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.
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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.