“The Story of a New Name” by Elena Ferrante (2013) - 471 pages Translated by Ann Goldstein
Now we are on to Book 2 of Elena Ferrante’s Naples trilogy. If you haven’t read Book 1, “My Brilliant Friend”, yet, I strongly recommend you read that book first. This is a trilogy which should be read in order.
In ‘My Brilliant Friend’, we first meet the two girls as children, Lila and Elena, friends who are the two smartest students in their grade school class. We also get to know the ten families that make up their small close neighborhood in Naples in the 1950s.
At the beginning of “The Story of a New Name”, the two girls are sixteen, and it is the early 1960s. Elena is continuing her studies in preparation for college. However Lila’s family sees no need for a girl to get a college education and urge her to get married to the relatively prosperous Stefano. Early scenes in “The Story of a New Name” take place at the wedding of Lila and Stefano. After the festivities on their wedding night, Stefano beats Lila which apparently was a fairly common practice in Naples at that time. Lila is not the kind of person to take well to a beating, and her feelings for Stefano are deadened from that point on. She gets pregnant but miscarries. Later Stefano will be put through worse indignities by Lila.
“But she (Lila) knows how to wound, it’s written in her face, it’s enough to look at her forehead and her eyes.”
Elena, the soon-to-be college student, keeps in touch with Lila and her old neighborhood. Elena has always considered Lila the brilliant one and herself only ‘diligent’. Lila and Elena remain fiercely competitive friends throughout the novel.
“I began to question myself, I had made a mistake, I was deluded. Was it possible that I – short, too full-figured, wearing glasses, I diligent but not intelligent, I who pretended to be cultured, informed, when I wasn’t – could have believed that he would like me even just for the length of a vacation?
Much of ‘The Story of a New Name” takes place during an idyllic vacation on the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples .
How much do you remember about the neighborhood or neighborhoods that you grew up in as a child? Do you remember the quirks of some of your grade school classmates in precise detail? Do you remember your own quirks? Elena Ferrante apparently remembers every detail of her childhood in Naples including the stories of every family and every member of each family. She brings each of these people and the ‘tangled skein’ of her entire neighborhood to surprising and lurid life. If this trilogy is the result of diligence rather than intelligence, give me diligence.
If she is not already on the list, it is time to add Elena Ferrante on to the list of Nobel Literature prize candidates along with other writers such as Haruki Murakami and Javier Marias and Ian MacEwan. Of the four, Elena Ferrante has lately moved me more than the others.
I fully expect that Ferrante’s Naples trilogy will become a classic of Italian literature. Is not that what we go to good fiction for, its ability to capture life?