Friday, November 20, 2015

Elena Ferrante, Book Two

For just a wild moment this week I wished I lived in New York city. Ann Goldstein, the translator of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, was speaking at the New York Public Library and oh, how I wanted to be a fly on the wall. What a talent! Just think how difficult it is to write exquisitely in one language and then to have that beauty translated just as exquisitely into another. (in this case, Italian into English) Truly, I believe that a translator can make or break a reading experience.

I'm sorry to say that the folks who order books for my library have apparently not been paying attention. There are so few copies of the four novels that make up Ferrante's much-heralded series that I'll be waiting for number three for quite a while. Meanwhile, here's a recap of my thoughts on book one.

The Story of a New Name: Neapolitan Novels, Book Two

"The Story of a New Name," book two, begins with a shocking act of vengeance. If love and hatred are two sides of the same coin, then perhaps you will fathom what was going through Lena's mind when she dumped a box of eight notebooks off the Solferino bridge in Pisa. These notebooks, with which she was entrusted, represent the life story (so far) of Lena's best friend and worst enemy, Lila Cerullo Carracci.

But what, you may ask, was Lila's intent when she asked Lena to keep the notebooks hidden, unread, and private? She must have known that Lena could not resist reading, memorizing actually, each and every line, as painful and humiliating as they were. Lena and Lila are now as distant as two childhood friends could be. Lila, denied an education by her backward family, has made a pact with the devil, marrying the grocer, Stefano Carracci, for money and status. Lena, on the other hand, has graduated from secondary school with honors and escaped their stifling Naples neighborhood for the heady atmosphere of academia in Pisa.

It's a pure joy to watch Lena expand her horizons at school, excelling at her studies while taking a wealthy lover who delights in polishing her rough, Neapolitan edges. Lila, the proverbial bird in a gilded cage, becomes increasingly reckless. Her erratic, self-destructive behavior feels careless and cruel, driving a permanent wedge between her and Stefano and maybe even between her and Lena. Oh, book three, please come to me soon.

What is so remarkable about these novels is the ferocious honesty with which they are written. While they appear to be autobiographical, we cannot be sure since we don't even know who Elena Ferrante is. Her (or his?) identity is a much better kept secret in literary circles than J.K. Rowling's Robert Galbraith. Ferrante is fearless, baring her soul even if it means admitting to debilitating jealousy, cold calculation, and prideful vanity. She is a complete woman, and one I adore spending time with.


Jessica said...

Just ordered another copy for the system - maybe that will help!

Sallyb said...

Yup, Got my email today saying it was in! Thanks.