There are, in fact, two projects discussed here: books and feet. Let’s start with the more professionally engaging.
Last summer I made the mistake of NOT recommending My Brilliant Friend, the first book of Elena Ferrante’s fabulous four-book ‘Neapolitan Novel’ series, to my book club for its 2016 schedule. I recommended, instead, a Ferrante ‘starter,’ the shorter and not-serialized Days of Abandonment, which I described to my beloved (truly) book club as something like “the best angry-woman writing I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.” Little did I know that far more experienced critics concurred. From Nathan Whitlock, for the Globe and Mail:
One critic has likened Ferrante to an angry Jane Austen, which works for me, though I usually go with “Alice Munro after a bad breakup and two bottles of wine.”
I don’t think people generally know me as an angry person, and I don’t really know me as an angry person, but I do love Elena Ferrante’s writing. What I should have recommended is that my book club dedicate 1/3 of our reading year to all four of her Neapolitan Novels.
My history with the series is as follows:
1. Receive My Brilliant Friend as a Christmas gift from my husband December 2014.
2. Early in 2015, read My Brilliant Friend voraciously and somewhat clandestinely, for aforementioned spectacular anger, for a frankly kind of soap-operatic story of the friendship of two girls-to-women, and for writing that is as entertaining as it is phenomenally good.
3. Still thinking that Elena Ferrante is perhaps simply a temporary personal indulgence (Why is not everyone talking about this book?!?) I put my name on the library reserve list for books #2 and 3 in the series and take out The Days of Abandonment to read in the meantime.
4. See someone else on Twitter with #FerranteFever and finally fess up to it:
Donna Trump @trumpdonna1 6 Apr 2015
Just read Elena Ferrante’s “Days of Abandonment” in under 24 hrs and am happy to say I’ve come down with a full-blown case of #FerranteFever
5. See this Paris Review article about Ferrante in early June, 2015.
6. Get The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay from library and consume.
7. Think I’ve pre-ordered The Story of the Lost Child but get it instead from my hubby for Christmas 2015! AND, in order to right the wrong of not owning the entire series, I buy the middle two and now am proud owner of all four of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels.
So the question remains: What makes these books so great? I think it’s several things:
- An absolutely engaging story, and not just of a friendship but of times and politics and feminism and marriage and what we want in a life.
- Writing that tells a story, foremost, but writing that is also clear and concise and descriptive and well, kind of perfect. I can tell you I did not often stop to say to myself, “That was a perfect sentence.” I read someplace Ferrante doesn’t care about perfect sentences. She cares about an excellent story, and it shows. The purpose of the sentences is to tell that excellent story. That’s it.
- I’ve seen some references to realism and honesty and I agree that Ferrante’s are some of the most brutally honest words about friendship–maybe about women’s friendship (I can’t speak for men’s friendship). And in fact while I am lucky to have good female friends, it’s my lifelong, indestructible relationships with all three of my sisters that I think of when I read these books. It’s why I have no problems with the two main characters growing exasperated at times but never to the point of abandonment. They always come back to each other. They count on each other for help with everything: schooling, men, work, children. Always.
So, regarding projects for the new year: As you can see, there is a book mark in My Brilliant Friend, and I am very happily reading through the entire series again. If you wonder how I will have time to do so, you do not know my reading habits but you also may not know project #2: Fix the feet. Bilateral hallux valgus (aka bunion) and left hammer-toe (digit #2) correction surgery schelued for late January has me scrambling now but will also leave me with my feet up for 2 weeks.
What’s a writer to do, but write and read?