The Paris Review


Elena Ferrante, Art of Fiction No. 228

Interviewed by Sandro and Sandra Ferri


When does a book seem publishable to you?


When it tells a story that, for a long time, unintentionally, I had pushed away, because I didn’t think I was capable of telling it, because telling it made me uncomfortable. Again, in the case of The Days of Abandonment the writing freed the story in a short time, over one summer. Actually, that was true for the first two parts. Then suddenly I began to make mistakes, I lost the tone. I wrote and rewrote the last part all that fall. It was a time of great anxiety. It doesn’t take much to convince yourself that you’ve forgotten how to tell a story. I didn’t know how to get Olga out of her crisis truthfully, as truthfully as I’d narrated her falling into it. The hand was the same, the writing was the same, there was the same choice of vocabulary, same syntax, same punctuation, and yet the tone had become false. For months I felt that the preceding pages were beyond my abilities, and now I no longer felt equal to my own work. It made me bitter. You’d rather lose yourself than find yourself, I thought. Then everything started up again. But even today I don’t dare reread the book. I’m afraid that the last part has only the appearance of good writing.

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