Nathaniel Popkin at The Smart Set:
Since the English publication last year of the second novel in the series, Story of a New Name (Europa Editions, 2013), critics have lauded the mysterious Ferrante, whose true identity is unknown. They’ve praised her particularly for her skill in rendering the fraught relationship between Elena and her childhood friend Lina (alternatively called Lila). Indeed, she draws the lines of the deepest love and of momentary hate, of jealousy and manipulation, guilt and fear, with spectacular control and insight. Give Ferrante a paragraph, and she’ll burnish the page with brilliant, fiery life.
But underlying every nuance of personality here, every desire, every awakening, is the neighborhood, Naples, and the broad landscape of Italian cities, all in tension. This is “the infinite and the parochial,” as I attempted to conceptualize the opposite poles of urban life in Song of the City, my first book on Philadelphia. “It’s easy to become trapped in the parochial city,” I wrote, describing the neighborhood’s power of “exclusion and denial, stratification and fear.” On the other hand, “the infinite city is like the world itself. It is flat and wide and vast and in it everyone, everything can be known and explored.” For most of us and certainly for Elena and Natalie, “our relationship with the city stretches somewhere between the parochial and the infinite. Take away the parochial and the remains are cold, commodified spaces where personal, local connections do not exist. There are no neighborhoods, no neighbors, just glances. Dismiss the infinite from the city and what’s left is a village. The expectations are already known, the outcomes understood. The only way out is to leave.”