Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Confessional in style, the second volume of Ferrante's Neapolitan novels investigates life's inner turmoil in great detail. 

The Story of a New Name is the second volume in Italian author Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series of novels. A fourth book, The Story of the Lost Child, is due for release in Australia this September. Elena Ferrante writes her novels pseudonymously. Her real name and identity remain a mystery, apart from the rare print interview she has given. Unusual in our times, Ferrante guards her privacy jealously.

The novel opens with Lila married to Stefano and running various small businesses. The marriage is a turbulent one. Lila is not happy and the couple fight. The narrator, Elena Greco, is still studying and looking to improve herself through education, thereby hoping to establish some sort of emotional and financial independence. At all costs Elena wants to avoid falling into the pitfalls of many of her contemporaries: poverty, poor prospects, ignorance, the bickering politics of the local neighbourhood and abusive marriages. Surrounding the two young women, Lila and Elena, are a group of characters that are intertwined into their lives: local thugs, moneylenders, businessmen, Communists, students and crazy in-laws. None of them are friends really; they are more all in a desperate struggle to get ahead, ready to trample on each other if necessary.

Ferrante’s style in this second volume is confessional. Her fiction reads as deeply personal and (perhaps, we can only speculate) intricately autobiographical. This is the sort of storytelling that can spend pages and pages parsing one character’s throwaway comment for deeper meanings. There is not much action per se, but each character’s internal life is so turbulent that it provides for the bulk of the drama. It’s this deep investigation into life’s inner turmoil that constitutes the great strength of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Her writing is very real, touching on many deep wounds, perhaps uncomfortably so for many people.

The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante. Published by Text. ISBN: 9781925240016  RRP: $22.99

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