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Elena's devotion borders on obsession; Lila's appears at moments of terror. Although still children, they must discover how to traverse the world of men and their own raw sexuality. Ferrante writes with clear, unadorned and confessional prose that inflicts on the reader the thrill and dread of living in a world half understood. While Lila reigns over the neighbourhood during her engagement, bingeing on expensive dresses, her status plummets to that of unhappy wife as soon as she seals her union with the wealthy grocer.
At 16, she is trapped, her womb the subject of conversation, while her own mother ignores her battered face. Meanwhile, Elena juggles her first tastes of illicit physical love with her impulse to remain top student, although she has no example of an alternate future her schooling might provide. The best she can envision - after slaving through Latin and Greek - is to marry her mechanic boyfriend and pump petrol until she has babies. Ferrante imbues the large cast of characters with machinations that surface in dramatic ways.
Their connections to one another shift, as though their very persons duplicitous even to themselves are reincarnated, like chess pieces, once they hit certain marks. What sets these girls apart, and transforms what might become a personal story of hemmed-in females fighting against a patriarchal society, is the spirit of small - and large - revolts each one enacts that subtly crack the foundation of their community, where women are told little and punished for misunderstanding.
Their revolts - and their squabbles - become politically and morally charged. At stake is the nature of belonging, of shedding the prescribed self, and of the shameful comfort of corruption. With frustrating impotence, we watch Lila's story unfurl; only Elena, with her education and increasing distance from the claustrophobic community, can attempt to understand their possibilities and buck against them.
That is, until Lila - always ahead of everyone, despite herself - challenges the rules and shatters lives. These two novels - uncomfortable and compelling - mark the beginning of what is destined to become a lasting Italian classic that transcends place, even while commemorating it. Almost nothing is known about the writer called Elena Ferrante, including her real name, making her even more reclusive than, say, Pynchon or Salinger, which is refreshing in an industry that desires celebrity of its writers.
Although the first two Neapolitan novels - each full, if not complete in itself - are less fierce than her previous ones, they move far from contrivance, logic or respectability to ask uncomfortable questions about how we live, how we love, how we singe an existence in a deeply flawed world that expects pretty acquiescence from its women.
In all their beauty, their ugliness, their devotion and deceit, these girls enchant and repulse, like life, like our very selves. The elusive yet volcanic Italian author Elena Ferrante has become a kind of insiders' icon on both sides of the Atlantic.
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Ferrante's effect, critics agree, is inarguable. In one of that novel's earliest actions - typical of the girls' embattled friendship - Lila calmly throws Elena's favorite doll down an air vent. During similar, subsequent misadventures, the two will constantly test and protect each other. But by the end of "Friend," hard want and cultural pressure drag her down, into marriage to a grocer. Intriguingly, "The Story of a New Name" likewise opens with a cruel act, as young-adult Elena dumps a strongbox containing Lila's precious, lifelong writings - entrusted to her by the now miserably married, frantic Lila - into the Arno.
And convoluted they are. The cast of characters is so extensive 10 families that Ferrante supplies an index of names, stations and advisory notes. Despising her bewildered husband who feels he has no choice but to beat her , Lila travels with a family retinue to a seaside town and commences to seduce Nino Sarratore, the one boy Elena has cared for since childhood. In retaliation, Elena soon allows Nino's scummy father to seduce her, as a sort of furious self-punishment.
Elena, meantime, labors against family resentment and need, feelings of unattractiveness, loneliness and Northern hostility toward her Southern roots to complete her education and to write a novel, which - somewhat improbably - becomes an instant hit. Here, "Story" abruptly concludes. Men don't enjoy much more ease in the realms Ferrante depicts, but they're at least granted bits of power and, on occasion, comfort.
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What's hardest is to watch Lila, Ferrante's frenzied warrior, gamble and lose, time after time, trying and failing to adapt conventional roles in any fresh way that might save her. It's been suggested by more than one reviewer that the tragedy of Ferrante's women is a biopsy sample of the tragedy of Italy, or, ultimately, of the species. One is reminded, in her world's hothouse desperation, of gladiators who may be fast friends, forced to kill one another for an emperor's sport: Here the emperor is the pitiless compression of economic, political and social inequities; of ancient biases and corruption.
October 02, With so many literary heavyweights clamoring for attention this fall, it would be both easy—and a terrible mistake—to miss one more. Even her face has been cut out of family photographs. Their stories, we understand, are irrevocably intertwined, as are their certain-to-be-divergent paths; the mystery of their fates is precisely what will drive the narrative.
In the tiny fishbowl of their community, everything is noticed, especially the lives of young girls, and differences are measured in the smallest of degrees. Lila is the cleverer of the two: Elena must work to excel, while Lila has a fierce native intelligence. Eventually, she gives up her books entirely. One of the more nuanced portraits of feminine friendship in recent memory—from the make-up and break-up quarrels of young girls to the way in which we carefully define ourselves against each other as teens—Ferrante wisely balances her memoir-like emotional authenticity with a wry sociological understanding of a society on the verge of dramatic change.
Elena Ferrante is obsessed by disappearance. Her first book, the extraordinary "The Days of Abandonment," published in in her native Italy, opens, "One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me. The book is driven by the narrator's compulsion to dismantle the husband's decision, and to determine how she could have known nothing of its origins.
Elena Greco, the narrator, receives an urgent call from Rino, the son of an old friend. His mother, Lila, has disappeared, he says. Elena, factual and unsentimental, is interested by the news but neither panicked nor confused, as the son is. She's known for years that Lila "wanted to vanish; she wanted every one of her cells to disappear, nothing of her ever to be found.
True to the nature of their fraught friendship, Elena will not allow Lila what she wants.
Her friendship with Lila is its own world within an insular world, and like most girls' friendships, it trades in support, competition, confidences, example and that "continuous game of exchanges and reversals that, now happily, now painfully, made us indispensable to each other. Ferrante, beautifully translated by Ann Goldstein, rises above "the confusion of the oral" and writes with a ferocious, intimate urgency that is a celebration of anger. Ferrante is terribly good with anger, a very specific sort of wrath harbored by women, who are so often not allowed to give voice to it.
August 27th, The Story of a New Name, published this month by Europa Books, is the second fat installment of a projected trilogy about Elena and Lila, two girls of unusual talent and drive born into an impoverished, violent neighborhood. With these words and those years I bring back the many fears that accompanied me all my life. In general it came from wounds only after horrible curses and disgusting obscenities had been exchanged. That was the standard procedure. Physical violence is constant, often in the form of domestic abuse routinely but sometimes startlingly — one father throws his daughter out a second-floor window visited by men on their wives and children.
The books are at once juicy, engrossing historical novels — so crowded with characters they require a prefatory family tree to keep the names straight — and searingly intense parables of artistic creation. Lila fascinates Elena, along with nearly everyone she encounters, in her brilliance and unpredictability. Lila becomes a thwarted creator possessing powerful — albeit largely suppressed — talents, and wielding transformative forces. These latest novels mark a new phase for Ferrante.
The novels are fiercely compressed and confessional, erupting with emotions and images charged by stifled feelings. One consequence is that Ferrante seems to view language and writing as at once wounded and wounding, and as a means for better understanding past injuries. But then I discovered that that is not my path. For her part, Ferrante attributes it to "a somewhat neurotic desire for intangibility. One central category could be described as maternal injuries: injuries by and of mothers, sometimes inflicted by children, sometimes constituted by those children.
Each daughter carries traces of her own mother within her. Was it possible that I, passing through there, carried her in my aging, unsuitably dressed body? Was it possible that her sixteen-year-old body, in a homemade flowered dress, was passing through the shadowy light by means of mine? The women of my family swelled, dilated. The creature trapped in their womb seemed a long illness that changed them […] It seemed to me that little Bianca, right after her beautiful birth, had suddenly changed and treacherously taken for herself all my energy, all my strength, all my capacity for invention.
In the later novels, a sense of uncanny doubling imbues the language, but more ambiguously. Each of her protagonists traces a personal journey out of Naples, a journey that occurs simultaneously within the registers of geography, psychology, family, class, and the linguistic. This Neopolitan dialect is, in every novel, associated with obscenity, the erotic, childhood, violence, and the voice of the mother. Dialect is the idiom of cursing mothers and grandmothers from the old neighborhood, a shameful but vital reminder of their continued unrefined existence.
It was the language of my mother, which I had vainly tried to forget. As soon as I opened my mouth I felt the wish to mock, smear, defile Mario and his slut.
see url Dialect, the obscene, Naples: these categories all designate that which must be left behind in order to enter the middle class in Florence, Rome, or Turin, but which persist as embodiments of an unrefined authenticity. These books in many ways do mark a departure from the previous work. Forgotten your password? Log In Via Your Institution. Related Content Search Find related content.
Most Read Most Cited No results returned. Remember me. Take counting. Like times tables and calculus, we tend to think it's something kids have to be formally taught. Wrong, says Butterworth - it's an instinct. Sure, we have to learn the names and symbols of numbers to develop that instinct, but, because the number module is hardwired into the brain, basic counting comes naturally. Remote tribes can count even when they have no R words for numbers. And ingenious experiments have shown that even babies and apes can grasp what Butterworth calls "numerosities" - the threeness of three and fourness of four.
In maths as in language he believes, "kids start off with little starter kits" And their maths starter kit is the number module. All of which is more controversial than it sounds. Others say we have no special device for representing numbers in the brain and that far from being an independent ability or instinct, our number sense flows from general intelligence and reasoning, or spatial awareness, or linguistic abilities - or some combination of all three.
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