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Friday, 26 June 2015

Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels

If you've seen any of the Librairie D+Q staff summer reads lists, you may have noticed a common thread running through each of them: Elena Ferrante! Her Neapolitan novels have been eagerly devoured by all of us in turn, or will very soon be, now that summer vacations are on the horizon. Despite the wild popularity and critical acclaim of her work, Ferrante herself has largely remained an enigma. She is routinely hailed as "the most ­important Italian writer of her generation," and yet Elena Ferrante is a pen name, and everything about her has been well-cloaked in mystery...that is until recently, when the Paris Review published this interview with her. 

The first three Neapolitan novels have been flying off our shelves, and with good reason. Ferrante writes with a fierce magnetism to which nobody seems immune. We are all struggling to make it until September, when the fourth and final novel, The Story of the Lost Child, will finally be available in English. In the meantime, I'm sure I'm not the only reader whose actual dreams have been invaded by Ferrante's characters and the world they inhabit. (A natural consequence of staying up compulsively reading far too late into the night, unable to wrench the book from my hands!)

Ferrante's bildungsroman follows the lifelong friendship of two girls, Lina and Elena, born into a poor neighbourhood in 1940s Naples as they try in their own ways to escape the violence of their origins. Though their lives take different courses, they remain inextricably linked throughout, until mysteriously, as an old woman, Lina disappears without a trace.

After hearing the news of her old friend's disappearance, Elena, the narrator, is compelled to revisit the past in order to unravel the mystery. In tracing the trajectory of her friendship with Lina, Elena also recounts historical events surrounding the socio-political upheaval in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s. I hesitate to give away any spoilers, so suffice it to say that these books are completely riveting, and you would be wise to pick up My Brilliant Friend now; that way you can join the clamouring chorus of readers chomping at the bit for the fourth book in September! That being said, if you can manage to pace yourself and not read all three in a whirlwind few days where you interrupt reading only to meet the basic necessities of life, then you are a stronger-willed person than I!   

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