When was the last time that you read a book that you struggled to get out of your head? When you read as slow as you possibly could when nearing the end to make the book last longer? When, on finishing the book, you struggled for a few weeks trying to find something to live up to the story you’d just devoured?
This is exactly how I felt after reading Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels. The set of four novels, starting with My Brilliant Friend, recounts the story of Elena Greco and her turbulent friendship with Lila Cerullo.
The novels describe life in a neighbourhood in the outskirts of Naples, which is full of friendship, family ties, power struggles and violence. The ties between the novels’ characters are created from childhood and Ferrante clearly shows the way in which the inhabitants of the neighbourhood are tied together for life. Leaving the neighbourhood, getting rich or even being disowned by your family are not enough – the characters are never able to escape their roots.
Female friendship is a key theme and Ferrante is not afraid to leave out the uglier aspects of friendship: jealousy, competitiveness, betrayal and resentment all surface at various points in Lenu and Lila’s friendship. However, it is the loyalty, honesty and generosity of the friendship that seems to last throughout and which left a lasting impression on me.
Here’s a couple of quotes that I loved from the books:
“I spoke of the necessity of recounting frankly every human experience, including…what seems unsayable and what we do not speak of even to ourselves” – Elena Greco
“Each of us narrates our life as it suits us.” – Lila Cerullo
Have you read Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels? What did you think?