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
“I grew up with the idea that if I didn’t let myself be absorbed as much as possible into the world of eminently capable men, if I did not learn from their cultural excellence, if I did not pass brilliantly all the exams that world required of me, it would have been tantamount to not existing at all. Then I read books that exalted the female difference and my thinking was turned upside down. I realized that I had to do exactly the opposite: I had to start with myself and with my relationships with other women—this is another essential formula—if I really wanted to give myself a shape. Today I read everything that emerges out of so-called postfeminist thought. It helps me look critically at the world, at us, our bodies, our subjectivity. But it also fires my imagination, it pushes me to reflect on the use of literature. I’ll name some women to whom I owe a great deal: Firestone, Lonzi, Irigaray, Muraro, Caverero, Gagliasso, Haraway, Butler, Braidotti.
“I hold that male colonization of our imaginations—a calamity while ever we were unable to give shape to our difference—is, today, a strength. We know everything about the male symbol system; they, for the most part, know nothing about ours, above all about how it has been restructured by the blows the world has dealt us. What’s more, they are not even curious, indeed they recognize us only from within their system.”