Book Reviews: The Neapolitan Series by Elena Ferrante

Book 1: My Brilliant Friend

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Goodreads blurb: A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

Book 2: The Story of a New Name

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Goodreads Blurb: The second book, following 2012’s acclaimed My Brilliant Friend, featuring the two friends Lila and Elena. The two protagonists are now in their twenties. Marriage appears to have imprisoned Lila. Meanwhile, Elena continues her journey of self-discovery. The two young women share a complex and evolving bond that brings them close at times, and drives them apart at others. Each vacillates between hurtful disregard and profound love for the other. With this complicated and meticulously portrayed friendship at the center of their emotional lives, the two girls mature into women, paying the sometimes cruel price that this passage exacts.

Book 3: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

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Goodreads Blurb: Since the publication of My Brilliant Friend, the first of the Neapolitan novels, Elena Ferrante’s fame as one of our most compelling, insightful, and stylish contemporary authors has grown enormously. She has gained admirers among authors–Jhumpa Lahiri, Elizabeth Strout, Claire Messud, to name a few–and critics–James Wood, John Freeman, Eugenia Williamson, for example. But her most resounding success has undoubtedly been with readers, who have discovered in Ferrante a writer who speaks with great power and beauty of the mysteries of belonging, human relationships, love, family, and friendship. In this third Neapolitan novel, Elena and Lila, the two girls whom readers first met in My Brilliant Friend, have become women. Lila married at sixteen and has a young son; she has left her husband and the comforts of her marriage brought and now works as a common laborer. Elena has left the neighborhood, earned her college degree, and published a successful novel, all of which has opened the doors to a world of learned interlocutors and richly furnished salons. Both women have attempted are pushing against the walls of a prison that would have seem them living a life of mystery, ignorance and submission. They are afloat on the great sea of opportunities that opened up during the nineteen-seventies. Yet they are still very much bound to see each other by a strong, unbreakable bond

Book 4: The Story of the Lost Child

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Goodreads Blurb: Here is the dazzling saga of two women, the brilliant, bookish Elena and the fiery, uncontainable Lila. Both are now adults; life’s great discoveries have been made, its vagaries and losses have been suffered. Through it all, the women’s friendship has remained the gravitational center of their lives. Both women once fought to escape the neighborhood in which they grew up—a prison of conformity, violence, and inviolable taboos. Elena married, moved to Florence, started a family, and published several well-received books. In this final book, she has returned to Naples. Lila, on the other hand, never succeeded in freeing herself from the city of her birth. She has become a successful entrepreneur, but her success draws her into closer proximity with the nepotism, chauvinism, and criminal violence that infect her neighborhood. Proximity to the world she has always rejected only brings her role as its unacknowledged leader into relief. For Lila is unstoppable, unmanageable, unforgettable! Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous and a world undergoing epochal change, the story of a lifelong friendship is told with unmatched honesty and brilliance. The four volumes in this series constitute a long remarkable story that readers will return to again and again, and every return will bring with it new revelations

My take: 4.5 out of 5I really had to give my take in full of the saga, as it is difficult to give solely independent thoughts on the single books and after reading all four, you will find it hard to differentiate when one ends and one begins. Before I dwell in detail, RUN to buy these books and read them. After going through the pain of all four books, you come out of the other side so gratified to have gone through this experience. However definitely read all four. Dont stop at the first, because in my opinion it is the weakest of the bunch.

A  few thoughts on the first one. I was very excited to read this book, i even chose it as my pick for my newly formed book club. It left mixed feelings. In a way I loved it and in a way it was painful to read.  The book is such an intrinsic development of a friendship that you get boggled into a lot of emotional and motivational back story that can be dense and mostly hard to digest as this is not the story of people who are not suffering. There are raw issues and situations.

I think the books get easier and easier to read, where as by the fourth book I was devouring it. I don’t know if it’s just the investment into the characters, the fact that you are just so much more well versed in all the characters or that Elena’s writing became easier in the end. I think it’s a mix. I do feel the first book is the most descriptive and the one that moves the least within the confined contents of the book. in the third and fourth just so much action happens. But the first one has to come to set the backdrop. So many things that during the reading of the first book you wouldn’t think twice about, come out full circle during the conclusion of the book and their whole relationship starts adding up. It also expresses how the perils of youth mark the actions of adulthood whether you want them to or not.

In our book club discussion we touched a lot upon the relationship of the two characters, Elena, the narrator,  who according to Lila is “my brilliant friend, you have to be the best of all, boys and girls” and Lila who is actually literally the brilliant friend. Their relationship is very intense, but its really interesting how the duality of them generates a whole. Reading  the books you questions who is really the narrator, who is telling the story. Are things really so black and white? I think reading this story I feel that both girls encompass what a single person might be, and by having two characters display different situations its easier to display autobiographical issues in a book. I think it also shows how people need each other and hurt each other and relationships are a balance. If they are not in balance they can be brilliant or brutal.  In the book they say ” it was as if,because of an evil spell, the joy or sorrow one required the sorrow or joy of the other; even our physical aspect, it seemed to me, shared in that swing” 

The only thing I didn’t enjoy – the ending, i somehow expected more.

There were many things that called my attention on the books but I think you guys should all read them ,so I will just discuss some passages or quotes that called my attention from articles :

  • child abuse, divorce, motherhood, wanting and not wanting children, the tedium of sex, the repulsions of the body, the narrator’s desperate struggle to retain a cohesive identity within a traditional marriage and amid the burdens of child rearing. The novels present themselves (with the exception of the latest) like case histories, full of flaming rage, lapse, failure, and tenuous psychic success – this comes from an article and it could not be more true to the story. There is nothing that is not passionate about the books and it really explores most facets of what women will go through in their lifetime.
  • Ferrante’s Naples is a place where morality and dignity are for sale like shoes or pastries, and where women are chattels passed between men as venial sweeteners in business deals. “Since I was a girl,” Elena writes, “I had observed in my mother and other women the most humiliating aspects of family life, of motherhood, of subjection to males. – This line so deeply shares about the story that I just had to share it. I do believe this is a book that digs to the position of women in society especially in chauvinistic and poorer settings where opportunities are less. It is very clear the position that women in the book have in  their neighbourhood vs. the rich settings. It also does a lot to discuss the issues of nature vs nurture. The problems of where we come from, can or can’t they be overcome. Are we a product of society or of what we are intrinsically.

i could go on and on.. but i think you guys should just read the books… you’ll love them.

Quotes I liked

  • Children don’t know the meaning of yesterday , of the day before yesterday or even tomorrow. Everything is this, now.
  • Life was like that, that’s all, we grew up with the duty to make it difficult for others before they made it difficult for us. 
  • She landed on an old principle that we had assimilated when we were little. It seemed to her that to save herself .. she had to intimidate those who wished to intimidate her, she had to inspire fear in those who wished to make her fear. 
  • The new living flesh was replicating the old in a game, we were a chain of shadows who had always been on the stage with the same burden of love , hatred, desire and violence 
  • Tt was marvelous to cross borders,  to let oneself go within other cultures, discover the provisional nature of what I had taken for an absolute. 
  • I soon discovered that i was getting used to being happy and unhappy at the same time 
  • Relationships between human beings are full of traps and if you want it to endure you have to learn to avoid them.

Some Good articles:

 

 

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