I’m overwhelmed by how much I love these four books- the Neapolitan series. It wasn’t love at first page. I earnestly struggled with Book 1 of the series, which details the younger years of these two passionate, brave, deeply weird women. And then, somewhere in Book 2 (‘The Story of A New Name”), I feel in book love. Book 3 (“Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay”) is my favorite of the four- bad choices and consequences dominate. Elena Ferrante has written books for the ages.
Lila and Lenù are captivating. They have the kind of tumultuous, lifelong friendship many women can relate to. Driven by fierce ambitions, the culture of their neighborhood, and each other, they battle and love. The author explores marriage, motherhood, career choices through the main characters and even minor characters. Naples plays a huge role and you get a sense of how turbulent and varies this Italian city is. They are not called the Neapolitan novels in the abstract. I can’t imagine these stories, these characters living anywhere else. The city is part of why they are who they are.
The narrator is Lenù and much as I love her, it is really Lila who makes the pages come alive. She’s angry and possessed of charm and brilliance. Honestly, I find myself thinking about her as if she is a real person I can talk to and get to know. Elena/Lenù tells us everything that happens to both of them, and yet Lila is a mysterious figure in many aspects. The narrator is filled with jealousy towards but also love for Lila, and that is so interesting to me.
I hate reviews that tell you too much about the storyline, but I will say that each woman’s journey, and the journey of their community has many twists. The plots and subplots are comic, tragic, and true-to-life.
Despite the pretty and somewhat misleading covers, these books are dense and thick, Dickensian in scope. They are not light reads; be prepared to learn about Italian politics, the sexual revolution, cultural shifts from the 50s to now. Violence and sexuality are enormous themes in these novels.
The lives these women lead are epic but relatable. If you are a creative woman, you may find these books pleasurable for how they delve into why we create at all- what drives us to make something from nothing.
This series is one of the best I’ve ever read and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Plus, If you haven’t heard, this series is coming to HBO.