A couple of months ago I discovered the Neapolitan Novels book series by Elena Ferrante. In preparation for my summer in Italy, I wanted to read something that would paint a picture of the life in Italy I would soon be experiencing. Ferrante’s novels did just that and more. The four part series focuses on an incredibly interesting friendship of two young girls in Naples during the 1950’s. It follows them from their childhood into adulthood and eventually their old age and shows the interesting dynamic of both love and rivalry they held throughout their lives.
Not only is the story empowered by the strength of these two main characters but it also illustrates the neighbourhood of Naples that they call home in the most captivating way. You’re not only growing up with Elena and Lila, the protagonists, but you’re also growing up with Melina the crazy lady, Stefano the grocer, and every other puzzle piece of the neighbourhood.
Elena, who is the narrator, is an exceptionally relatable character - at least she was for me. Although timid, she’s incredibly smart and hardworking but is mostly fuelled by Lila’s natural intelligence outshining her. She’s a very honest portrayal of somebody who is second best, in many aspects. She often lacks confidence in herself even when her accomplishments begin to give her merit and is deeply dependant on her tie to Lina. While she never vocalizes her feelings towards Lina as jealousy, it’s more a respectful adoration. However, as all stories go, it’s only natural for their lives to endure the hardships of drama, romance, anguish, passion.
I read all four books simply because I could not put them down, but the first in the series is the greatest. HBO has also made a new TV series about the first book. It’s a spectacular show, so long as you don’t mind reading subtitles. The story is told almost as beautifully as the book and the cinematography and southern Italian scenes are to die for.
Another interesting anecdote about the book is the fact that the author’s name, Elena Ferrante, is a pseudonym. She strongly believe that keeping her true name private benefits her ability to write well. While nothing is confirmed, there is some speculation that this series is loosely based on her own life.
Anyways, read this book - I 100% recommend.