James Wood described her novels in the New Yorker as 'remarkable, lucid, austerely honest'; to the New York Review of Books, she is 'the most powerful and enigmatic writer to emerge from contemporary Italy'. Elena Ferrante's The Story of the Lost Child, the fourth and final part of her Bildungsroman-fleuve ‘The Neapolitan Novels’, is due to be published in early September. To prepare ourselves, we’ll be celebrating the first three parts of the cycle and Ferrante’s other novels throughout August. As well as its customers, who consistently vote with their wallets to place Ferrante in our bestseller list, the London Review Bookshop counts several of its staff amongst those afflicted with '#FerranteFever' – read on to find out why.
Last summer, I made the terrible mistake of going on holiday for a week in France taking with me only the first volume of the Neapolitan books. I had a couple of lovely days, ignoring all my friends while I raced through My Brilliant Friend, and then had to endure the rest of the holiday Ferrante-less. As soon as I got home, I devoured the rest. Learn from my mistakes.
Unfortunately, I am unable to profit from Gayle’s wisdom, as for my own imminent week in France this year, I have only a proof copy of The Story of the Lost Child left in the Neapolitan quartet. Ferrante's forensic eye for the complex dynamics of female friendship, as well as her intensely-felt portrayal of the evolution of Italian society over the 1960s and 70s, have captivated me over the last three volumes, and I'll be making book four last as long as I possibly can.
The power of word-of-mouth is exemplified by our sales of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series. I took the first on holiday at Gayle's recommendation, and after reading all three that are out so far, I have not been able to stop thinking about the characters and their lives. I have experienced their journeys not as an onlooker, but as if I were connected to, and part of, their friendships.
I have sometimes wondered what it would be like to read these books in Italian; would the language have a different effect on my reading? Would my interpretation of their struggles would be different? My favourite so far was Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay; the political and historical context was fascinating, and the sense of closeness to all the characters was almost like a familiar memory. I am eagerly awaiting the last book, and at the same time sadly aware that it is the end of a journey.
Are you gripped by Ferrante fever? Let us know how you feel in the comments below.