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Book Review by Diane McCurdy: Who Is Elena Ferrante?


Book Review: Who Is Elena Ferrante?

By Diane McCurdy

Italian author Elena Ferrante is an enigma. Ferrante has stated, “....books, once they are written have no need of their author.” No book tours have occurred, no signing of first editions, no interviews. Even the name may be a pseudonym and there is some question, despite the feminine connotation, as to whether or not the author is a woman. Ferrante has written a half dozen novels but is known mostly for the Neopolitan Quartet, the fourth of which has just been released, The Lost Child, which has generated interest in the series and catapulted the initial publication, My Brilliant Friend, onto the paperback best seller’s list. Speculation about the author’s identity has always been rife. With other writers vying for slots on late night TV shows in order to hawk their work, Ferrante demurs. This reticence only enhances the mystique probably doing more to promote sales than a more ordinary route would.

The tetrology begins around 1950 in one of the poorer but very colorful neighborhoods situated on the perimeter of Naples. On these mean streets, two girls form a bond and remain friends even though as they mature they follow very divergent paths that are delineated over 50 years and 1,600 pages. The two middle pieces are called, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. The transitions of the two protagonists mirror not only the changes extant in their own little neighborhood but in the cities and indeed in their country.

I read the first book, My Brilliant Friend, with gleeful anticipation as it had been highly recommended. After all, Ferrante is heralded internationally as one of the great artists of the modern era. Critical acclaim has been more than generous. I’m going to admit that I didn’t like it. I found it terminally boring, laborious and not so brilliant. The style was tedious. I felt like nothing was happening. I feel the purposeful anonymity has added a delicious dimension to the work that may not otherwise have been there. Perhaps something was lost in translation. But I am definitely not tempted to read the other volumes that he/she has written.