“How easy it is to tell the story of myself without Lila: time quiets down and the important facts slide along the thread of years like suitcases on a conveyor belt at an airport; you pick them up, put them on the page, and it’s done.” (The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante)
I’m frequently asked the question ‘what are you reading’? Usually, the responses I give to these well-intentioned questions are the first time I articulate what I think about each book, and the words I use become the basis for my posts. Yet, since I started reading the Neapolitan quartet, I haven’t been able to come up with an answer. I stumble, mutter something about Naples and Italy, friends and growing up, and generally come off sounding like I have no clue what I spend my time doing. The reason is that Ferrante writes true literature. She writes books that are about no more and no less than what happens to you in your everyday life. And how does one describe something like that in an elevator speech?
Ferrante doesn’t waste her time on plot or setting – she has too much work to do describing the fears of childhood, inadequacies of adolescence, the deciding who you are and what you want in life of the 20s. While her characters mark time by major life events – loss of virginity, marriage, children – internally, they cycle through the same thoughts and actions, just hoping that things turn out differently this time around. As an observer, you can’t help but want to reach in and give them a little perspective. If only Ferrante could write about your life so that you could see the patterns you’ve fallen into with equal clarity.
Perhaps she already has.
Recommended Action: Buy –
Borrow Now – Borrow Sometime – Avoid
Length: My Brilliant Friend: 331, The Story of a New Name: 471
Ending: Each part of the quartet ends a particularly revealing moment, like the end of a short story
Incidental Learning: Naples, Growing up in Italy in the 1950s, poverty, Politics
Further Reading: If this series reminds me of anything, it’s Middlemarch. While the books are both epic in certain ways, Ferrante focuses her efforts on a small cast of characters.