Of course the question of the ‘truth’ of the book’s contents is knocked right out of the park by Ferrante, through the simple fact of having deprived the reader of any earthly means of coming by it. I read this on holiday, and as with the others in the Neapolitan quartet, it is the perfect holiday read: an immersion in a life far removed from yours in time and space, but chiming in its tenor, characters and events at every moment with how life is, here, today, lying in this particular sun lounger, with the sun just there, and a cold beer within reach. You do need time and space to read the books, it’s true. Some people have given up part way through the first volume (which isn’t the best one – Lila and Lenu grow as characters as they grow as people) but I’d be very surprised if anyone has finished Vol I, My Brilliant Friend, and not wanted, not felt impelled, to go on with the others. I strongly remember my feeling the previous summer, on finishing Volume III, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, which ends with Lenu taking off in an aeroplane with her new lover, and feeling myself – my reading self – lift along with her: a physical sensation. So yes, there is a wonderful soapy, family saga aspect to these books, and yes there is little in the writing to make you jump for joy, as you might find on every page with Bennett or Porter, but they are politically vital, and pscyhologically nourishing; they are the answer to anyone who moans that caring about characters is the last thing you should admit to when talking about your reading. Also, this volume, more than the others, as it comes to the end of the story, manages to glide into some deeply weird territory, when the whole enterprise seems to fold in on itself. Don’t talk to me about the ending. She came close to spoiling the whole damn thing with the ending. But that doesn’t stop the four books being a triumph. I’ll reread them one day. When I’m older. And I look forward tremendously to what I’ll find in them, that I can’t find now.
(I wrote about a launch event for Story of the Lost Child at Lutyens and Rubinstein on my blog, here)