Friday Reads: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

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Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.

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Elena Ferrante

‘I’ve been writing for too long, and I’m tired; it’s more and more difficult to keep the thread of the story taut within the chaos of the years, of events large and small, of moods’.

The Story of the Lost Child

For the final Women In Translation Month recommendation I decided to cheat a little and pick the whole Neapolitan Quartet by the phenomenal writer, Elena Ferrante. I remember her books exploding all over social media around four or five years ago and I’m so glad they did because I don’t think I would have read them otherwise (based on the covers alone!).

Almost bildungsroman-esque, we witness the intimately formative and coming-of-age years of Elena Greco and her friendship with the effortlessly intelligent and charismatic Lila, who doesn’t seem to put any effort into outshining her hard-working friend. Throughout their primary school years there is a constant  battle, though often healthy competition, between the two young girls. It is only when Elena is fortunate enough to take the Middle School examinations, whilst Lila is forced to leave school for the economic benefit of her family, that their lives begin to diverge along very different paths. My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who stay and The Story of the Lost Child chronicle the lives of Elena and Lila from childhood all the way through to old age. As the tetralogy progresses, we become witnesses to the intricacies and intimacies of Elena and Lila’s lives through moments of success and happiness to moments of deep despair and heartbreak.

The Neapolitan series, full of raw and honest emotions, is stunning in its ability to universalise such a specific life, culture and history. Even though Naples is a huge magnetic force within the novels, the human interactions that occur are relatable and true to the human experience. Elena and Lila are so fully-formed and believable. They are funny, generous, individual, driven and, most of all, they are flawed just like everybody else. Somehow, Ferrante has managed to sustain the reader’s interest through four very hefty novels that are both beautiful together as a whole and also individually.

Normally at the end of these Friday Reads posts I would include a picture and a mini-bio of the author. However, in the case of Elena Ferrante, who uses a pseudonym in order to remain anonymous, I won’t be doing that this week. Although there were horrible news stories a couple of years ago about an Italian journalist who had claimed to ‘discover’ Ferrante’s identity by invading her privacy via financial records, I chose to refrain from finding out more about this ‘unmasking’ of a writer who deliberately chose to remain anonymous so that her writing would speak for itself. In other news, I just found out that HBO are creating a series adaptation of the Neapolitan Quartet and I can’t wait!

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