Financial Times

Q&A with author Elena Ferrante


‘What book changed my life? Books don’t change your life. If they are good, they can hurt and bring confusion’


A street view of Naples, where Elena Ferrante was born

Italian writer Elena Ferrante was born in Naples. Her debut novel, Troubling Love (1992), won various prizes in Italy and was made into a film by Mario Martone. The Days of Abandonment (2002) stayed on the Italian bestseller list for a year, and was translated into 19 languages. It was followed by The Lost Daughter (2006) and the loose trilogy My Brilliant Friend (2011), The Story of a New Name (2012) and Those Who Leave and Those who Stay (2013). Ferrante remains incognito.

Who is your perfect reader?

Those who read for the pleasure of reading and fall in love with a text regardless of who is the author.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. Seriously funny books are extremely rare.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

For work reasons I have two wonderful books with motherhood and disability at their centre: Manicomio primavera by Clara Sereni and Tempo di imparare by Valeria Parrella.

What book changed your life?

Books don’t change your life. At most, if they are good, they can hurt and bring confusion. Kafka’s The Trial still upsets me.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

I still don’t know – and I never will.

What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t write every day – I write when I can.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Mrs Ramsay from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

Who are your literary influences?

Two very different authors: Virginia Woolf and Elsa Morante. Both are unequalled. I studied their writing for a long time, then I put them aside out of frustration.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

I am shy, I have dinner only with people I know very well.

What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?

Before giving a child any novel I would try to instill a passion for the adventure hidden inside every word. Books can put us off reading, when words look like insects’ secretions. Learning to read is learning to see the magic in words.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

I find the possibility too scary to even contemplate. If it were possible, I would always take a lift in the company of a lift technician.

Who would you choose to play you in a film about your life?

My life does not lend itself to film adaptation.

What are you scared of?

Losing control of my body.

When do you feel most free?

When I am alone and no one expects anything from me.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

Live your life and never complain.

What would you change about yourself?

Nothing. I am afraid if I touched something, I would go to pieces.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

Mark Rothko’s “Black on Grey”.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

With the work I have been doing every day for years – which is not writing.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Naples, where I was born.

What does it mean to be a writer?

Pursuing what we are not able to say. Writing during any scrap of free time and without worrying about getting published.

Elena Ferrante’s most recent novel, ‘Those Who Leave and Those who Stay’, is published by Europa Editions

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