Nick Clark Arts Correspondent
Her books have sold nearly two million copies worldwide, brought literary tourists flocking to Naples, attracted fans including Zadie Smith and Alice Sebold, and inspired fashions and recipes.
Now the Italian author of the “Neapolitan novels” is in the running for her first major international literary prize. The only problem is that nobody knows – or is telling, at least – the identity of the mysterious woman writing under the pseudonym Elena Ferrante.
Ferrante has been named on the 13-strong longlist of The Man Booker International Prize for The Story of the Lost Child, the last of four novels in her acclaimed Neapolitan series, released last year in Britain.
Daniela Petracco, the UK director of Europa Editions which publishes Ferrante’s work in Britain, said: “She’s happy to be successful but as far as I can tell, it’s not that important to her. She’s a writer who needs to write in order to live. Having her books read is the most important thing.”
Despite the huge interest in her, as yet no one has been able to unmask the real Ferrante. “No one has succeeded so far,” Ms Petracco said. “She is happy that all of her acclaim has come on the strength of the books alone.”
The only people known to have had face-to-face contact with Ferrante are Sandro Ferri and Sandra Ozzola Ferri of Edizioni E/O, Europa Editions’ parent company and the Rome-based publishers of Ferrante in Italy.
Ms Petracco corresponds with Ferrante by email but has never spoken to her.
Ferrante’s first novel, Troubling Love, was published in 1991. But it was the Neapolitan series that brought her to worldwide attention more than two decades later.
Her work is now published in 39 countries, selling close to 900,000 copies in the US and more than 300,000 in Britain. In Italy, a television production company is to adapt the Neapolitan books into a 32-part series.
She was nominated for Italy’s highest literary honour, the Strega Prize, last year but missed out to Nicola Lagioia for La Ferocia(“The Ferocity”). The Man Booker announcement marks her first international nomination.
This year’s longlist, which includes books from 12 countries including Angola, South Korea and Brazil, is the first by the Man Booker International Prize since it joined forces with The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Booker used to award authors for a body of work, but now it is for a single novel, shared with the translator.
Booker International: The longlist
José Eduardo Agualusa: A General Theory of Oblivion
Elena Ferrante: The Story of the Lost Child
Han Kang: The Vegetarian
Maylis de Kerangal: Mend the Living
Eka Kurniawan: Man Tiger
Yan Lianke: The Four Books
Fiston Mwanza Mujila: Tram 83
Raduan Nassar: A Cup of Rage
Marie NDiaye: Ladivine
Kenzaburō Ōe: Death by Water
Aki Ollikainen: White Hunger
Orhan Pamuk: A Strangeness in My Mind
Robert Seethaler: A Whole Life