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"Nothing quite like this has ever been published before," proclaimed The Guardian about the Neapolitan novels in 2014. Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous and a world undergoing epochal change, Elena Ferrante tells the story of a lifelong friendship between two women with unmatched honesty and brilliance. The Story of the Lost Child is th "Nothing quite like this has ever been published before," proclaimed The Guardian about the Neapolitan novels in 2014. Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous and a world undergoing epochal change, Elena Ferrante tells the story of a lifelong friendship between two women with unmatched honesty and brilliance. The Story of the Lost Child is the concluding volume in the dazzling saga of two women — the brilliant, bookish Elena, and the fiery, uncontainable Lila. Both are now adults, with husbands, lovers, aging parents, and children. Their friendship has been the gravitational center of their lives. Both women fought to escape the neighborhood in which they grew up — a prison of conformity, violence, and inviolable taboos. Elena married, moved to Florence, started a family, and published several well-received books. In this final novel she has returned to Naples, drawn back as if responding to the city's obscure magnetism. Lila, on the other hand, could never free herself from the city of her birth. She has become a successful entrepreneur, but her success draws her into closer proximity with the nepotism, chauvinism, and criminal violence that infect the neighborhood. Proximity to the world she has always rejected only brings her role as its unacknowledged leader into relief. For Lila is unstoppable, unmanageable, unforgettable. The four volumes in this series constitute a long remarkable story that readers will return to again and again, and each return will bring with it new revelations.


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"Nothing quite like this has ever been published before," proclaimed The Guardian about the Neapolitan novels in 2014. Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous and a world undergoing epochal change, Elena Ferrante tells the story of a lifelong friendship between two women with unmatched honesty and brilliance. The Story of the Lost Child is th "Nothing quite like this has ever been published before," proclaimed The Guardian about the Neapolitan novels in 2014. Against the backdrop of a Naples that is as seductive as it is perilous and a world undergoing epochal change, Elena Ferrante tells the story of a lifelong friendship between two women with unmatched honesty and brilliance. The Story of the Lost Child is the concluding volume in the dazzling saga of two women — the brilliant, bookish Elena, and the fiery, uncontainable Lila. Both are now adults, with husbands, lovers, aging parents, and children. Their friendship has been the gravitational center of their lives. Both women fought to escape the neighborhood in which they grew up — a prison of conformity, violence, and inviolable taboos. Elena married, moved to Florence, started a family, and published several well-received books. In this final novel she has returned to Naples, drawn back as if responding to the city's obscure magnetism. Lila, on the other hand, could never free herself from the city of her birth. She has become a successful entrepreneur, but her success draws her into closer proximity with the nepotism, chauvinism, and criminal violence that infect the neighborhood. Proximity to the world she has always rejected only brings her role as its unacknowledged leader into relief. For Lila is unstoppable, unmanageable, unforgettable. The four volumes in this series constitute a long remarkable story that readers will return to again and again, and each return will bring with it new revelations.

30 review for The Story of the Lost Child

  1. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    This novel nearly broke me. The Story of the Lost Child is beautifully heartbreaking. It is the culmination of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series, and it wraps up the story of two friends, Elena and Lila. I spent my summer with these two women. I read the first book, My Brilliant Friend, just to see what all the Ferrante Fever fuss was about, and I didn't expect to read any more of the series. But I ended up intrigued and wanting more, and I gobbled up Books 2 and 3 as quickly as I could. In this This novel nearly broke me. The Story of the Lost Child is beautifully heartbreaking. It is the culmination of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series, and it wraps up the story of two friends, Elena and Lila. I spent my summer with these two women. I read the first book, My Brilliant Friend, just to see what all the Ferrante Fever fuss was about, and I didn't expect to read any more of the series. But I ended up intrigued and wanting more, and I gobbled up Books 2 and 3 as quickly as I could. In this fourth book, Elena has run away from her marriage to Pietro and has a passionate affair with Nino, the boy she has loved since childhood. Lila is opposed to the affair, and the women's friendship becomes even more strained. Meanwhile, Elena's writing career has ups and downs, and Lila becomes entangled in the underground politics of their old neighborhood in Naples. It is hard to explain to someone who hasn't read Ferrante why these novels are so powerful. On the surface, they sound like any other domestic drama — two women living their lives, experiencing love and loss, going through the highs and lows of marriage and parenthood. But it's not that simple. Their lives are so well-drawn, their emotions and experiences are so real, and the history and neighborhoods of Italy are so well-described that this book feels more like an autobiography than a novel. The Ferrante books are rich in the same way that Tolstoy's novels are a feast. To paraphrase an Internet meme, One does not simply read a Ferrante book. One lives it. I have become deeply connected to Elena and Lila over these four books. When Elena's mother is diagnosed with cancer, and Elena has to care for her, I nodded in sympathy, for I, too, am caring for a mother with cancer. When Elena experiences incredible heartbreak, I empathized and remembered my own heartbreak. When Lila suffers a devastating loss and is consumed with manic grief, I thought of my own despair after a loss. Some reviewers have said this fourth novel is the best one in the series. I honestly couldn't rank them. They are all part of one epic story, and I feel both sadness and triumph now that I have finished reading. Sad because I will miss spending time with these amazing women, and triumph at what Ferrante has accomplished. Truly, this is a modern masterpiece. Favorite Quotes "How many words remain unsayable even between a couple in love, and how the risk is increased that others might say them, destroying it." "Good feelings are fragile, with me love doesn't last. Love for a man doesn't last, not even love for a child, it soon gets a hole in it. You look in the hole and you see the nebula of good intentions mixed up with the nebula of bad." "I thought: maybe every relationship with men can only reproduce the same contradictions and, in certain environments, even the same smug responses." "From childhood I had given her too much importance, and now I felt as if unburdened. Finally it was clear that what I was wasn't her, and vice versa. Her authority was no longer necessary to me, I had my own. I felt strong, no longer a victim of my origins but capable of dominating them, of giving them a shape, of taking revenge on them for myself, for Lila, for whomever." "One writes not so much to write, one writes to inflict pain on those who wish to inflict pain. The pain of words against the pain of kicks and punches and the instruments of death." "Where is it written that lives should have a meaning?" "I was distressed that nothing of me would endure through time." "Unlike stories, real life, when it has passed, inclines toward obscurity, not clarity."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maxwell

    After re-reading this series, I can confirm it's one of my all-time favorites. Ferrante is a writer I admire so much, and like I said in my original reviews, one that I know confidently I can, and will, read again and again throughout my life. --- Original Review: I'm done. I'm actually done. The journey is over, and what a wonderful journey it was. Maybe soon I will be able to write a better review, but for now I can only say that this series is truly unlike anything I've read. It's a modern maste After re-reading this series, I can confirm it's one of my all-time favorites. Ferrante is a writer I admire so much, and like I said in my original reviews, one that I know confidently I can, and will, read again and again throughout my life. --- Original Review: I'm done. I'm actually done. The journey is over, and what a wonderful journey it was. Maybe soon I will be able to write a better review, but for now I can only say that this series is truly unlike anything I've read. It's a modern masterpiece, and Elena Ferrante is one of the greatest living authors. I'm sure to revisit these books again and again and again. In the mean time, goodbye Lila & Lenu. It's been a pleasure. First read: March 26 - April 1, 2016 Second read: December 26 - 30, 2018

  3. 5 out of 5

    Julie Christine

    This is the end Beautiful friend This is the end My only friend, the end Of our elaborate plans, the end Of everything that stands, the end No safety or surprise, the end I'll never look into your eyes...again Can you picture what will be So limitless and free Desperately in need...of some...stranger's hand In a...desperate land Lost in a Roman...wilderness of pain And all the children are insane All the children are insane Waiting for the summer rain, yeah ~The Doors, "The End" Nothing about This is the end Beautiful friend This is the end My only friend, the end Of our elaborate plans, the end Of everything that stands, the end No safety or surprise, the end I'll never look into your eyes...again Can you picture what will be So limitless and free Desperately in need...of some...stranger's hand In a...desperate land Lost in a Roman...wilderness of pain And all the children are insane All the children are insane Waiting for the summer rain, yeah ~The Doors, "The End" Nothing about the way the Neapolitan Novels has captured and held me spellbound makes sense. Pages of expository text barely broken by a paragraph indent; characters relentlessly bashing their heads against poverty and violence, returning again and again to the places and people that have caused them the greatest misery; periods of hope and redemption brought to bitter ends by poor choices and slashing domestic acrimony. And yet. And yet. I know that by reading Elena Ferrante's bildungsroman, I have partaken in one of the greatest literary journeys, feasts, dreams, accomplishments of the 21st century. It isn't so much that the Neapolitan Novels, built on the simple premise of a female friendship from childhood to old age, breaks new ground. It's that Ferrante returns us to the best of what we can be as readers: thoughtful, patient, introspective, willing to dig deep into layers of meaning, to see beyond the cold surface of quotidian events to the simmering magma of emotion beneath. In eras past, Eliot, Mann, Tolstoy, Woolf, Hardy demanded the same and the rewards of Ferrante are as great. This final installment brings Elena Greco full circle, back to the neighborhood she fled as a young woman—first to the towers of academe, then to literary acclaim, spending her young adulthood and her early years as a wife and mother in the orderly, civilized north of Italy. But as her friend Lila had done years before, Elena throws propriety and security to the winds and follows her passion back to Naples, the scene of so much crime in the streets, so many crimes of the heart. That passion is the fickle Nino, the man-boy to whom both women sacrifice their burgeoning self-determination. I'm just full of lyrics today—as I think of Nino, of young Lila's and not-so-young Elena's obsession with his empty soul, I hear Paul Simon lamenting: "I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear And disregards the rest, hmmmm". We know from the very beginning—hundreds of pages ago, when we embarked on this political and personal Odyssey—that Lila has disappeared as an elderly woman, at the twisted and burnt end of her rope. But where has she gone? The legacy she leaves behind is that molten lava roiling beneath the surface, and in The Story of the Lost Child, the hard, black earth is rent open, letting the impossible heat burst forth. Elena seems more curious than concerned by Lila's disappearance. Her friend's presence hovers, thick and insistent, over every aspect of her life; Lost Child illustrates how and why this friendship has endured despite the psychological damage each woman inflicts on the other. The title, The Story of the Lost Child, can be taken for its literal meaning, as the plot bursts with tension and tragedy. But the entire collection speaks to children lost in this Neapolitan ghetto, the children we met pages and heartbreaks ago. We witnessed their twisted paths to adulthood over the course of four novels, until at last we npw stand with them at a reckoning place. The great loss is the reader's, knowing we must bid our final goodbyes to the Grecos, Cerullos, Carraccis, Pelusos, Sarratores and so many others, with so much left unsaid and unknown. And undone. Oh, how our hearts are utterly undone.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Violet wells

    I’ve never read a series before. Finally I understand why people sleep outside bookstores the day before the next instalment is due to be published. Were there to be a book five I might well zipper myself inside a bag outside Feltrinelli the night before release. Except there will be no next instalment here. I’m done. Lila has left my life and I will never know anything more about her. I feel horribly bereft. Book Four has less of a feel of fictional memoir about it; it reads more like a novel. I’ve never read a series before. Finally I understand why people sleep outside bookstores the day before the next instalment is due to be published. Were there to be a book five I might well zipper myself inside a bag outside Feltrinelli the night before release. Except there will be no next instalment here. I’m done. Lila has left my life and I will never know anything more about her. I feel horribly bereft. Book Four has less of a feel of fictional memoir about it; it reads more like a novel. It contains some clever post-modernist tricks, most notably the book within a book theme. Elena Greco finally writes about Lila, except it isn’t these books (these books play no part whatsoever in her story); it’s a seventy page novella called Friendship. Meanwhile she has the suspicion that Lila is writing secretly about Naples. In spirit, these have always been Lila’s books. Now Elena lets slip the possibility that maybe they really are Lila’s books. Vanity is probably the central theme of this book but authorship is also a prevailing theme. Ferrante asks many probing questions about the nature of authorship. And we end up asking, who is the author of the Neapolitan series? Elena becomes rather more disagreeable in this book. She becomes vain and a bit petty. Especially in contrast to Lila, who seems to live without any recourse to vanity, which is why perhaps she’s such a compelling and deeply fascinating character. The only other author I can recall who attempted to create a character free of vanity was Dostoevsky with The Idiot and, brilliant as that was, I'd have to say Ferrante did a better job than he did. It began to bother me how disagreeable I was finding Elena and her vanity. I wasn’t at all sure this was what Ferrante intended. Then I realised that what Ferrante intended was probably exactly the confusion I was feeling. This isn’t one of those run of the mill novels where every character is morally and emotionally consistent and so has a clearly designated and manipulative charge and endgame. It’s a novel that constantly springs surprises, that constantly makes you stop and question lazy emotional and moral assumptions you realise you harbour. One thing Ferrante does so well is get at the anatomy of every strong emotion. Emotions aren’t single and straightforward. Every emotion carries the charge of its opposite. Emotion in fact is often us arguing with ourselves. She shows how hate can be simultaneously present with love, jealousy with aspiration, admiration with resentment, conviction with doubt. I don't think any writer has done arguing better than Ferrante. You could say the books are one protracted argument – everyone is constantly arguing, romantically, domestically, politically, socially - and you come to realise that this what life is, a long protracted messy argument. Lila is almost like some magical touchstone creature. Even when she appears to be wrong she turns out to be right. I don’t think she’s wrong once in the entire novel and yet she’s far from some simplistic Obi Wan Kenobi; she’s hugely complex, volatile, divisive, contradictory, spontaneous, calculated, adorable, obnoxious. She bristles with lived life on every page. In contrast, the more of Elena’s vanity we see the more we doubt that Elena Greco could have written these novels. You begin to feel only Lila could have. For me Lila is up there with Anna Karenina, Molly Bloom and Mrs Ramsey as one of the great female characters of literature. No question in my mind Ferrante will be on the classics shelf in two hundred years.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    The tunnel on the edge of the neighbourhood, beyond which Lila couldn't pass. When I arrived in Naples I had just read the Claudio Gatti article which claimed to expose Elena Ferrante's real identity. I remembered being amazed, when it had come out back in 2016, by the fury it had provoked. People were outraged! Not just readers but literary editors too had lined up to condemn the piece – putting across, in the process, a lot of wrong-headed ideas about ‘the death of the author’ which should real The tunnel on the edge of the neighbourhood, beyond which Lila couldn't pass. When I arrived in Naples I had just read the Claudio Gatti article which claimed to expose Elena Ferrante's real identity. I remembered being amazed, when it had come out back in 2016, by the fury it had provoked. People were outraged! Not just readers but literary editors too had lined up to condemn the piece – putting across, in the process, a lot of wrong-headed ideas about ‘the death of the author’ which should really have been kept separate from the ethical concerns in question. But now I've finished the last book I think I understand the disproportionate reaction a bit better. The Story of the Lost Child is, like its three predecessors, a bit of a messy novel, stylistically indifferent, but intensely emotional and involving. And everyone struggles to understand why. Despite what some reviews imply, this kind of long, female-focused Künstlerroman is not a complete novelty – it's not a million miles from Doris Lessing's Children of Violence sequence, or AS Byatt's Frederica quartet – and even the notion of a woman trying to piece together the details of her friend's life is, if Gatti is right, probably lifted from Christa Wolf's The Quest for Christa T. But Ferrante's characters – especially the flinty, talismanic Lila – are so comprehensively imagined that they must, you feel, reflect something essentially autobiographical, something profoundly true, on the part of the author. So I get to Naples. I've just read book four, I've just read Gatti's article. I want to go and see the rione or ‘neighbourhood’ where the books are set, which is a run-down little area of estates in the eastern suburbs called the Rione Luzzatti. I ask a few cab drivers: they won't take us to that part of town. ‘The criminal families live there,’ one leers. Then I try some tour agents – they all refuse as well. One of them even specialises in Elena Ferrante tours, but it turns out on further inquiry that they just go to the upmarket Piazza dei Martiri (where the characters go shopping when they've got some money) and the historical centre. ‘The rione is not good for tourists,’ I am told. ‘Actually, even we do not go there.’ Eventually, though, I find someone who knows someone who has a friend who will take us. (view spoiler)[(If you want to do this too, start by talking to Sophia at Looking for Lila.) (hide spoiler)] Laura, who grew up in the rione herself, comes to meet us: she is super friendly and, far from being offended by our desire to gawk at her childhood stomping-ground, which is what I'd been worried about, she actually seems rather touched by it, and is genuinely excited about the chance to show us around. We walk down the famous stradone, litter-swept and bleak, and peer through grates into communal cellars like the one where Lila dropped Lenù's doll. We walk through the tunnel that marked the edge of the girls' world, where some of the lights have been smashed, the better to mug people walking back home from the nearest metro station. We walk by the school, where 11-year-old Laura had to fend off knife crime from 16-year-olds who had been held back so many times they were sitting right next to her in class. We creep into the courtyard where Lila's apartment is set and where, locals are convinced, from cross-referencing details in a variety of books and articles, Ferrante herself once lived. Ferrante's old apartment. Maybe. Laura and her friends, she says, are proud and happy that Ferrante has now immortalised the place ‘for something positive – for books, for literature’. I am a little surprised, if only because, in the novels, the locals are not so happy when Lenù starts writing about the area. But of course, Elena Greco is not Elena Ferrante. It's always an effort to remember that, because that's the conceit that the books are selling: an author called Elena writing a narrator who is an author called Elena. Draw your own conclusions, they suggest. And yeah, they must surely contain lots that is true, like all good fiction does. But reading these books is such an overwhelming experience that the slightest retreat from autobiography starts to feel almost unacceptable: OK, OK, maybe you've reordered events a bit, drawn out a couple of poetic coincidences, conflated a couple of minor characters here and there – but the essentials are true, right? You really grew up like this, didn't you? There's a real Lila out there somewhere…yes? The Bar Parisi, the assumed original of the Solaras' bar The idea that the author could be in here somewhere, waiting to be found, is helped along by the books' constant theme of authorship and unstable identities. We don't know who wrote what, only that both Elena and Lina have been writing something; Elena worries that Lina has quasi-mystically entered into her computer to tell her story her own way; then she denies it. There is an almost Nervalian reduplication of women, starting with the Lenù/Lila pairing, one blonde, one brunette, one who leaves, one who stays, one who writes fiction, the other who writes computer code; I fair, she dark, I calm, she anxious, I likeable, she malicious, the two of us opposite and united…. Even their daughters are mistaken for each other, misidentified. And Lina is further refracted into their friend Alfonso, who looks like her and starts to dress like her, too. At times, Lina the character seems to recognise her own fluidity. She talks about disappearing, about erasing herself; she does in fact vanish without trace. And she has regular psychological episodes of smarginatura, the ‘bleeding’ of one object or person into another, which Ann Goldstein translates a little awkwardly as dissolving boundaries. All of this is, really, in the service of the fantasy of an ‘Elena Ferrante’ who can become whoever we need her to be for the novels to have the greatest power for us. Piazza Salvatore Lobianco Standing in the little square, Hannah and I get a bit emotional. Actually, the area is a lot like parts of Livingston, where my wife grew up; it's like run-down, neglected suburbs in a lot of cities. To elevate this kind of urban wasteland into something transcendent seems like a heroic feat – it suddenly reminds me a bit of what Alan Moore did with Northampton, though it's even more impressive because there are no forgotten historical riches underlying the Rione Luzzatti – it's just stark, rationalist housing, built by Fascists, and subsequently ignored. Until Ferrante. But again I check myself immediately. I'm constructing my own emotional story of what Ferrante did, the same way all readers of these books do. How much difference would it make if that isn't her apartment, if she grew up miles away in Rome, if her husband was the one with the Neapolitan childhood, the dialect? If it was all a brilliant fabrication? What would that do to our experience of the books? It's almost – I say to Hannah – like the greatest creation in these novels is not anyone listed in the cast, but ‘Elena Ferrante’ herself. Hannah nods. But all morning we stare at every old woman we pass, searching for Lila Cerullo's face.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    [UPDATED - SEE BELOW] I can't believe it's over! I mean really, after finishing Ferrante's riveting tetralogy, I feel a sense of loss. The fourth volume was fast-paced and full of reveals (no spoilers!). It was hard to read at several points, but always entertaining and thought provoking. If you have not read it yet, please do so this year. Definitely a journey to Naples that you do not want to miss. One thing that struck me with this series is the similarities and differences with another classic [UPDATED - SEE BELOW] I can't believe it's over! I mean really, after finishing Ferrante's riveting tetralogy, I feel a sense of loss. The fourth volume was fast-paced and full of reveals (no spoilers!). It was hard to read at several points, but always entertaining and thought provoking. If you have not read it yet, please do so this year. Definitely a journey to Naples that you do not want to miss. One thing that struck me with this series is the similarities and differences with another classic story which crosses four decades in as many books: the Rabbit Tetralogy by John Updike. I have reviewed all four Rabbit books here in GR, but if you are not familiar with them, Updike follows Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom from the 50s to the 80s with one book per decade. The Ferrante series is similar even if the boundaries are not drawn as clearly between books as in Updike and covers roughly the same period as the Neapolitan series. Similarly, the character of Rabbit is deeply developed like that of Lena and Lila. Where Rabbit is quintessentially American in his own unique and depraved way, Lena and Lila are quintessentially Neapolitan. I think that rural Pennsylvania and metropolitan Naples are quite different geographically, but both serve as a evolving canvas backdrops upon which the central dramas play out. I just think that if you read the Updike books, you'd probably enjoy the Ferrante ones and vice versa in terms of a look a slice of life from the middle to the end of the 20th century seen on two different continents and from the perspective of the two sexes. [SPOILER SECTION - STOP HERE OR BEWARE!] I really enjoyed the allegory of the doll which brought the story full circle from the beginning of the relationship between Lena and Lila and was a beautiful reminder of that first wonderful book. Further, the disappearance of Tina (for which I enjoyed the ambiguity, almost dreamlike, in not knowing definitively her fate) was also a beautiful allegory for the lost innocence (and sanity to a degree?) of Lila and the loss of intimacy between here and Lena. In all four books, it was wonderful to feel Naples like a character in the book (much like Paris in L'Education Sentimental). There are moments when you feel like you are overhearing Lena and Lila in a café or crossing them in a park. The city evolves around them in colors, smells, and great differences in wealth and power. There is a Proustian feel to Ferrante's writing, although as one of my friends pointed out, the male characters (Enzo, Piero, Nino, etc) here are not as three-dimensional as the female characters (whereas in La Recherche, Odille, Gilberte, and Albertine are all much more profound). But still there is a nice on-ne-sais-quoi in her phrasing, her descriptions, and her unique female sensibility that lends a limpidity and beauty to her prose that is just so pleasurable to read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Francesca Marciano

    There is a terrible sense of loss once you reach the last line of the last volume of Ferrante's saga, her writing is so addictive, it has kept me company for over a year now and waiting for the next installment of the story has been a delightful suspense.I feel abandoned to my own device now that the curtain fell on this wonderful story. The last volume "La bambina Perduta" has just been published in Italy,so I've devoured it in three days and it's not a disappointment. It has a somehow slow sta There is a terrible sense of loss once you reach the last line of the last volume of Ferrante's saga, her writing is so addictive, it has kept me company for over a year now and waiting for the next installment of the story has been a delightful suspense.I feel abandoned to my own device now that the curtain fell on this wonderful story. The last volume "La bambina Perduta" has just been published in Italy,so I've devoured it in three days and it's not a disappointment. It has a somehow slow start, with a tremendous and unexpected twist that comes as a blow half way through the book. Her writing keeps digging, like a furious fox terrier the depths and the folds of the relationship between Lena and Lila. This writer has a ferocity and a depth that I've rarely encountered.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    [From Celle qui fuit et celle qui reste] Whenever you read a book that the author seriously cared about, you realise after a while that in fact it's two books: there's the book that got written, the one you're holding in your hands, and there's the other book, the one the author wanted to write but couldn't, due to the problems inherent in being a mortal human being. Sometimes the distance between the two books is close enough that you can believe they're the same. (I don't know how one would [From Celle qui fuit et celle qui reste] Whenever you read a book that the author seriously cared about, you realise after a while that in fact it's two books: there's the book that got written, the one you're holding in your hands, and there's the other book, the one the author wanted to write but couldn't, due to the problems inherent in being a mortal human being. Sometimes the distance between the two books is close enough that you can believe they're the same. (I don't know how one would improve Candide or Alice in Wonderland; maybe Voltaire and Carroll did). But in other cases, it's clear that the two books are different. The authors of the New Testament would have liked to set down a clear and complete account of the life of Jesus Christ and the events it inspired, but, since the four Gospels contradict each other on numerous points, they must have fallen short of their ambition. For similar but slightly more complicated reasons, it seems that Plato's Dialogues also fail to report accurately the teachings of Socrates. Moving on to more recent cases, Wittgenstein famously apologised for not being able to write a better book than the Philosophical Investigations, which nonetheless is often cited as the twentieth century's most influential work of philosophy; and, a personal favorite, Jan Kjærstad's Jonas Wergeland trilogy gives you numerous clues about the nature of the true, ideal version of the book, and how it differs from the imperfect copy you have received. I think Elena Ferrante's L'amica geniale also belongs to this distinguished club. On the surface, the novel is straightforward. It appears to be a minutely detailed, ultra-realistic account of the narrator's life, starting with her childhood in a poor quarter of Naples and showing how she becomes a famous author who, in particular, has written this book. The unifying theme, which gives the novel its title, is her friendship with Lila, a woman she has known since they were both small children. If you read it in this way, it's easy to see why it's often been compared to Knausgård's Min kamp, another long and ostensibly autobiographical ultra-realistic novel. I did indeed start reading both Knausgård and Ferrante from this obvious point of view, and I'm not trying to convince you that there's anything wrong with that. Perhaps both novels are just what they appear to be on the surface. But, at least from my perspective, they diverged more and more as they progressed. What Knausgård wants to do, it seemed to me, is to show you how suspect the whole notion is of being a novelist. You take your life and the lives of the people around you, and you turn them into a story which you sell for money. There's a certain amount of this in Ferrante too, and some of the moral disgust that Knausgård so effectively inspires. But I don't think that's the core of the book. Knausgård is, or at least pretends to be, an egotist, and his book is all about ego, and in interviews he sticks to the line that everything in it is true. But Ferrante has gone to great lengths to stay anonymous, and no one knows who she is. She drops hints in her novel, which contains numerous novels-within-the-novel, that at least some of it is true. Evidently the narrator, who's also called Elena and who also claims to have written the book, could to a certain extent be her. But it's also clear that Elena Greco can't be the same person as Elena Ferrante. And at the same time, she drops contradictory hints that the book may not really have been written by either Elena. Maybe it was written by Lila. But finally she denies this too. The thing that makes the book so unusual is that it manages to keep the ambiguity between truth and fiction all the way through. We don't know if Elena really exists; all we know is that someone who calls herself Elena exists, that she wrote L'amica geniale, and that, in some unspecified way, it is inspired by real events. But more and more, one feels that the identity of the author is irrelevant. The important character isn't the vain, superficial, and not overly bright Elena. It's her friend Lila, who comes across as a truly admirable person; a person one could compare with Socrates, whom Plato says was, of all the men of his time he had known, "the wisest and justest and best". Lila is sometimes described in similar terms, by people who are surprised to hear themselves say it. Elena is ultimately disappointed with her novel, because she knows she has failed. She has lost Lila, and despite all her work she hasn't been able to tell us what she was really like. Did Lila exist, in some sense? I assume we will never find out. But at least we have this account of her life, distorted and imperfect and incomplete as it is. It's a completely stunning achievement.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Book Four....The Final Conclusion to the Neapolitan novels: And so this story begins.....-[page 1]: "From October 1976 until 1979, when I returned to Naples to live, I avoided resuming a steady relationship with Lila. But it wasn't easy. She almost immediately tried to reenter my life by force, and I ignored her, tolerated her, endured her. Even if she acted as if there were nothing she wanted more than to be close to me at a difficult moment, I couldn't forget the contempt with which she had trea Book Four....The Final Conclusion to the Neapolitan novels: And so this story begins.....-[page 1]: "From October 1976 until 1979, when I returned to Naples to live, I avoided resuming a steady relationship with Lila. But it wasn't easy. She almost immediately tried to reenter my life by force, and I ignored her, tolerated her, endured her. Even if she acted as if there were nothing she wanted more than to be close to me at a difficult moment, I couldn't forget the contempt with which she had treated me". "Today I think that if it had been only the insult that wounded me – –You're an idiot, she had shouted on the telephone when I told her about Nino, and she had never 'ever' spoken to me like that before – – I would have soon calmed down. In reality, what mattered more than that offense was the mention of Dede and Elsa. Think of the harm you're doing to your daughters, she had warned me, and at that moment I had paid no attention. But over time those words acquired greater weight, and I returned to them often. Lila had never displayed the slightest interest in Dede and Elsa; almost certainly she didn't even remember their names. If, on the phone, I mentioned some intelligent remark they had made, she cut me off, changed the subject. And when she met them for the first time, at the house of Marcello Solara, she had confined herself to an absentminded glance and a few pat phrases--she hadn't paid the least attention to how nicely they were dressed, and neatly their hair was combed, how well both were able to express themselves, although they were still small. And yet 'I' had given birth to them. 'I' I brought them up, they were part of me, who had been her friend forever: she should have taken this into account--I won't say out of affection but at least out of politeness – – for my maternal pride. Yet she hadn't even attempted a good-natured sarcasm; she had displayed indifference and nothing more. Only now--out of jealousy, surely, because I had taken Nino--did she remember the girls, and wanted to emphasize that I was a terrible mother, that although I was happy, I was causing them unhappiness. The minute I thought about it I became anxious. Had Lila worried about Gennaro when she left Stefano, when she abandoned the child to the neighbor because of her work in the factory, when she sent him to me as if to get him out of the way? Ah, I had my faults, but I was certainly more a mother and she was". WOW.... Can you see how we might be for a ride for the next 473 pages? Well, as much as I HAD THOUGHT I was going to be glad when I finished these 4 books..... now, I'm not so sure. I'm sad! This 4th book broke my heart more than all three put together! I can't help but wonder if other readers -'had/have' a long term friendship of 40 to 50 years. Any similarities to Elena and Lila? I also wonder what these stories might be like if Lila were the narrator. Lisi and I met in 7th grade. Her real name is Ilyce. I went by my nickname, Liz in Jr. high school - and my real name is Elyse. Having similar names, with our school lockers back to back brought us together. An instant friendship it was. We are the same height, both Jewish--- but from very different types of families. Lisi introduced me to Goodreads. She was the reader as a child. Not me! The first time either one of us either had sex--- both late bloomers--- it was with the same guy! NOT AT THE SAME TIME!!! Me first- she later - a triangle messy drama -- which we survive with flying colors. Our friendship lasted longer than the guy. ( that's a very sad story:.he died).... Lisi and I are still close friends -now in our 60's. Both of us have been married for approx 30 + years. Both have 2 daughters. Our husbands are good friends too.... Lisi and I have another friend- Renee. Renee was my closest friend - in a crazy - complex - deep way - more than with Lisi during our teen -growing years... I spent most of my time with Renee. -- Long story....but after an almost 50 year friendship.....we aren't speaking today....(I quietly let her go- but maybe she had let me go years before I even noticed). Lisi and Renee are still in touch.... but .... I only have the memories we once shared....( over 40 years worth). I 'think' about our resuming our friendship often -- but it hasn't happened. Woman's friendships may be the most complex relationships on the planet!!!! My suggestion....( but it's only my opinion)....either read all 4 books -- or don't read any of them! I went into THE BINGE READERS CAVE......reading approx. 300+ pages a day - non -stop until I finished all 4 books - days and night. Took a few breaks, but not many. Elena Ferrante....I think it's fair to say she's a great artist....an extremely gifted storyteller! Kinda a genius!

  10. 4 out of 5

    PorshaJo

    What can I say about this book that has yet to be said. This is the fourth and final book in The Neapolitan Novels. It is the culmination of the lifetime of two dominate, strong women. It is the story of one lost child and the impact it has on so many lives. But it's also so much more. It is the final story of many of the characters that lived in this town and came in and out of Lila and Elena lives. I'm not sure how to feel about this one. On one hand, I'm happy to hear more of the story of thes What can I say about this book that has yet to be said. This is the fourth and final book in The Neapolitan Novels. It is the culmination of the lifetime of two dominate, strong women. It is the story of one lost child and the impact it has on so many lives. But it's also so much more. It is the final story of many of the characters that lived in this town and came in and out of Lila and Elena lives. I'm not sure how to feel about this one. On one hand, I'm happy to hear more of the story of these two women and all the wonderful characters in the neighborhood. But then, I'm sad as this is the final installment and I will no longer be able to hear more of them. Their life stories have been told. I will say, of all the books, this is my least favorite. Elena was so self-indulgent and selfish. She seems to thrive almost on the tension of her friendship with Lila. She seems obsessed about what Lila is doing and that she is better than Lila. Lila on the other hand, at times, I found her very mean. But is she stronger than Elena even though she has never left the neighborhood? I think through the love-hate relationship these two have, it pushes them to strive to find their better selves. And I would have thought by the fourth book I would remember who everyone is...but nope. There were times I still had to look someone up and figure out who they were. I also felt towards the end of the book, it seemed to move through 'life' rather quickly. All of sudden you got glimpses of things...Elena children/grandchildren, Lila's disappearance. I wanted more, I wanted the full details of the story. This is a wonderful series of books that I would tell anyone to read. But be aware, there is murder, adultery, crime, death, drug abuse, violence within. After all these books, I still can't put my finger on why these books are so captivating. Perhaps it's the hope that this IS a true story, that it's based on real people. I listened to this entire series via audio narration and the narrator, Hillary Huber, is wonderful and gives life to these two amazing characters.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Candi

    3.5 stars "I’ve been writing for too long, and I’m tired; it’s more and more difficult to keep the thread of the story taut within the chaos of the years, of events large and small, of moods. So either I tend to pass over my own affairs to recapture Lila and all the complications she brings with her or, worse, I let myself be carried away by the events of my life, only because it’s easier to write them." Gosh, relationships - particularly those of the ‘girlfriends’ variety - are quite complex, are 3.5 stars "I’ve been writing for too long, and I’m tired; it’s more and more difficult to keep the thread of the story taut within the chaos of the years, of events large and small, of moods. So either I tend to pass over my own affairs to recapture Lila and all the complications she brings with her or, worse, I let myself be carried away by the events of my life, only because it’s easier to write them." Gosh, relationships - particularly those of the ‘girlfriends’ variety - are quite complex, aren’t they? Never before have I ever read about a friendship in such microscopic and candid detail as that of Elena and Lila. Never before have I been forced to examine my own friendships with such excruciating rigor. I’m honestly worn out! Yet, this series will stay with me forever. Having started Book 1, My Brilliant Friend, over a year ago, I have finally made my way through to this last in the series. I know, you’re probably thinking it took me a rather long time to get through a relatively short series; after all, there are only four books total. Personally, there’s no way I could have devoured these books one after the other, although many did just that. I’ve reviewed the first three Neapolitan books, so I’m going to keep this relatively brief. Truly, the entire series feels like one long, epic novel, simply divided into four parts. Each builds on the previous installment in a linear fashion, therefore making it necessary to read them in order. I get the feeling that the entire collection is autobiographical in nature, although this last book has me really questioning exactly whose story is this – is it Elena’s, as I originally assumed, or is this truly Lila’s story? It is written from Elena’s first person point of view. Her character is that of an author; she has the fame from her books, has travelled and is formally educated. Lila on the other hand never left Naples, never finished high school. She remained in the violent neighborhood of her childhood, yet acquiring her own large degree of influence and success. In one sense, I have a difficult time separating Lila from the city of Naples itself, maybe even from the volatile mass of Mount Vesuvius, towering over all, sometimes explosive, other times merely smoldering, but always present. In any case, Lila is a fascinating character. "However much she had always dominated all of us and had imposed and was still imposing a way of being, on pain of her resentment and her fury, she perceived herself as a liquid and all her efforts were, in the end, directed only at containing herself. When, in spite of her defensive manipulations of persons and things, the liquid prevailed, Lila lost Lila, chaos seemed the only truth, and she – so active, so courageous – erased herself and, terrified, became nothing." This novel is not only about the strength of a friendship, despite its changeability, but also an intelligent and thought-provoking discourse about motherhood, marriage, feminism, and the craft of writing. How is a woman’s identity shaped by education, culture, and her relationships with her children, her parents, her spouses, her lovers and her friends? It’s a tribute to Naples as only Lila can voice so passionately: "… what a splendid and important city: here all languages are spoken, here everything was built and everything torn down, here the people don’t trust talk and are very talkative, here is Vesuvius which reminds you every day that the greatest undertaking of powerful men, the most splendid work, can be reduced to nothing in a few seconds by the fire, and the earthquake, and the ash, and the sea." Having closed the last page in The Story of the Lost Child, I have to make a small confession: I am relieved. I was overwhelmed by the time I reached the two-thirds point in this novel. It’s truly a mental exercise of Olympian proportions to examine in such detail the inner workings of a friendship to such length. You couldn’t pay me to do that with my own relationships – I may in the end have nothing left! Yet, I am quite pleased to have read these – Ferrante’s skill is indisputable. "Unlike stories, real life, when it has passed, inclines toward obscurity, not clarity."

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This review originally appeared on my blog, ShouldaCouldaWoulda Books. I’ve been writing for too long, and I’m tired; it’s more and more difficult to keep the thread of the story taut within the chaos of the years, of events large and small, of moods…What to do then? Admit yet again that she is right? Accept that to be adult is to disappear, is to learn to hide to the point of vanishing? It’s been a few weeks, but I’m finally able to deal with this. This is the last novel in Elena Ferrante’s celeb This review originally appeared on my blog, ShouldaCouldaWoulda Books. I’ve been writing for too long, and I’m tired; it’s more and more difficult to keep the thread of the story taut within the chaos of the years, of events large and small, of moods…What to do then? Admit yet again that she is right? Accept that to be adult is to disappear, is to learn to hide to the point of vanishing? It’s been a few weeks, but I’m finally able to deal with this. This is the last novel in Elena Ferrante’s celebrated Neapolitan series. We’ve followed Lila and Elena from their barefoot girlhood in the tattered, broken courtyards of 1950s Naples to the period of dolce vita, that was only ever dolce for a select few (these girls only glimpsed its crumbs and its outskirts and found it terrifying), to the late 1960s and 1970s as they matured into wives and mothers and workers amidst gangs and class warfare and quasi-intellectual circles, socialist and violent communist politics and the awakening of feminism. They’ve made it to the 1980s now, carrying pieces of all of these things with them, jumbled up inside their heads and poking out at odd angles- as tends to happen when you’re carrying a suitcase with far too much inside that you haven’t quite figured out how to empty yet. “Made it” is really the key word here- as perhaps is the case with most people who make it to old age with any honesty and consciousness of what they’ve done. This book feels like the last gasp of someone who really wants to give up and say the hell with it- but can see the top of the mountain- and almost wishes she couldn’t, almost wishes that she had some excuse to sit down forever. Elena and Lila are no longer girls in any sense of the word- they have lived what would have been even just a few decades earlier the better part of their lives. But that doesn’t mean anything real has changed, not really. Elena and Lila, in this novel, find themselves quite literally back where they started- back in that courtyard, still tied to each other more than anyone else. They still run and yell and hide on the stairways- the same stairways where they hid from the mysterious, supposedly monstrous Don Achille are now the same stairways where they now hide from their husbands, ex-husbands, ex-lovers, brothers, fathers, mothers, children- and, most heartbreakingly, from each other. They have become the monsters that sit at the end of the stairs. There’s so much to talk about here, but for me, I can only talk about it by dealing with the main relationships of the novels, which, after all, are the only reason these stories exist at all. I’ve said before that the class-based insecurity and despair of these novels breaks my heart, and this was the final throwing up of the hands, the final ironic laugh. This is the story of how the cycle of poverty wins, nearly every time, even with those who spend their whole lives trying to escape it. Usually not with a bang, but with a thousand small, seemingly reasonable compromises, a million little cuts, a hundred “Well, why don’t you just….?”, a veritable boatload of, “Well, why does it matter so much anyway? Who do you think you are?”-s. It’s no coincidence that Elena’s relationship with her working-class mother, which powerfully haunted the background of the first novel and was a major motor of Elena’s drive to escape (no less powerful, in her way, than Lila, though often much less acknowledged) flings itself to the forefront of this one. She is that mother we all watched after the Ferguson protests, the one who beat her child publicly after discovering him participating in them, which was shared by some other mothers in a startlingly positive way, (which got less startling the more you thought about it). Elena is brought down, punished, berated, and endlessly shamed for the crime of being successful enough to forget that she is not allowed to be human in the way that people who are born to the sort of status she has earned are human: And yet in my memory that place-name, Montpellier, has for many reasons remained a symbol of escape. I had been out of Italy once, in Paris, with Franco, and I had felt exhilarated by my own audacity. But then it seemed to me that my world was and would forever remain the neighborhood in Naples, while the rest was like a brief outing in whose special climate I could imagine myself but never in fact be. Montpellier, on the other hand, although it was far less exciting than Paris, gave me the impression hat my boundaries had burst and I was expanding…It was marvelous to cross borders, to let oneself go within other cultures, discover the provisional nature of what I had taken for absolute. Well how dare she, that uppity hussy. She forgot that she is not just a status-earning, status-protecting machine whose job is to be a repository of that status until she can pass it on to her children who are born to it, and therefore will never know anything else. The intellectual freedom, the grace and elegance, the ability to feel free, was once something that she genuinely craved and yearned towards- and is now the new set of chains she has made for herself once she discovers that those things will not save her. Her mother is there to beat every thought of self-actualizing out of her. It’s something that is not a part of her universe, something her mother has never been able to afford and something it enrages her that her daughter thinks she can afford. It is a harsh, but deeply understandable picture of a love between a mother and daughter who have never quite understood each other, and who have, actually, been each others' greatest fear in many ways. What’s interesting is that other than one or two major through lines, this was a rather disjointed work. It covers more time than all the other books put together- it contains the reasons that this had to be written to begin with, and so had to be so. But it reads like a set of impressions from here and there that Elena finds so much harder to recall than the stories she tells from when she was nine until her mid thirties. I was surprised, after the immersive nature of the first volumes, how easily I slipped in and out of this one, largely due to this device- I am used to following Elena around and evidence of her older life has crept in, the closer she got to it. It is clear that she is older now, someone who has been a writer, a journalist, an editor, a manager, a mother, and that therefore it is hard to simply live in a genuine way without watching yourself and the events of your life with one of those hats on. Especially when she is purely talking about herself, especially after the mother of he she deals with herself with an irritable flick of the wrist. It takes Lila to get her going again. Where is their friendship now? Lila has come up in the circle of fortune, at least in the first part of the book. She finally occupies the place that Elena has always seen her occupying- which read like a clear rebuke to the idea that Lila never needed Elena the way that Elena seemed to need her. But while Elena will never think Lila is less important, or less powerful in any way, by this point in her life she is able to see vulnerabilities in her that would never have occurred to her younger self (think back to the first and second book when we can see so many moments when Lila is scared, confused and vulnerable but Elena has no idea- that time they’re sexually harassed on the street, when she marries the former ganglord’s son to avoid having to marry the children of the current ganglord, that time Elena brings Lila-poor and separated and working at a sausage factory-her childhood story, full of hope that this will reignite the Lila she knew and Lila throws it on the fire). Elena is finally put in positions where she has to deal with a Lila whose weakness scares her, saddens her, and frightens her. It is something that has been hinted at before, in the narrative third person, but not something we’ve ever seen. In the midst of an earthquake that they both survive, pregnant together, Lila tells her what its like living inside of her head where everything has dissolving boundaries: An object lost its edges and poured into another, into a solution of heterogeneous materials, a merging and mixing. She exclaimed that she had always had to struggle to believe that life had firm boundaries, for she had known since she was a child that it was absolutely not like that – and so she couldn’t trust in their resistance to being banged and bumped. Elena has lived her whole life bumping up against the rules and finding them more solid than ever. The end of her life seems like one long confirmation that she has been breaking rules and that she should be punished for it- Lila has always lived understanding that everything is a construct and can easily become something else. She is scared of the impermanence of that, had accordingly, has hunkered down more and more tightly in the muck and mire of their Naples neighborhood, surrounding herself with all the rules and chains and barriers she can find- and still can’t seem to help but break the rules every day. Elena sees the place as a nightmare of inevitability, Lila as a bastion of stability that will keep her head screwed on straight- something that she unfortunately feels necessary to teach herself, being born where and when she was born. In this book, in their late “maturity”, then, both their childhoods finally end. Elena’s dies when she sees Lila’s inner struggles for the first time. Lila’s is done after Elena finds herself in the painful position of having to end her innocence, and, it seems, the basis of the friendship powered so many of her choices for more than thirty or forty years. The main event of the novel, for which it is named, ends up feeling like an emotional afterthought, something inevitable that proves the final end of the innocence that this book details. What does this say, in the end, about friendship? It would be tempting to think that it seems to leave us in despair and darkness, showing us what not letting go can lead us to, the damage that retaining your girlhood, however subliminally, will wreak on your brain. But that would be to forget the frame- to forget the woman we were introduced to in the first few pages of My Brilliant Friend who was told about how Lila disappeared and who seemed so tired, almost irritated, to be interrupted- and who then sat down and wrote for what must have been days, weeks, months, everything about her that she’ll never forget. Who still, at the end, seems to be trying to fulfill Lila’s faith in her, the faith that she broke, that she no doubt blames for what happened to her in some sense- and use her writing as a kind of black magic to conjure her up again... with just the sort of power that she and Lila always imagined that words had. So perhaps they didn’t destroy each other in the end. Perhaps it is, after all, a story about how friends preserve the best of us, the things that are the most precious and real, even when we quite literally disappear on them. Friends freeze us in time and allow us to time-travel, and make us part of themselves. Now, as we’ve seen, we know that this isn’t always a positive effect- but it is, in the most lasting of friendships, forever. It is that rock that Lila always sought and couldn’t believe existed. We build ourselves out of our friends at the times when we are the most malleable and they can never be removed- whether it is them or our illusion of them- they’re not going anywhere. Lila and Elena, more than anyone else in their lives, dreamed each other into being. I skipped a part in that quote that I put up at the beginning, a part where Elena pauses to talk to herself while she is writing, re-setting and justifying her approach to her story: I’ve been writing for too long, and I’m tired; it’s more and more difficult to keep the thread of the story taut within the chaos of the years, of events large and small, of moods. So either I tend to pass over my own affairs to recapture Lila and all the complications she brings with her or, worse, I let myself by carried away by the events of my life, only because it’s easier to write them. But I have to avoid this choice. I mustn’t take the first path, on which, if I set myself aside- I would end up finding ever fewer traces of Lila- since the very nature of our relationship dictate that I can reach her only by passing through myself. But I shouldn’t take the second, either. That, in fact, I speak of my experience in increasingly greater detail is just what she would certainly favor. Come on- she would say- tell us what turn your life took, who cares about mine, admit that it doesn’t even interest you. And she would conclude: I’m a scribble on a scribble, completely unsuitable for one of your books; forget it, Lenu, one doesn’t tell the story of an erasure. What to do then? Admit yet again that she is right? Accept that to be adult is to disappear, is to learn to hide to the point of vanishing? Admit that, as the years pass, the less I know of Lila? This whole book says NO as loudly as possible, it says no like a child who is denying the reality of the no while realizing sooner or later that she will need to confront it, realizing that it is there and angry about it, deflecting that anger onto everything around her, and it is only admitted at the very last. I won’t reveal what Ferrante decides the end of Lila and Elena’s story is (if it is an end), but I will say that I believe that she agrees with me that whatever these women did to each other over the years, she doesn’t believe they destroyed each other. They made each other, for better or worse. And that (ALL of that- every last ugly, sad, joyous, nostalgic part of it) is what friendship is. Don’t you agree?

  13. 5 out of 5

    Malia

    Brilliant, though I'm feeling a bit bereft now. Better review to follow, but for now I'll just say that this has been a year of great reads for me, highlighted boldly by Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels. Read them, trust me. Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com Brilliant, though I'm feeling a bit bereft now. Better review to follow, but for now I'll just say that this has been a year of great reads for me, highlighted boldly by Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels. Read them, trust me. Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com

  14. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    This is a two part review of the Neapolitan Novels as a whole: one about how good they are, the other about the series' very deep flaws. The other review, about how good they are can be found here. I am, I realize, pissing into the wind here, but someone has to do it. Ferrante deserves much of the praise, but, like any serious author, she also deserves criticism, because these are some deeply, deeply flawed novels. In Story of the Lost Child, Elena publishes an MS that she'd written some years be This is a two part review of the Neapolitan Novels as a whole: one about how good they are, the other about the series' very deep flaws. The other review, about how good they are can be found here. I am, I realize, pissing into the wind here, but someone has to do it. Ferrante deserves much of the praise, but, like any serious author, she also deserves criticism, because these are some deeply, deeply flawed novels. In Story of the Lost Child, Elena publishes an MS that she'd written some years before; Lila was unimpressed, so she'd just shoved it in a drawer. Now, her editor is very impressed, because she's given him something he didn't expect from her: pure, narrative pleasure. And it must be said that Ferrante is capable of delivering that, just as Elena was. The problems start when you pay even a little attention to the narrative machinery groaning under the two thousand pages of the novel. Consider one of the major scenes in Story, when Lila and Elena are (again) arguing. This is a bad argument, a very bad one, and just as it reaches its climax, an earthquake strikes, destroying much of the city. Really? Yes, really, Naples has been hit by earthquakes. But conjoining an earthquake with (another) personal disagreement between the protagonists of your novel is i) insensitive and disrespectful to the quake's victims, and ii) the kind of narrative move that Hollywood film makers dismiss as 'too obvious.' This is one of the two major flaws in these novels: they are, far too often, ridiculously melodramatic. Leaving aside the earthquake argument, Story in particular devolves into bad country song territory, as everything that could possibly go wrong does go wrong, and all the meta-narrative "unlike in fiction, in real life things just happen, you can't predict them, there isn't always a reason for bad things" stuff at the end, constantly torturing your characters for no reason isn't real life, it's bad art. There are only so many times someone can be interested to learn that a man is unfaithful, or a thug, or a woman is mentally unstable, or unfaithful. How many arguments can two friends have before an onlooker realizes that there isn't anything new in any given argument? Not 2000 pages worth of arguments, that's how many. This repetitiveness also works at the sentence level, where Ferrante, for some reason, has chosen to make 19th century novels look like masterworks of concision. The arguments and incidents of unfaithfulness would be much more striking, I imagine, if they were narrated with a bit more panache; instead, we get the proverbial "I went out shopping, I bought the groceries, here's how I bought them, I had this conversation with the counter woman, we laughed, we talked about person y, I walked home, it was raining, but it was a pleasant day for all that, I opened the door, I put away the groceries, I made myself a cup of coffee, I went to the bathroom where I found my partner schtupping the cleaning woman, I ran out of the bathroom, I went to my friend's house, we had a bottle of wine, I cried because I was sad, then we made dinner, we had pasta and some bread, it was nice, I was sad so I cried, then I went for a walk..." ad infinitum. In nuce: things could have been done more quickly, and more effectively, not just in the melodramatic moments, but throughout the novel. This constant attention to minor, irrelevant details can't but bring Knausgaard's Struggle to mind (I, too, grow weary of the comparison). Because nothing much happens in Kok's books, his shopping for and frying a piece of fish don't get in the way of anything. Of course, that nothing much happens really is a pretty major flaw in his books, and, like Ferrante, he often descends into melodrama. The most interesting comparison, though, is between the prose styles (NB: I don't read Italian at all well, or Norwegian at all, so this means "styles as mediated by their respective translators", which might not be accurate). While both narrate far too much, it's somehow more off putting in Ferrante because Elena's style is so classically controlled. Knausgaard is free to wheel off into all kinds of baroque bathos, whereas the clear style of the Neapolitan Novels makes it very hard to tell the difference between, e.g., doing the shopping on the one hand, and finding your partner in flagrante with someone else, on the other. For any given 400 page volume, that's fine, I like clarity, and I can roll with it. For 2000 pages, however, Elena's style is like an extremely rational jackhammer, and I hope very much that Ferrante's example doesn't influence other writers. The other reason to compare them is that they're both being feted as novel or interesting or sophisticated, when in fact they are none of those things. Instead, they are ambitious and entertaining. This is a conjunction almost unheard of in the English-speaking reading republic, and I suspect that critics have let their surprise get the better of them. Both projects are worth reading, both are enjoyable, both are ambitious--but what they're doing has certainly been done before, what they're doing will probably be considered interesting in a period-piece way, rather than in an artistic or intellectual way, and their apparent sophistication is the result of both of them disclaiming any wish to be sophisticated. I'm glad to have both of them, and it is not their fault that the English speaking world doesn't have better critics.

  15. 4 out of 5

    William2

    No meager summary I might give here can conjure the astonishing ferocity of these books—unabated over four volumes. If you read closely there are some aphorisms buried here. One that struck me particularly hard: “A woman without love for her origins is lost.” But there are other home truths as well: “Love and sex are unreasonable and brutal.” and “It was a good rule not to expect the ideal but to enjoy what is possible.” and “How many words remain unsayable even between a couple in love?” Most m No meager summary I might give here can conjure the astonishing ferocity of these books—unabated over four volumes. If you read closely there are some aphorisms buried here. One that struck me particularly hard: “A woman without love for her origins is lost.” But there are other home truths as well: “Love and sex are unreasonable and brutal.” and “It was a good rule not to expect the ideal but to enjoy what is possible.” and “How many words remain unsayable even between a couple in love?” Most moving here for me have been the stories of Alfonso, a gay man; of Lenù’s mother, Immacolata; and Lennucia's difficulty with her first love, Nino. We remember the terrible violence and sourness of Mrs. Greco, along with her hideous limp, from the first three novels in the series. In this fourth, she becomes gravely ill and in that illness all her previous pretensions to dominance over her first child, Lenù, our narrator, fall away. She begins to talk frankly to her daughter for the first time. Lenù, it turns out, is her favorite child, perhaps because she was born first. The others children, her mother admits to not wanting and never even loving. The reader is astonished that Ferrante can peel back the persona of this brutal, violent mother, and let us see what she has long been obsessed with. And this is the beautiful part. She and Lenù now draw close, for the first time in the lives of either. It's a stunning change in both the direction and velocity of the story and a tremendously exciting piece of writing. Alfonso is also in danger, but in another way. As a gay man Alphonso has seduced the Cammorist, Michele Solara, one of the two Solara brothers. Alfonso has done this by passing in drag for Lila. Lila has rejected Michele who's gone quite made over her. So Lila has cruelly sets Alfonso up with Michele. If Michele can’t have Lila, he can at least have this remarkable lookalike who evens fits into Lila's dresses. The cruelty is multidimensional. It’s cruel on Lila’s part to use Alfonso in a way that tortures Michele and has his brother, Marcello, in a near murderous rage. Alfonso’s stuck, loving Michele, even fucking him, for all the wrong reasons. He’s putting himself at terrible risk, but then that’s part of the thrill. Then there’s Nino. One of the tetralogy’s most persistent themes is first love. First love is, often though not always, about learning that you can’t have who you want, or that there are sudden surprising limitations on who you thought the wonderful love object was. I've just finished Andre Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name which deals with this theme in a manner both brilliant and eviscerating. Nino Sarratore is loved by Lennucia from early grade school days. When she becomes a feted author, Nino—after having an affair with Lina years before that was absolutely gut wrenching for Lenù—miraculously shows up. She leaves her husband for him. At the same time he won’t leave his wife for her because she’s got money, being the daughter of an industrialist. So after much agony Lenù resolves to share Nino. Add to that the fact that Nino’s father, whom he hates, has instilled in his son a model of the philanderer that not even Nino realizes he fervently emulates to a fair-thee-well. Women, Lenù finally realizes, after having his child, are Nino’s giddy enablers. They swoon over him. Always have. The realization equals heartbreak for our heroine but also much personal growth. Funny, how we all have to make our own mistakes when it comes to love. The aspect most striking in this fourth volume—although Ferrante's done it throughout the series— is her ability to animate the cognitive split in her characters, their dualism or knack for self contradiction. That’s what makes them so alive! They are each living minds assessing the daily the clashing inputs, which often cloud their wants and compromise their actions. This novel like the others is angst-ridden. There’s a tremendous agitation. In that sense it’s consistent with the other three volumes. The book at times almost trembled from my grip, not from boredom, but because of the intensity of the drama. I could hardly bear to read what’s coming next. I have to think more about this. For my reaction points to something unique in this fourth and final volume. Ciao.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Helene Jeppesen

    This fourth and final book in The Neapolitan Novels was good, but not as good as the other three novels. In this book, the narrator Elena becomes a lot more reflective, and the story is more about her children and their struggles than it is about Elena's and Lila's friendship. I liked how this implies that Elena is growing up and starting to care more about the people around her, but at the same time this book just didn't click as well with me as the other ones. Another reason why I think this i This fourth and final book in The Neapolitan Novels was good, but not as good as the other three novels. In this book, the narrator Elena becomes a lot more reflective, and the story is more about her children and their struggles than it is about Elena's and Lila's friendship. I liked how this implies that Elena is growing up and starting to care more about the people around her, but at the same time this book just didn't click as well with me as the other ones. Another reason why I think this is the case is that by the time you get to this book, you're very much into the characters and the poor surroundings of Naples, and what surprised you in the first couple of books doesn't really surprise you anymore with this one. That being said, I still really appreciated this conclusion to the series, and I like how Elena is able to wrap up things beautifully in the end. There's no question that Elena and Lila have made an impact on me which will stay with me for a long time to come.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Margitte

    After reading all four books in the series, I am still unsure whether this is a fictional memoir, or a story based on the truth. It probably is a little of both. There is a showcase full of people involved: the Grecos, Cerullos, Carraccis, Pelusos, Sarratores , and the path of tragedy and heartbreak is as difficult as it can get for all of them, no matter how well veneered their lives seemed to be. Lila and Elena completed their journey in this final book in the series. The first book started out After reading all four books in the series, I am still unsure whether this is a fictional memoir, or a story based on the truth. It probably is a little of both. There is a showcase full of people involved: the Grecos, Cerullos, Carraccis, Pelusos, Sarratores , and the path of tragedy and heartbreak is as difficult as it can get for all of them, no matter how well veneered their lives seemed to be. Lila and Elena completed their journey in this final book in the series. The first book started out with Lila disappearing. Elena wrote down their story to explain Lila's disappearance, on the one hand, but on the other hand also figure out where she could have gone. In this book they both return to their childhood neighborhood through circumstances, and remain the two friends in a love-hate relationship. At one point the one loves the other's guts, and in the blink of an eye it changes to hate (annoyance) In the end nobody knows who came out the strongest. That's the mystery in this saga. The ending,when a package is delivered, explained it all. What a powerful ending for a book! Two strong young girls defied the rules of their neighborhood: the chauvinism, cruelty, violence and poverty. They went against the grain. This element in the book is the mainstay, the foundation, of everything that happened to them. Both of them became successful women in their own rights. Both were married in the Catholic church but lived, and had children, with other men, outside of marriage in longterm relationships. There was no conformity as far as these two young ladies were concerned. They had the houses and the kids, but refused the enslavement, symbolized by the wedding ring.“Aunt Lina has a husband just as you do, and that husband is Rino’s father, his name is Stefano Carracci. Then she has Enzo, Enzo Scanno, who sleeps with her. And the exact same thing happens with you: you have Papa, whose name is Airota, but you sleep with Nino, whose name is Sarratore.” I smiled to reassure her. “How did you ever learn all those surnames?” “Aunt Lina talked to us about it, she said that they’re stupid. Rino came out of her stomach, he lives with her, but he’s called Carracci like his father. We came out of your stomach, we live much more with you than with Papa, but we’re called Airota.”Elena became a successful writer and Lila took on, and won, the IT world. True to her curious intelligence, she conquered every challenge she ever set for herself. The one thing Lila never did though, was write a book, in competition with Elena. Yet, her story was the one being told in the end ... So much detail, so much love and pathos. Even the bad guys knew how to protect their hearts against the cruelty of poverty. Nothing about their lives were beautiful. It was all about survival of the fittest. Yet, the undercurrent that glued them all together was love, friendship and loyalty. They were not only loyal to each other, they were also loyal to their city Naples, even though it was the place they wanted to escape from with all their might. Elena summarizes the story herself very well:"Today, as I write, I’m embarrassed at the way fortune continued to favor me. The book immediately aroused interest. Some were thrilled by the pleasure of reading it. Some praised the skill with which the protagonist was developed. Some talked about a brutal realism, some extolled my baroque imagination, some admired a female narrative that was gentle and embracing. In other words there were many positive judgments, but often in sharp contrast to one another, as if the reviewers hadn’t read the book that was in the bookstores but, rather, each had evoked a fantasy book fabricated from his own biases. On one thing, after the article in Panorama, they all agreed: the novel was absolutely different from the usual kind of writing about Naples." It was difficult to come back into the story after waiting so many months for the forth book to surface. There were too many characters to be remembered and too many events that shaped the story. However, the story slowly filtered back into the memory. Reading this last book was like looking at the monitor in ICU. For several days it fluctuated enormously as the daily events in their lives ran up and down between good and bad, between happy and tragic, while the pendulum of time was bringing changes to all of them. Some made the transition effortlessly, and others simply refused to embrace it without excruciating pain.. However, change did come, for all of them. In the end, when everything is said and done, the beeper on the monitor flat-lined for Elena and Lila's story. It was inevitable. Closing the book was a sad experience. It felt like losing my family all over again.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Doug Bradshaw

    I want to thank Elena Ferrante aka Lenu, for writing such an excellent and complete story of the lives of herself and her soulmate-crazy and brilliant best friend, Lila. The four books are chronological and start when the two girls are about 8 years old and continue into their sixties. I don't want to tell the story here but here are some of my observations about reading such a poignant, emotionally honest and complete story: 1. Life is hard and then you die. There is nothing easy about relations I want to thank Elena Ferrante aka Lenu, for writing such an excellent and complete story of the lives of herself and her soulmate-crazy and brilliant best friend, Lila. The four books are chronological and start when the two girls are about 8 years old and continue into their sixties. I don't want to tell the story here but here are some of my observations about reading such a poignant, emotionally honest and complete story: 1. Life is hard and then you die. There is nothing easy about relationships, marriages, having and raising families, living on tight budgets, deciding what career path to take, dealing with family members on drugs, raising kids who are young and becoming sexual, and in this particular environment in Naples, Italy in the 50's, friends and families with a lot of influence who are basically mobsters. Elena takes us through all of these type of issues along with her high strung, highly opinionated and beautiful friend, Lila, who is the opposite of Lenu, never a compromiser, always aggressive and pushy, highly opinionated and willing to put her life at stake to stand up for herself and Lenu. Some of the situations are hilarious and amazing, others are depressing and life threatening. 2. I think the author has been willing to admit many personal thoughts and reactions to various ultra personal situations that are eye openers as to how relationships actually work. The submissive girl can so easily yield to the thoughts and opinions of the dominate girl, that her whole life is changed not necessarily for the better. The one with low self esteem or less confidence can become overly ready to do almost anything for love or approval. It's so true and yet so painful to watch. And yet the friendship endures and each is successful in working their way through a world, especially in this era, so dominated by the desires and customs of parents and the men that they end up having relationships with. 3. There is interesting history of the politics of Italy of the era, facists, communists, the fight for labor unions and equality, the opinions of the liberal professors in the universities of the era, the disdain each group has for the other and the two girls, each in totally different settings, becoming part of this whole politically morphing time. Some of each of their friends become very involved in the mess, which includes murder, friends dragged off into the chaos in real danger. 4. There is a lot of realistic and sometimes difficult to handle marriage and relationship situations, adultery, abandonment, way too much forgiveness of one particular womanizing fellow who affects the life of each of the girls who are becoming women. However, it is written in a way that almost makes some of their stupid and immature decisions totally understandable, while each of them try to help the other get through horrible and sometimes almost funny and pathetic situations occur. There is one sexual description of what one of the girls walks in on that nailed me, so real and yet a ridiculous eye opener, almost as if I had to see it to understand what a dope this guy really was. This was another example of how Elena was able to make us walk in her shoes. I'm guessing she had to be chuckling as she finished writing this particular scene, maybe too much for some readers. 5. And then there is the never ending worry and difficult time raising the 5 kids that the two of them had, both stepping in to help the other from time to time. Not wanting to tell the story, there is an event involving one of the kids that almost devastates one of the mothers. In the end, we have watched in great detail the full lives of two ordinary and yet both extraordinary women, and I will miss them both, always hoping that maybe, a fifth book will show up.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bianca

    I am saying a very sad farewell to the Neapolitan Novels. To say that Lenu and Lila's story gripped me it would an understatement. I was consumed by these books. I have never read anything like this before. It's hard to put into words what I felt when listening to these books. The thing is these novels are not perfect. But all the good, scratch that, all the great things far outweigh their imperfections, uncannily, making the novels feel more authentic, more impactful. These books will have a sp I am saying a very sad farewell to the Neapolitan Novels. To say that Lenu and Lila's story gripped me it would an understatement. I was consumed by these books. I have never read anything like this before. It's hard to put into words what I felt when listening to these books. The thing is these novels are not perfect. But all the good, scratch that, all the great things far outweigh their imperfections, uncannily, making the novels feel more authentic, more impactful. These books will have a special place in my heart.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Em Lost In Books

    3.5* not the spectacular end that I wanted for this story, story became redundant and stale.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    Those who haven't enjoyed the first three books of this series will like this one even less; but that's irrelevant, isn't it: if they haven't made it this far, they're not likely to read this last installment. Upon starting it, I immediately thought of my brilliant friend Karen's review of Dept. of Speculation, which contrasted that slim novel with "blowsy baroque behemoths" and their "telling and telling and telling, spewing out words and more words and yet more words" -- yep that's the Neapoli Those who haven't enjoyed the first three books of this series will like this one even less; but that's irrelevant, isn't it: if they haven't made it this far, they're not likely to read this last installment. Upon starting it, I immediately thought of my brilliant friend Karen's review of Dept. of Speculation, which contrasted that slim novel with "blowsy baroque behemoths" and their "telling and telling and telling, spewing out words and more words and yet more words" -- yep that's the Neapolitan Novels, especially the beginning of this one with the wordiness of its adult angst, and its accompanying screaming and yelling (lots of it). Yet, as I read on, the full sentences, the obsessiveness, the narrator's male-female/female-male theory and, much later, an image of a storm obliterating the horizon of a violet sea reminded me of -- don't laugh -- Proust. When a recent commenter on my review of the earlier Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay agreed with my description of the series as a "hyperrealistic fever dream", I realized I wasn't as deep in this one, whether I'd gotten used to the style or perhaps an inherent something or other was different, I'm not sure. Unlike with the other volumes, I didn't notice any chapter cliffhangers, though the story still had me hurtling headlong; and most importantly to me, and disappointingly, though the social politics of Naples and Italy is a focus, its scope does not feel as epic. All the attention and detail poured into the beginning is not there in the middle, until we finally arrive at the story of the lost child, an important story indeed. The calmer prose of the ending is of the best. Yes, with this series, Ferrante has pulled down Naples, standing in its ruins, shouting the whole time; but, by the end, she's also rebuilt it. Perhaps the reassembled edifice won't last, perhaps it's a flimsy construction doomed to collapse again, yet for now it's a fascinating creature.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    So ends the final part of the Neapolitan series in which I have been immersed, one after the other. I feel I have lived alongside Lena and Lenu, have experienced their many trials and tribulations, have gazed up at Mt Vesuvius and heard the clatter of the neighbourhood. And now it is over! I wonder if I will ever read another epic story of friendship and rivalry that will compare. I enjoyed it just for the story's sake - as in, what will happen NEXT? But I also enjoyed its self-reflective and cer So ends the final part of the Neapolitan series in which I have been immersed, one after the other. I feel I have lived alongside Lena and Lenu, have experienced their many trials and tribulations, have gazed up at Mt Vesuvius and heard the clatter of the neighbourhood. And now it is over! I wonder if I will ever read another epic story of friendship and rivalry that will compare. I enjoyed it just for the story's sake - as in, what will happen NEXT? But I also enjoyed its self-reflective and cerebral qualities. So superb was the commentary on class, motherhood, feminism, sex, education and self. Bravo, signora Ferrante!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    This was truly an exceptional series of novels. It’s not until the conclusion that you can really appreciate what has been put to paper. Much more than a simple story of two parallel lives, the Neapolitan novels present a depiction of life not in isolation, but as something deeply intertwined, with each interaction becoming at once cause and effect within a complex web, the pieces reacting almost chemically to produce repeating structures across generations. The interesting thing about this stor This was truly an exceptional series of novels. It’s not until the conclusion that you can really appreciate what has been put to paper. Much more than a simple story of two parallel lives, the Neapolitan novels present a depiction of life not in isolation, but as something deeply intertwined, with each interaction becoming at once cause and effect within a complex web, the pieces reacting almost chemically to produce repeating structures across generations. The interesting thing about this story is that it seems without beginning and without end; it merely operates within two chosen points on a continuum. As with life, these stories do not follow neat narrative arcs, and do not resolve even with death, which retains one's memory in life's connective tissue. As in life, here no one is blameless. Everyone at times acts in ways that are naive, petty or self-interested. As in life, much remains mysterious and elusive. Throughout the novels certain characters remain opaque to each other, and even the hard-fought wisdom of experience cannot shine a light on all things. In these novels uniquely there is a further meta-mystery, that of the boundaries between fact and fiction, in the identity of the author and her place in the world she has described. There are these universals, and there is also the specific – the story of Naples, of these wonderful characters, of the tension between this closed community and the opening up of the world in the second half of the last century. These many stories are are intertwined by Ferrante with unparalleled narrative skill. Though there are certainly some lesser moments one could point to, the consistency of this series is remarkable, especially for a work of 1700 pages - one which manages to be entirely compelling from start to finish. * * * * * NB: I notice that this is my 300th review on Goodreads, and so I thought I’d write something in acknowledgment of that milestone. What started as a few little notes to myself has grown unexpectedly into something much larger. According to the library export function, I’ve written just under 75,000 words in my reviews so far – that’s a decent sized novel, and a number of which I am both proud and slightly horrified. But though I shrink at the thought of how much time I’ve spent here, and though I am still unsure for whom I really write these reviews, and for what purpose, I am very grateful for the way that this site has motivated me to keep reading and writing so much over the past few years. That has undeniably been a benefit. And I am also thankful to everyone who has taken the time to read my reviews, and for my friends for continually pointing me in the direction of more and more wonderful books. There are so many to read, and not enough time.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ms. Smartarse

    They said there would be sadness and pain. Yet I doubted. They said this would be the best of 'em all. Yet I stalled. They said I would be crying. Yet I was unconvinced. All in all, I was doing great in my quest to overcome even the tiniest bit of susceptibility to peer pressure. But then Manny had to go all logical on me, so I gave in... in less than 5 minutes. Sssso about The Story of the Lost Child... Lenu gives up her comfy but unhappy life, for a difficult and miserable one. While she does occas They said there would be sadness and pain. Yet I doubted. They said this would be the best of 'em all. Yet I stalled. They said I would be crying. Yet I was unconvinced. All in all, I was doing great in my quest to overcome even the tiniest bit of susceptibility to peer pressure. But then Manny had to go all logical on me, so I gave in... in less than 5 minutes. Sssso about The Story of the Lost Child... Lenu gives up her comfy but unhappy life, for a difficult and miserable one. While she does occasionally get an odd glimpse of happiness, just when she feels like basking in it, Fate makes sure she gets to revisit all her shortcomings. Lila is slowly but surely carving out her place as the new Godmother of the neighborhood. She literally takes on everyone and everything, with the utmost certainty of her success. And then one day the red carpet is yanked out from under her with no warning whatsoever... and the fall is just as miserable as one would expect. As far as I'm concerned, one of the main changes in this last book was my propensity to keep judging every character, as opposed to the constant sympathizing with them: - Lenu is a dismal mother figure. - Lila is way too happy with her role of stoic martyrdom, if only to stick it to anyone who pisses her off. - Elsa has made it her life goal to be the meanest person in existence, without completely stepping into outright villainy. - Adele is the most jealous (ex-)mother-in-law in the entire universe. Either that, or Lenu is just a sore loser. - Nino is simply throttle-worthy. Someone should get on that. Repeatedly. Score: 5/5 stars I remember reading this book and getting mad at either Lenu or Lila, or even just the cruel fate of the neighborhood... but right now, I can't seem to recall even one serious downside worth taxing. Well... there was that time that I ended up snapping at an unsuspecting cab driver for not having sufficient change. I also made sure to righteously march out of the car, leaving behind a much bigger tip than I had initially intended. Not that you asked, or anything... In any case: I'm thinking of blaming (at least) part of my overall depression on Elena Ferrante. ================================= Review of part 1: My Brilliant Friend Review of part 2: The Story of a New Name Review of part 3: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

  25. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    The Neapolitan Novels, #1-4: Literary Experience Unlike Any Before in Connection or Syncopation of my Mind to the Female Author's Ms. Ferrante has intrigued me in my reading experiences as has no other female author and just about any male writer. I imagine Charlotte Bronte would have written such brilliant, introspective, perceptive and at times sexually provocative prose if the style had been around way back then. For some reason, I've just not connected on such a personal, human level with Woo The Neapolitan Novels, #1-4: Literary Experience Unlike Any Before in Connection or Syncopation of my Mind to the Female Author's Ms. Ferrante has intrigued me in my reading experiences as has no other female author and just about any male writer. I imagine Charlotte Bronte would have written such brilliant, introspective, perceptive and at times sexually provocative prose if the style had been around way back then. For some reason, I've just not connected on such a personal, human level with Woolf or superb female authors out there, past and present. Ms. Ferrante struck me so personally (though not necessarily so profoundly) that I can't help but thinking again of a sentence I read in the reviews of this book that I wished I'd first written to describe the Neapolitan novels : "The depth of perception Ms. Ferrante shows about her characters' conflicts and psychological states is astonishing.... Her novels ring so true and are written with such empathy that they sound confessional." Wall Street J. I'll also add these 2 blurbs as really fitting from my point of view: 'If you haven't read Elena Ferrante, it's like not having read Flaubert in 1856...Incontrovertibly brilliant." National Post. ‘The older you get, the harder it is to recapture the intoxicating sense of discovery that comes when you first read George Eliot, Nabokov, Tolstoy or Colette. But this year it came again when I read Elena Ferrante’s remarkable Neapolitan novels." New Statesman. I was dazzled and allured by the female intelligence and wit of Ms. Ferrante's writing, which never surrendered to the"sappers of suspended disbelief": the syrupy, overly sentimental, melodramatic, overdramatic, verbose, obscure, esoteric, arcane, pleonastic or the plain hogwash. I think this was a fitting conclusion to the 4-part novel. Though I'm mystified by the human psyche: here, (view spoiler)[the thought process of a brilliant female novelist and a feminist of sorts who is so blinded "by love" for an utterly dishonest, self-centered and misogynistic man. (hide spoiler)] Her prose is so refreshingly honest and real and compelling. I felt at times as if Ms. Ferrante was my friend telling me her story and I kept wanting her to talk and talk. More more... go on,.... uh huh, and?... what about....

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    Between the Neapolitan Novels and Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, this is turning out to be the year of books in which nobody gets to be happy for longer than about twelve pages. I'm pretty sure I was supposed to love these books. I was told I was going to love these books. And maybe it's fitting that I didn't just have a lukewarm reaction to these books--I HATED them. And part of the reason I hated them was because Ferrante's writing makes you need to keep reading. People said to me, well, wh Between the Neapolitan Novels and Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, this is turning out to be the year of books in which nobody gets to be happy for longer than about twelve pages. I'm pretty sure I was supposed to love these books. I was told I was going to love these books. And maybe it's fitting that I didn't just have a lukewarm reaction to these books--I HATED them. And part of the reason I hated them was because Ferrante's writing makes you need to keep reading. People said to me, well, why don't you just stop reading if you're not enjoying it? Because I CAN'T. I need to know what happens to these horrible people. Anyway, thank goodness that's over. Now I can go to bed without dreading tomorrow.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    So... The end of the story of Lila and Elena... this last book had a lot of happenings..we have been with these woman since young girls growing up in Naples. Sad to see it end.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Phrynne

    So I finally finished this fascinating quartet of books which tell the story of the lives of two friends. I am going to miss Lila and Elena for quite a while. The Story of the Lost Child covers a lot of ground, progressing from the births of Lila's second child and Elena's third, through affairs, separations and new partners, successes and failures right up to old age. This book, more than the previous three, made me think about the real meaning of friendship. Elena and Lila certainly have a very So I finally finished this fascinating quartet of books which tell the story of the lives of two friends. I am going to miss Lila and Elena for quite a while. The Story of the Lost Child covers a lot of ground, progressing from the births of Lila's second child and Elena's third, through affairs, separations and new partners, successes and failures right up to old age. This book, more than the previous three, made me think about the real meaning of friendship. Elena and Lila certainly have a very strong, almost unnatural bond but their treatment of each other frequently borders on cruelty. By the end I did not like either of the women much but the fascination remained. What would they do next and where would they finally end up. I must admit I did not expect any kind of warm, happy conclusion. Elena Ferrante is a very talented and stylish author and she achieves a fitting ending. The series finishes as it began with childhood toys and Lila's predictions about her own future come true. Beautifully done. A series I will remember with pleasure.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    I started "My Brilliant Friend", the first of the Neopolitan novels, as they have come to be known, almost 2 years ago, in February of 2015. It was a year before I read the 2nd one, "The Story of a New Name". These books are intense and emotional and dense, so, for me, it is better to let a few months pass in between one book and the next. "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay" was read this past summer, and I wanted to get this last one read before the year was out. What a way to end the year! The I started "My Brilliant Friend", the first of the Neopolitan novels, as they have come to be known, almost 2 years ago, in February of 2015. It was a year before I read the 2nd one, "The Story of a New Name". These books are intense and emotional and dense, so, for me, it is better to let a few months pass in between one book and the next. "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay" was read this past summer, and I wanted to get this last one read before the year was out. What a way to end the year! The magnitude of this undertaking by Elena Ferrante is incredible. Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, their families, their lives, their love and hatred of each other, their poor, violent neighborhood in the city of Naples; all of this comes together in these 4 books like nothing else I've ever read. It is the kind of fiction that is more real than life, making me believe that these people really exist. Parts of this last novel were devastating events that I may not recover from, leaving scars on my psyche. As good as this story was, from start to finish, I'm not sure I can ever re-read these novels because of that intensity. "Every intense relationship between human beings is full of traps, and if you want to endure, you have to learn to avoid them." This series took me into the souls of Lila and Elena, and, like it or not, into the souls of all women everywhere. We may not be Italian, we may not scream and curse, we may not handle situations in the same way, but we all love/hate our partners, our children, our parents, and our friends. It's a function of being human. The conclusion of the story of Elena and Lila was perfect and brilliant because it left us with more questions than answers, which is what life does, what good fiction does. I love these women. I love Elena Ferrante, whoever she is.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    "I publish to be read. It’s the only thing that interests me about publication. So I employ all the strategies I know to capture the reader’s attention, stimulate curiosity, make the page as dense as possible and as easy as possible to turn. But once I have the reader’s attention I feel it is my right to pull it in whichever direction I choose. I don’t think the reader should be indulged as a consumer, because he isn’t one. Literature that indulges the tastes of the reader is a degraded literatu "I publish to be read. It’s the only thing that interests me about publication. So I employ all the strategies I know to capture the reader’s attention, stimulate curiosity, make the page as dense as possible and as easy as possible to turn. But once I have the reader’s attention I feel it is my right to pull it in whichever direction I choose. I don’t think the reader should be indulged as a consumer, because he isn’t one. Literature that indulges the tastes of the reader is a degraded literature. My goal is to disappoint the usual expectations and inspire new ones." (Elena Ferrante, Paris Review). The biggest mystery of Ferrante's Neopolitan saga isn't the needless speculation about the anonymous author's true identity, but rather how books that might, at one level, be considered no more than chick-lit (even the covers of the novels scream "summer beach / book club read") work so well as literary fiction. And the quote above goes some way to answer the question - Ferrante writes to be read (a worthy manifesto) and any trick she can use to draw in the reader is, to her, fair game, particularly if that enables her to broaden the audience for her powerful observations on society, feminism and politics. As for her desire to conceal her identity, to ensure readers and critics focus on her novels, in practice it appears to have the opposite effect. No review of her novels is seemingly complete without speculation on her identity or at least noting her anonymity. However the author's strategy at least forces critics to examine the novels closely for clues to her identity and views, rather than examine the author's biography and then merely seek confirmation in the novels. Turning to this novel itself "What's the sea from up there? A bit of colour. Better if you're closer, that way you notice that there's filth, mud, piss, polluted water. But you who read and write books like to tell lies, not the truth." This is what Lila tells Elena about her house in a more up-market Naples away from and above the neighbourhood, and indirectly her novels - but Ferrante's novels are soaked in the filth and pollution of the Naples neighbourhood where Lila and Elena are born, and Lila lives most of her life until her sudden disappearance which opens the first novel. Reading the four novels back-to-back one admires how, as the two friend matures, Elena broadens her narration to take in more of the outside world (the comparison to Knausgaard is irresistible if clichéd) e.g. from their naive childhood view that Don Achille is a literal ogre and that Manuela Solara has a magical book to the left-wing politics, assassinations, kidnapping and bombs of the 1970s and 1980s. And in this fourth volume, the contrast between Elena and Lila heightens in terms of their ambitions. Lina is a successful author, with some international recognition and keen to broaden her horizons. "Montpellier, on the other hand, although it was far less exciting than Paris, gave me the impression that my boundaries had burst and I was expanding. The pure and simple fact of being in that place constituted in my eyes the proof that the neighbourhood, Naples, Pisa, Florence, Milan, Italy itself were only tiny fragments of the world and that I would do well not to be satisfied with these fragments any longer. It was marvellous to cross borders, to let oneself go within other cultures, to discover the provisional nature of what I had taken for absolute" Whereas Lila's borders are determined ("I noted for the first time, during that period, the rigidity of the perimeter that Lila had established for herself."), largely in reaction to the mental dissolving boundaries she sees in herself and others. She first recounts this to Elena is this novel, during the 1980 Irpinia earthquake, although she first experienced the phenomenon during the New Year's firework party in volume one. "She used that term dissolving boundaries. It was on that occasion that she resorted to it for the first time: she struggled to elucidate the meaning, she wanted me to understand how much what the dissolution of boundaries meant and how much it frightened her...She said that the outlines of people and things were delicate, that they broke like cotton thread. She whispered that for her it had always been that way, an object lost its edges and poured into another, into a solution of heterogeneous materials, a merger and mixing. She said she had always had to struggle to believe had firm boundaries, for she had known since she was a child it was not like that...And so if she didn't stay alert, if she didn't pay attention to the boundaries, the waters would break through, a flood would rise, carrying everything off in clots of menstrual blood, in cancerous polyps, in bits of yellowish fiber." We must never forget, though, that we are reading one side of a story of two lives. Elena as narrator fears, even wants, Lina's intrusion into the text (quite literally given Lina's emerging computer skills, she wonders if Lina could even edit her story): "Only she can say if, in fact, she has managed to insert herself into this extremely long chain of words to modify my text, to purposely supply the missing links, to unhook others without letting it show, to say of me more than I want, more than I'm able to say. I wish for this intrusion..." but ultimately has to conclude that the account is hers alone. One flaw of the four novels is the rather confusing cast of supporting characters. There is a scene at the start of the novel where some characters meet in the Solara's shoe-shop. Trying to remember who was who, I realised that here is Elena's boyfriend sweetheart Antonio who some years later, as a hired thug, beat up Elena's new lover, Nino because at the time Nino was Lila's lover. Lila was then married to Stefano who was business partners with the Solano brothers, for whom Antonio worked and who were both infatuated with Lila. Antonio's sister is now Stefano's new partner but later becomes the lover of Lila's estranged husband. Antonio's mother lost her mind many years ago after a love affair with Nino's father, who later was Elena's first lover ... and so it could go on. There is an extremely helpful cast list at the start of each book which helps keep the reader navigate their way through the maze of relationships, but the problem is that the other characters simply don't solidify in the reader's mind as real people anywhere near as strongly as Elena and Lila. And that in turn causes something of an issue with Nino, who emerges in this fourth novel as a crucial third character. Elena and Lina even allow their relationship with their children to be affected by whether they can trace Nino in them. Lila was passionately devoted to her son Gennaro when young but seems to lose interest as he grows and an emerging resemblance dashes her assumption (hope) that he was Nino's illegitimate child, and revealed instead him to be the child of her then husband's Stefano. Elena seems almost as fond of Silvia's son Mirko, fathered by Nino, than of her own children with Pietro, who she rather blithely leaves with her inlaws for 3 years as she sorts out her personal and literary life. "It was terrible to confess it, but I still wanted him, I loved him more than my own daughters ... Lila struck with precision a point in myself that I'd kept carefully hidden and which had to do with the urge for motherhood I'd noticed for the first time a dozen years ago, when I had held little Mirko, in Mariarosa's house. It had been a completely irrational impulse, a sort of command of love, which at the time had overwhelmed me. I had intuited even then that it was not a simple wish to have a child, I wanted a particular child, a child like Mirko, a child of Nino's. And in fact that yearning had not been alleviated by Pietro and the conception of Dede and Elsa. Rather it had reemerged recently, when I saw Silvia's child and, especially, when Nino had told me that [his wife] Eleonara was pregnant." And when Elena eventually has a child, Imma, with Nino, Lina seems to take more interest in her than her own daughter, with Enzo, Tina - with tragic consequences. The reader is left wondering why Nino is so memorable as to attract the devoted attention of both these two remarkable - and feminist - women and indeed so many others, despite showing nothing in his behaviour, at least towards Elena (she later realises the one time he did put a woman's interest before his own was for Lina on Ischia), to justify it. Elena realises in part that the answer for her revolves, as much of her life does, inevitably around her own relationship with Lina and the tension between her neighbourhood origins and her more cultured ambitions: "I distinguished the love for the neighbourhood boy, the high-school student - a feeling of mine that had as its object a fantasy of mine, conceived before Ischia - from the passion that had overwhelmed me for the young man in the bookstore in Milan, the person who had appeared in my house in Florence. I had always maintained a connection between these two emotional blocks, and that morning instead it seemed to me as if there was no connection, that the continuity was a trick of logic. In the middle, I thought, there had been a rupture - his love for Lila - that should have cancelled Nino forever from my life, but which I refused to reckon with. To whom, then, was I bound, and whom did I still love today?" "Then everything seemed clearer. There was no split between that man who came after Lila and the boy with whom - before Lila - I had been in love since childhood. Nino was only one, and the expression he had on his face while he was inside Silvana was the proof. It was the expression of his father, Donato, not when he deflowered me on the Maronti, but when he touched me between the legs, under the sheet, in Nella's kitchen." The fourth volume is a fitting end to an overall story. It's not the strongest volume - the first half builds towards an event that would have been more shocking had the novel's title not rather given the game away (and indeed the Italian title "Storia della bambina perduta" gives us even more of a clue via gender). And the second half is somewhat slower paced, not least as we know where it is headed - Lina's complete disappearance - from the first pages of the first novel. But against that, the sense of the wider world is stronger, and Ferrante manages to give the novel, in it's closing pages, a powerful finish. 4 stars for this volume, not quite 5, but 5 for the series, which I've awarded to the 3rd book. To conclude, it seems fitting to quote Elena's publisher's reaction to the draft of her second novel, a novel that tells much the same story as these books. "It is from the first line to the last, pure pleasure of narration"

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