Things to Read - The Neopolitian Series (i.e. My Favorite Books Ever!!!)
After the original excitement of the snow disappeared and the kids started playdate rotations with neighborhood friends, I probably should have used the time to work (and, really, I did try to work, but it's hard to get much done with a house full of noisy children). So, instead, I decided to curl up with a blanket and read Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series.
I read the first novel, My Brilliant Friend, in December and loved it, so I planned on savoring the rest of the books over a period of months. But then the blizzard arrived and each book was so good that I couldn't stop, thus plowing through over 1300 pages in under two weeks. And now that I've finished all four, I'm rereading the first one.
The series, which has received a lot of amazing press, centers on the lifelong friendship of two women who grow up together in the slums of Naples, Italy. The parents of Elana, the narrator, agree to pay for her to attend middle school (she goes on to become the first member of her family to graduate from college), whereas her intelligent best friend, Lila, is forced to quit school after fifth grade.
The decades long friendship between the girls/women is complex, full of days where they spend every moment together and years where they don't talk at all. But the writing is wonderful - every page is gripping, even though the stories themselves are those of ordinary life. One reviewer referred to the author as an angry Jane Austen, and while this is too cliched to be true, the books do make you feel as if something extraordinary has just been done - Ferrante has managed to tell a story of women without apologizing for them or making them comedic. She makes things like motherhood and school and marriage complex and hard, esp. the need to strive in a world dominated by men.
It would also be overly simplistic to call the works merely feminist (though they most certainly are), but at the same time reading them makes you question, as Ferrante questions, the way in which literature (even literature written by women) often portrays females - their wants, desires, insecurities, and (most importantly) their friendships.
These novels become so sad in many ways, but also true. Or at least they were for me. And right now I'm completely obsessed with them. I'm also somewhat obsessed with Ferrante herself, a reclusive figure who gives very few interviews (and the ones she does give must be in writing) and refuses to divulge almost any personal information about herself.
So are Lila and Elana "real"? Reading the books, it's almost impossible to believe that they aren't. But now, as I go back and re-read the first novel, I'm realizing how carefully everything was planned, how almost every moment in childhood foretells of later moments. So maybe they aren't real. Either way, does it matter? Isn't this Ferrante's whole reclusive point? That the book should stand on it's own, that "real" however one perceives such a term is irrelevant?
Anyways, please someone, READ THESE BOOKS!! And let me know what you think.