Tag Archives: Elena Ferrante

The Story of the Lost Child – Elena Ferrante

It took me more than a year (possibly two) but I finished all four of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Normally I can’t do that but each one of these books is compelling on its own and it leaves you wondering…what ever happens to the complicated friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo. And off I would go to get the next book…until finally at last I finished it with the last book in the series The Story of the Lost Child which still leaves you wondering.

By way of background the novels are set in Naples, Italy and they span the lifetime of two young girls who grow up together in the rough and tumble Naples of the 50s. Both are bright young girls but only Elena is able to continue her education through university. The beautiful, street smart and equally intelligent Lila stops going to school by grade 5 and survives by building a business for herself.

The novel is about friendship of course, and all the difficulties and the beauty that come with it. But the sprawling novels are also about social change, politics, violence, domestic violence and how staying ahead, even of those we love, is an act of survival. The competitive nature of the friendship between Elena and Lila is also about poverty and what happens when you have to fight for every scrap of recognition in a world that is hard for everyone. And yet it is friendship that binds.

In the end the novel(s) don’t offer any answers… what happened to Lila, what happened to her daughter, what was she writing, why did she disappear? Here is a woman who devoted herself to fighting gangsters in her unruly neighbourhood, who devoted herself in the end to learning everything about Naples…understanding her city inside and out and then leaving.

These books are less linear narrative then they are impressionistic art…paint thrown on a canvas of love, hatred, political structures, friendship, family…and the result is an ode to Naples. Lila Cerullo represents beauty, intelligence, history, politics, rough and tumble love, and a deep sense of right and wrong in a hard world.

I loved these books. You’ start with one not be able to stop until you’ve finished all four!

 

 

 

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Elena Ferrante: The Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name

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I have only recently finished Elena Ferrante’s second novel “The Story of a New Name” on the heels of having read her first “My Brilliant Friend” but I feel compelled to shout their names out loud to anyone who will listen….. to go, go pick up the first book, then the second. Today I will be go and get the third “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay”.

The books span the lifelong friendship of Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo two bright young girls who grow up in a crime ridden impoverished neighbourhood of Naples during the 50s. While poverty, brutality and survival are the building blocks of their daily existence, their natural intelligence, curiosity and deep desire to learn become the push and pull, the love and hate that underlines their friendship. While Elena is taken under the wing of a Maestra at school and continues to excel, Lila who has the brasher personality of the two, is forced to quit and go to work by the time she is 12 and is married by 16. Yet, as the novels progress, the question remains, who is “The Brilliant Friend’? What is brilliance? What is friendship? What are these irrepressible bonds that fundamentally alter the course of our lives, even our souls?

What I love about these novels is the ease with which the story and the language fills your imagination creating a tapestry of Neapolitan life. These novels bring you deep into the dirt, the lives, the streets of Naples and yet it reaches high above the city to the political landscape of the time, to political theories and classical literature.

The ease of language is deceptive. For example, in book two the summer of beach romance continues on for a good part of the book. It reminded me of the Harlequin’s I used to read as a kid. Smooth, summer romantic reading…all seamlessly told through a traditional story telling structure. And yet, as Elena Ferrante says, ‘there is a magna” that underpins the narrative. This is the real stuff of life particularly for women whose lives are never their own…and it’s a reminder that these days aren’t so far away and indeed, are very prevalent in the lives of many women today. Daily life is filled with domestic and sexual violence, people are hard, because life is hard…and yet….there is this tapestry of friendship that propels the story forward…the push and pull of love and hate, of knowledge, ignorance and desire.

For those of you wanting to learn more about the enigmatic and media shy author there is a great interview in Vanity Fair which I encourage you to read. This woman has a muscular brain.

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