The NEAPOLITAN NOVEL quartet
by Elena Ferrante
I have recently been introduced to Elena Ferrante novels, beginning with the Neapolitan Novel quartet: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child. There is such an unsettling and brutal honesty in Ferrante’s writing, firstly about growing up poor and female in Naples, and subsequently trying to escape that seemingly inevitable life. The novels’ narrator, Elena Greco, recalls her childhood and her brilliant friend Lila, whom she at once loves and hates, first sexual experiences, the brutal men in their lives, their dreams of escaping the ‘neighbourhood’ and the fervent hopes that they will never become their mothers. Ferrante’s exquisite writing thoroughly engages the reader through girlhood fears, first boyfriends, harsh family lives, the deep seated religious division of whore and virgin, constant threats from local bullies, men and boys, and tensions of repressed sexual desires.
The mysterious author [Ferrante’s true identity is unknown] lays bare the psychological trauma of growing up female in the south; the culture of being owned by your father and then your husband. The expectation that a girl must get married, and bear children, the resultant crushing of her intellect and her creativity. There are only two ways to escape the hardships: excel at school, and gain access to universities and a better life in Pisa, Milan or Florence, even though every move to escape the inevitable life of poverty and domestic grind is greeted with age old suspicions and hatreds by family and friends. Elena Greco is one of the lucky ones. She excels at school, goes to university in the north, eventually marries into a well known northern Italian family, but is her life really any better than that of her brilliant friend Lila, who refuses to leave Naples? Lila chose instead to marry a local boy from a powerful, wealthy family, and even though she has sold her soul for a beautiful new house and everything that money can buy, her life becomes unbearable and the inherent dangers seem to multiply.
These novels contain the story of modern Italy…about those who left and those who stayed.
I have never read four books so quickly! I read all of the books with a total enthrall…impatiently wanting to do nothing else but be involved in the lives of Elena and Lila, right to the very end.
-Anne Frandi-Coory 1 August 2016