Elena Ferrante: Italy’s Great, Mysterious Storyteller

Donadio_1-121814_jpg_250x1403_q85Rachel Donadio at The New York Review of Books:

These books have blood, of murder and menstruation, as well as tears and sweat. Men do violence against women, and women against men. Women are betrayed and also betray—themselves and others. In all of Ferrante’s writing, there is also a lot of visceral, often unromantic sex. It would be accurate, although perhaps reductive, to call these books feminist. It is enough to say that they bring a scrutiny and an intensity rare in contemporary literature—or in any literature, for that matter—to exploring in intimate, often excruciating detail the full experience of being a woman and, in the Naples novels, the deep complexity of female friendship. Among other things, these Naples books offer a brilliant and sustained study of envy, that most pernicious of emotions, because it can sometimes disguise itself as love.

Take this passage from The Story of a New Name, which begins with the day of Lila’s wedding, at age sixteen, to Stefano Carracci, the son of Don Achille. (The Italian word in the title is cognome, surname, and the implied name change is Lila’s.) As the wedding unfolds, Lila comes to understand that she doesn’t love Stefano and may never, something that dawns on her when she comprehends that he is not entirely free, that he, like everyone in the area but, she would like to believe, not herself, is beholden to the Solara family, who arrive uninvited at the wedding with a courtesy that elegantly masks an implied threat of violence.

more here.