One could open Frantumaglia, practically let the pages fall where they may, and land on a passage where the notoriously private Ferrante (author of the Neopolitan tetralogy that began with My Brilliant Friend, 2012, as well as three previous novels) confirms, asserts, or explains her reasons for writing under a pseudonym and avoiding the media. In fact, the book makes the media-fueled mystery surrounding Ferrante’s identity (just last week the New York Review of Books ran an Italian journalist’s seeming unmasking of the author) a definitively unnecessary distraction: she’s right here.
Its title is the word Ferrante’s mother used to explain “bits and pieces whose origin is difficult to pinpoint, and which make a noise in your head, sometimes causing discomfort,” and Frantumaglia collects the author’s correspondence with her Italian publishers, letters sent (and left unsent) to directors of film adaptations of her books, unpublished or rewritten passages of her early novels, responses to readers’ questions, and many formal interviews that were conducted over email or through her publisher. (A previous version of the book, bearing the same title and comprised solely of this book’s first section, was published in Italy over a decade ago, before the publication of the Neopolitan Novels. Until now only excerpts of that previous version have been available in English. This version publishes in the U.S. alongside her forthcoming children’s picture book, The Beach at Night).
The book divides Ferrante’s 25-year career as a published author into three sections, and lacks a more specific table of contents, a foreword, or an afterword. Words that aren’t the author’s appear primarily to contextualize her responses to them. For example, five questions from an Italian journal yield a response of nearly 70 pages. Ferrante expresses some embarrassment for her “endless letter,” but clarifies that “I have no desire to make a shorter, publishable version,” and sends it to her publisher anyway: “The passionate writer always needs an audience of at least one reader.”
In her own exceedingly quotable words, drawing on myth, theory, philosophy, and, of course, literature, the author reveals herself in her multitudes: she is kind and good-humored, self-deprecating and apologetic, flinty and unwavering. Foremost and repeatedly, she expresses generosity to and respect for readers, without whom her books—the only part of her public persona that matters; the only part of herself she ever intended to be public—are meaningless. While this collection will be most enticing to those already reading Ferrante, it’s also a feast for writers, lovers of literature, and creators of all kinds.
— Annie Bostrom