Elena Ferrante on the Origins of her Neapolitan Novels

Kirkus Reviews


This third volume of the Neopolitan trilogy continues to chronicle the turbulent lives of longtime friends Lila and Elena, as begun in the enigmatic Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (2012) and The Story of a New Name (2013).

With Naples and the looming specter of Vesuvius once again forming the ominous background to the girls’ lives, Elena travels from the city of her childhood, first to the university in Pisa, and then beyond upon her marriage to Pietro, the intellectual heir to an influential Milanese family. Lila’s existence in Naples follows a more brutal and mundane course, but both young women are confronted with the social and political upheavals that echoed across Italy (and the world) during the late 1960s and early ’70s. Always rivals as well as friends, Lila and Elena struggle to assert themselves in a landscape of shifting alliances and growing corruption in Naples as well as in a culture where women’s desires almost never direct the course of family life. The domestic balancing acts performed by both women—one leading a life of privilege, one burdened by poverty and limited choice—illuminate the personal and political costs of self-determination. The pseudonymous Ferrante—whose actual identity invites speculation in the literary world—approaches her characters’ divergent paths with an unblinking objectivity that prevents the saga from sinking into melodrama. Elena is an exceptional narrator; her voice is marked by clarity in recounting both external events and her own internal dialogues (though we are often left to imagine Lila’s thought process, the plight of the non-narrative protagonist). Goldstein’s elegant translation carries the novel forward toward an ending that will leave Ferrante’s growing cadre of followers wondering if this reported trilogy is destined to become a longer series.

Ferrante’s lucid rendering of Lila’s and Elena’s entwined yet discrete lives illustrates both that the personal is political and that novels of ideas can compel as much as their lighter-weight counterparts.



Entertainment Weekly

Who is Elena Ferrante? An interview with the mysterious Italian author


Do you know Elena Ferrante? The Italian author’s urgent, blistering fiction has made her something of a cult sensation here in America. I myself had never heard of her until this summer, when I dove deep into her Neapolitan series, an intoxicatingly furious portrait of enmeshed friends Lila and Elena, bright and passionate girls from a raucous neighborhood in working class Naples. Ferrante writes with such aggression, and such unnerving psychological insight about the messy complexity of female friendship, the real world can drop away when you’re reading her. “My work is sometimes a struggle,” says Ann Goldstein, Ferrante’s long-standing Italian translator. “It’s very intense and very disturbing and sometimes I have to walk away from the words. But then when I’m done I sort of think ‘Wait, where are those people? My life is now empty.’”

Continue reading

The Telegraph

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, review: ‘high stakes literature’

Elena Ferrante’s real identity is unknown, but her novels reveal her genius

Over the last 18 months, two writers whose autobiographical series of novels are gradually being translated into English have caught the literary world’s attention: the Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard and the Italian Elena Ferrante.

Of the two, Ferrante remains the more enigmatic. The author is in her sixties, and from Naples. Her actual identity is unconfirmed and no verifiable photograph exists: an almost impossible achievement in our confessional age. Of her disturbing, excoriating novels, this is the sixth, and third in her series about the lifelong relationship between two girls, Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco, who grow up together in the slums of post-war Naples.

Continue reading

The New Yorker

Elena Ferrante and the Force of Female Friendships


The Neapolitan novels by the Italian writer Elena Ferrante are a series of (so far) three books about the lifelong friendship between two women, and when I read them I find that I never want to stop. I feel vexed by the obstacles—my job, or acquaintances on the subway—that threaten to keep me apart from the books. I mourn separations (a year until the next one—how?). I am propelled by a ravenous will to keep going.

This is much the same feeling I associate with all of the major friendships I developed between the ages of six and eighteen: I always wanted to keep going. Why have a playdate when you could have a sleepover? Why have a sleepover that lasts one night when you could have a sleepover that lasts three, or a week? That might sound obsessive, or borderline erotic, and it is: childhood friendships of the kind I’m describing are like the primordial soup of human relationships, messy and unformed but with the raw parts to make anything that might come after. Such friends are like family (you need, or hate, or cannot forsake them) and a beloved (you are so jealous, so sensitive to their slights!) and an alternative (better?) self, squashed into one. And Ferrante’s subject is exactly this sort of friendship.
Continue reading

New York Times

Between Women

Elena Ferrante’s ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’


Elena Ferrante is one of the great novelists of our time. Her voice is passionate, her view sweeping and her gaze basilisk. Her subject is the domestic world, and part of her genius lies in her capacity to turn this sphere into an infernal region, full of rage and violence, unlimited in its intellectual and emotional reach. Ferrante’s view of family life is anything but sentimental, anything but comforting.

In fact, her writing is remarkable for its velocity and ruthlessness. Reading her is like getting into a fast car with Tony Soprano: At once you are caught up and silenced, rendered breathless, respectful.

Ferrante is the author of six novels. Her most recently translated, “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” is the third in a Neapolitan series that began with “My Brilliant Friend” and “The Story of a New Name.” The books (impeccably translated by Ann Goldstein) track the lives of two women, Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, born in Naples near the end of World War II. Their neighborhood, bone-scrape poor, is deeply and permanently infested by the verminous, lethal presence of the Camorra. These novels reveal the intersection of poverty and crime, and their effects on the lives of women. Narrated by Elena, now in her 60s, the series begins with the disappearance of Lila and goes on to recapitulate a lost history — one that Lila has tried to erase through vanishing, but that Elena stubbornly records.

Continue reading