“We are thrilled when fragments of reality become utterable.”
September 3, 2015 10:24 AM   Subscribe

The Mysterious, Anonymous Author Elena Ferrante on the Conclusion of Her Neapolitan Novels [Vanity Fair]
Passions run high when you’re talking about Elena Ferrante and her work, particularly her sensational, highly addictive Neapolitan novels, which paint a portrait of a consuming female friendship against the backdrop of social and political upheaval in Italy from the 1950s to the present day. My Brilliant Friend,The Story of a New Name, and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay have made Ferrante, an enigmatic figure who writes under a pseudonym, and is widely regarded as the best contemporary novelist you’ve never heard of, a worldwide sensation.


- Elena Ferrante, Art of Fiction No. 228 [Paris Review]
Interviewer: Are you concerned with your readers? Do you care about the effect your writing will have on them?
Ferrante: I publish to be read. It’s the only thing that interests me about publication. So I employ all the strategies I know to capture the reader’s attention, stimulate curiosity, make the page as dense as possible and as easy as possible to turn. But once I have the reader’s attention I feel it is my right to pull it in whichever direction I choose. I don’t think the reader should be indulged as a consumer, because he isn’t one. Literature that indulges the tastes of the reader is a degraded literature. My goal is to disappoint the usual expectations and inspire new ones.
- Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels are astonishing modern classics. [Vox]
“...an epic saga spanning four books (the final volume of which was just been released in English today), 1,600 printed pages, and more than 60 years for the central characters. The series is a modern masterwork, characterized by gripping plotting and vivid personalities, while exploring themes of class, male violence, feminism, politics, motherhood, and creativity with savage intelligence. It's easily the best new fiction I’ve read in years.”
- Elena Ferrante pours scorn on speculation she could be a man. [The Guardian]
““Have you heard anyone say recently about any book written by a man, ‘It’s really a woman who wrote it, or maybe a group of women?’ Due to its exorbitant might, the male gender can mimic the female gender, incorporating it in the process. The female gender, on the other hand, cannot mimic anything, for it is betrayed immediately by its ‘weakness’; what it produces could not possibly fake male potency,”
- Italy’s Great, Mysterious Storyteller [New York Review of Books]
- Q. and A.: Elena Ferrante [New York Times]
- The Story of a New Language: Elena Ferrante’s American Translator [The Atlantic]
- 12 Of The Most Feminist Moments In Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels [Bustle]
- Elena Ferrante on the Origins of her Neapolitan Novels [Vogue]
posted by Fizz (16 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Oops, forgot another interesting link: “Dressing a Refined Story With a Touch of Vulgarity”: An Interview With Elena Ferrante’s Art Director. [Slate]
posted by Fizz at 10:30 AM on September 3, 2015

I've been hearing about these books and cannot wait to read them!

The quote about men mimicking women and vice versa is especially hilarious because, at least in my world, it's common knowledge that women are MUCH better at writing male characters than the reverse because in a patriarchy, we're basically required to understand the male experience, while men understanding women's inner lives is optional and in fact strongly discouraged. I had not realized this author was anonymous, but from the descriptions of the books, the idea that she might be a man seems particularly out of left field.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:37 AM on September 3, 2015 [15 favorites]

If she turns out to be Tom Holt, I swear to God I'm going to burn something down.
posted by Etrigan at 10:37 AM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

Claire Messud on Elena Ferrante in the FT:* Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet - "Part social tapestry, part feminist Bildungsroman, this tetralogy shines above all because of its vibrant, unflinching study of friendship."

also btw...
  • Laura Miller on Elena Ferrante - "The real heart of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels is the economic striving that drives their heroine throughout her life."
  • The Story of the Lost Child - "In the fourth and final installment of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series, we have arrived at the 21st century and Elena, its narrator, is growing old."
posted by kliuless at 10:41 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oooooo, what a wonderful post to dig through! My copy of #4 arrived the other day, and I had pre-ordered it so long ago, it was such a happy surprise (especially in these first difficult post-Hannibal days).
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:01 AM on September 3, 2015

I've had The Story of the Lost Child sitting by my bed for the past two days but I've still yet to open it because I don't want this series to end.

There is so much in the Neapolitan novels that is consistently striking in its honesty, and every time I reach one of those moments I'm always simultaneously delighted to be reading an author who favors truth over romance, while also unsettled to see one of my own anxieties voiced so perfectly and distilled with such clarity that it is nothing less than disturbing. The envy inherent in childhood friendships; the need one has to escape from their childhood home out of a fear that the community will pull them in; the incredible power in being lusted after by someone older, even when that person is repellent; the moment in which one becomes fully aware of the dissonance between themselves and those more economically advantaged--they're all there, each so astutely depicted. These are not new ideas; they are not new to me, they are not new to fiction, but they feel new, because where they were once abstract, they have now been given such precise, biting language that they sting on contact.

It's also wonderful to read novels that are not only so overtly feminist, but queer as well. Most of the men are sketches of insecure, (and thus) violent masculinity, and even when the protagonists enter into relationships, they do so primarily because those relationships will better themselves. Ferrante is such a counterpoint to the flat depictions, be they saccharine or dully vile, of sex and female friendship and romance that run rampant in popular fiction, and I am so happy that these books are here and that I am reading them now. I don't care who the person writing them is; all I care about is that she never stops.
posted by lunch at 11:05 AM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

Someday - in a faraway magical land in which the lives of girls and women are valued as highly as those of boys and men - these books will be taught as the great, earthshaking, classic, timeless literature they are. The name Lila will be as familiar as Huck and the name Ferrante will be as familiar as Dickens.

As for the interview, I particularly loved and identified with her answer about "the personal is political."

Her writing, even in this small interview, is like water in a desert.
posted by sallybrown at 11:09 AM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

It's also worth noting that more Elena Ferrante is on the way: a collection of her writing is set to be released in January.
posted by lunch at 11:31 AM on September 3, 2015

Also worth noting that Europa editions, Ferrante's publisher, releases some outstanding works of fiction. Turning me onto authors I wouldn't normally be exposed to from a European market that does not often see as much exposure here in North America.
posted by Fizz at 11:33 AM on September 3, 2015

Wow, thank you for this because I've never heard of these books and now I'm all fired up about them.
posted by something something at 11:51 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

> Wow, thank you for this because I've never heard of these books and now I'm all fired up about them.

Me too! Everyone else seems to have heard of them: the SF public library has 20 (TWENTY!) ebook copies of the first in the series and there are two people ahead of me!
posted by rtha at 12:03 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

These are the most marvelous, most honest, most important books. Sometimes I feel like I'm on the verge of tears when I recommend them to people. That's how much they've meant to me.
posted by thivaia at 2:49 PM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm just about finished with My Brilliant Friend, which has taken me a while only because I have several other books partway read as well and I'm also purposely trying to savor it and pick it up only when I can really focus on it. I think I was on page 5 when I dashed to Amazon to order the rest. Lenu and Lila are such amazingly drawn and realized characters. The only thing I wish were different is that I could read Italian.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:02 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm almost done with the new one. Devastating so far. These books are a true masterpiece and I feel privileged to have had the chance to read them.

Any woman I've spoken to who's read them dismisses the idea that a man could have written then as utterly ludicrous.
posted by town of cats at 6:07 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

OK before I was on my phone but now I have more to say! “We are thrilled when fragments of reality become utterable” basically sums up the Elena Ferrante reading experience for me in a nutshell...over and over again, she takes feelings I've felt and things I've witnessed in my life and says them more eloquently than I ever could. Her portrait of female friendship is groundbreaking in its richness, truth, and depth. She is a wonder and I hope at some point she breaks her anonymity so she can be awarded the Nobel Prize she richly deserves. On the other hand, telling the story she's told has taken extraordinary honesty and courage, and I can imagine her reasons for not wanting to expose her personal details.

She has simultaneously broadened my ambitions as a fiction writer and given me one of the longest bouts of writer's block I've ever had, because the bar she's set is so, so high. I want to write a sprawling, conceptual novel about friendship, class, and ambition too now, but hell if I can find a place to start, you know? The only book I've read since I read the first three Neapolitan novels last winter that could even compare in terms of its scope was The Golden Notebook. Every single other piece of fiction I pick up seems conservative, predictable, and safe by comparison.

And yes, FelliniBlank, I wish to god I could read Italian! I know she is doing SUCH interesting stuff with Neapolitan dialect and I'll never get to read it as it was intended. So frustrating.

If you're reading this thread and thinking "Maybe I should check these books out," seriously, DROP EVERYTHING AND GET THEE TO A BOOKSTORE. Lifechanging.
posted by town of cats at 9:32 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

You guys! Man. I'm going on a long plane trip next week and spent an hour yesterday identifying decent Kindle books available through my library to download, but now I have ditched that whole plan and just bought these instead. I hope I can hold out a week before starting them.
posted by something something at 4:59 AM on September 4, 2015

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