The Toast

How To Tell If You’re In An Elena Ferrante Novel

You are poor, bright, and beautiful, but you never feel quite bright or beautiful enough because your best friend is brighter and beautifuller.

Your best friend has never forgiven you for being the first to experience menarche or being allowed to progress beyond primary school. Ever since, she’s been competing with you over just about everything.

You feel an unnameable, shameful aversion to your mother, whose limping gait you are afraid you will come to adopt.

Naples is trash, and you grow up to realise that you live amongst trash.

You watch helplessly as your little sister falls into the arms of a wicked man. This would never have happened if you didn’t live in Naples.

55de351ce8f804624a30022b_elena-ferrante-story-lost-childYour brother grows up to disappoint.

Your son grows up to disappoint.

Your father is fine but inconsequential.

You speak in Italian when you want to sound smooth and superior.

You speak in dialect when you want to connect with your childhood friends of yore, but every word sounds false.

You long to escape to the seaside.

You escape to the seaside, but you fail to escape your neuroses.

A gentle boy who once loved you is now a pitiless factory owner.

Everyone agrees that your best friend is a wicked, but remarkable woman. Only you know just how wicked.

20-elana-ferrante.w245.h368You know your best friend has stopped caring for you, indeed if she ever did, even though she makes you sandwiches every day and promises to buy you schoolbooks.

You buy the rumour that your best friend is able to prevent pregnancy through sheer force of will.

You have determined to cut your best friend off before she wreaks the same terrible vengeance on you.

You viciously destroy a little girl’s doll without understanding why. You suppose you’re just a disgusting human being who has an almost maternal impulse towards destruction.

Everyone looks at you in judgment and scorn. You know, in that moment, that they can tell you are a wretched and repulsive creature who grew up poor.

Your best friend sends you into a shame spiral when she says that she hates one of the petit bourgeois you’ve been trying so hard to impress.

9781609451349_custom-12281789eeef67a30679f8ea75b7b482dbe86792-s400-c85For a brief couple of months, you fantasise constantly about your best friend murdering a factory owner.

You comfort yourself with the knowledge that you can always cut ties with your best friend, but she won’t stop telephoning you to talk about herself.

You try to be political, but you have the sneaking suspicion that you’re not very good at it.

You speak of the wage gap, as a tease. Your male friend mumbles quellingly that private ownership of the means of production should be abolished. 

There are Communists talking at you, and you are simultaneously repulsed and ashamed.

You resent your husband for being the least interesting member of his mildly famous, left-leaning literati family.

Your husband resents you for becoming a literary sensation. 

You work – you teach, you write, you translate – but all such manner of work cannot conceal the terrible violence, or the emptiness, in your heart.

Someone cruelly tells you your thought is superficial and you speak in clichés.

You know, in your heart, that you lack the imagination to make prose sing.

Oh, but that your best friend had been a writer! You would still have been a failure, but her reflected brilliance would have made you a glorious failure.

You can never escape the curse of your old neighbourhood, where the fascists have taken over like a noxious gas.

Sex underwhelms you. The closest you ever get to orgasmic ecstasy is the sensation you feel when your newborn daughter is first put in your arms.

You are relieved when your husband announces he is leaving you, but this relief is too inconsequential to speak of.

You are very happy, but there is a fearful trembling in the ground and in your heart.

You have turned to stone. A hairline crack runs along your entire length from crown to toe.

Your feet have turned to liquid, and you are melting onto the kitchen floor.