but the central spine of the book, the story of a girl who slowly becomes enamoured with a cult leader not unlike Charles Manson, rings true. Love takes many forms, and sometimes it takes a form that leads you to a murderous religious cult whose evils end up marking you for life. Am I right?

For the ‘literary’ reader

Summer is always a tricky time to recommend new literary fiction. The big releases do not hit until fall. But Dana Spiotta’s Innocents and Others won an informal poll of friends as to the year’s best literary novel so far. Two friends, only somewhat alike in temperament, compete as film-makers and for the affections of the mysterious Jelly, a kind of romantic anonymous caller. Like all of Spiotta’s books, it’s a bit hard to describe so briefly, but it’s really a kind of intellectual page-turner: her searing intelligence carries you swiftly through to the end.

The other book that people have been lavishly praising this year is CE Morgan’s The Sport of Kings. Morgan, a somewhat reclusive writer, only produced one novel before this, a much slimmer, elegant volume called All the Living. The Sport of Kings, which is about race the world of horse racing, is a more substantial beast. In the New Yorker, recently, Kathryn Schulz deemed it “enormously flawed, ceaselessly interesting, and strangely tremendous, its moral imagination so capacious that it overshadows its many missteps”. In a year not much marked by moral imagination on the part of leaders, at least you can spend the holiday finding it in a novelist.

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Heavenali

The Days of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante (2002)

image

(Beautifully translated by Ann Goldstein)

The circle of an empty day is brutal and at night it tightens around your neck like a noose.”

Having read all four of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet last year, I thought I knew what to expect from The Days of Abandonment. Chosen by my very small book group for our May read I was very much looking forward to a book I had suggested, however I was completely taken by surprise by the tone of this novel . In time, I am glad to say, I came to love The Days of Abandonment, but it did take me a little while to be convinced. The Days of Abandonment is on the face of it the story of a woman’s descent into despair following the ending of her marriage; however it is much more the portrayal of her actual breakdown, in all its ugliness and misery. I was ill prepared for the anger and gut wrenching raw intimacy of this novel – at times that anger is almost visceral – and there are moments when the reader really would rather look away.

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Finding time to write

Books of the Year 2015

These are not necessarily books published in 2015, but the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year, which is why I’ve held off with this post till long after all the ‘best of’ lists have appeared. I’ve read 170 books this year, so you can imagine that whittling it all down to just 10 favourites is an impossible task. So instead, here are the books that spoke to me most at various points throughout the year.

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be…

Not to copy their style, but to capture something of their fearlessness.

Elena Ferrante: The Days of Abandonment – I probably will have to read more of her at some point, although I’ve resisted the Neapolitan tetralogy so far (because of the hype)

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Emily Books

The Days of Abandonment

By Elena Ferrante

Olga’s husband Mario has just left her and her two young children for a younger woman, with zero warning. Over the next two days, her world falls apart: a sick child and a misbehaving dog derail her sanity completely, and she becomes literally trapped in her apartment. A sense of outsized dread and terror builds with each sentence, making the book impossible to put down til the final page. Olga’s interiority is so skillfully rendered as to be horribly familiar to anyone who’s ever been devastated by loss and grief.  So, well, not our most lighthearted pick, but a perversely enjoyable read nonetheless and an overdue introduction (for us, at least!) to this great author’s work.

Elena Ferrante is an Italian novelist whose books are published in the U.S. by Europa Editions. Her most recent novel is the acclaimed The Story of the Lost Child.

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Reviews for The Lost Daughter

The Lost Daughter, Europa Editions, 2008

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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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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Lithub

FIVE INTENSE BOOKS FOR MOTHER’S DAY

BRAZOS BOOKSTORE’S PICKS WILL MAKE YOU LOVE MOM EVEN MORE

May 8, 2015  By Brazos Staff

 

 

We asked our friends at Brazos Bookstore in Houston to recommend some warm, fuzzy titles about the love of one’s mother, on the occasion of this coming Sunday (for this reminder, you’re welcome). They sent the following list of intense, sometimes grim, novels of loss, anguish, and otherwise complicated maternal relationships. We hope everyone’s ok down there.

The Lost Daughter, by Elena Ferrante

What are things you think that are so horrible, so blunt, you’d never want to say out loud? Ferrante has made these aberrant thoughts the basis of her career, and The Lost Daughter is one of her most transgressive books. In it, a mother on holiday meets a pregnant woman and her family. Of course, the mother doesn’t have the fondest feelings for the pregnant woman—or for herself, for that matter. Ferrante turns this into a story of psychological suffering—a story about what happens when a woman worn out by life encounters someone just about to begin her journey through motherhood.

–Ülrika Moats, Gift Buyer

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Reviews for Troubling love

Elena Ferrante, Troubling Love, Europa Editions, 2006

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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