The easiest part first then, is to sum up and point to what I've already written elsewhere about the series
At the end of 2015, I briefly mentioned finishing the last novel in the series: "For now, though, just popping in to say that I've finished Elana Ferrante's The Story of the Lost Child, and while I will save my response to this last volume, and the series overall, for another, more considered, longer post, I have found every one of the four books compelling and absorbing. I've been mesmerised by the microscopic examination of a female friendship that is suffused with rivalry, and by the way that friendship holds our attention while we consider the many social, political, economic, and cultural changes that have shaped women's lives -- in Italy, yes, but beyond that, across European borders and with obvious resonance for North America as well (at the very least). This balancing of the very particular and the sweeping global, this fascinates me, and the way it's held in the conversational, if confessional, tone of one of the two central characters, the over-abundance of some detail while there is so much we cannot or will not be told...."
Before that, back in August last year, preparing for a trip to Italy, I wrote about Books 2 and 3 in the series,
And the last paragraph in this post from May 2015 is about having just finished the first volume in the series.
My chronology is awkward here, scrolling backwards through the series. The most recent post on Ferrante here, a lovely guest post by our Manitoba commenter Georgia, brings us into 2016, February, but it also throws us backward in Ferrante's oeuvre, usefully sketching out the Italian writer's earlier writing. Georgia makes some very perceptive and intriguing connections between Ferrante's backlist and the Neapolitan series, and she convinces me that I must get to some of those titles before too long.
First, though, I'm determined to finish writing about the Neapolitan novels here, and to do that, I was sure I had brought them to Vancouver with me so that I could refresh my memory before trying to share my responses. Indeed, when I unpacked, I found Books Two and Three, but I've already told you something about those; Book Four, the one about which I've only written that brief paragraph above? Nope. Not here. Aargh!
The preceding portion of this post, above, took me two weeks of writing and procrastinating and since I was stopped by not having Volume IV with me, another week during which Pater brought the book over for me. Today, I'm supposed to head back to our island home, and I'd planned to take the early ferry, but packing up my stack of Ferrante once again made it even more clear how inefficient this continual postponement has become.
I'm going to stay right here in our Vancouver apartment, with the stack of Neapolitan novels to the right of my computer, and I'm not leaving until the post is done. The 8:30 ferry will just have to sail without me, and with luck and commitment I'll be feeling a little bit lighter when I board the 10:30 boat.
I haven't left the computer, but I did lean back in my chair for a few minutes to pick up my iPad and open my Kobo (eReader app) to read again the opening pages of the 1st volume of the series, My Brilliant Friend. I have often regretted that in my impatience to begin the series, I bought a digital edition rather than waiting to get to a bookstore for a hard copy. And over the past year or so, reading and thinking about the third and fourth volumes, I've wanted to thumb through those introductory chapters, to remember exactly the context in which the narrator-protagonist Lenù (Elena Greco) begins writing. So much easier to do so with a "real book," although I've had the digital copy only a minute or two away, if I'd pushed through the annoying clicks and navigations and waiting for screens to fire up . . .
Doing so just now confirms what I've remembered -- that, in her late 60s, Lenù begins to write out of resentment and competition, perhaps even revenge, after her childhood friend -- her alter ego, one might have to say, even, the antagonist of the story, except that the two are too intertwined to be oppositional -- has disappeared. That is, Rino, the (lazy, parasitic, weak-willed) son of her closest friend and fiercest rival, Lila, has called her to say that his mother has not been seen for weeks and, furthermore, there is not a single trace of her left in her home, nothing in the closets, no digital trace in her computers, not a single image left in any photograph.
In Lenù's words, "She wanted not only to disappear herself, now, at the age of sixty-six, but also to eliminate the entire life that she had left behind." In response, Lenù "was really angry" and says to herself, "We'll see who wins this time," as she "turn[s] on the computer and beg[ins] to write -- all the details of our story, everything that still remained in my memory."
Reading those opening pages again and then flipping to the last twenty or thirty pages of The Story of the Lost Child confirmed several other things I've thought while postponing the writing of this post. First of all, it's shocking to once again confront how quickly I can forget important details. I'll be considerate here and avoid spoilers for those of you who still have to read this, but suffice it to say that to do the novel justice, I would have to at least skim it again to recover some of the intricacies of plot, the machinations of the various characters in the vivid small world of the Neapolitan neighbourhood, the entanglement of families and businesses and politics, the persistence of that entanglement over decades, the way the politics and the social relationships played out on a micro scale against those national and global developments they paralleled, at least temporally.
As well, reading the opening pages again and juxtaposing them with a quick study of the closing ones, some 1800 or so pages between them, confirms that the novels require a careful second reading. The attention these opening and closing pages pay to the role of memory, to the competing claims of those who remember, to the ephemeral evidence that supports that memory, invites -- demands? -- a more careful examination of Lenù's narrative. At the most immediate level, for example, I'm puzzled by what seems a discrepancy: she claims to be writing her story because of Lila's elimination of "the entire life that she had left behind" (including, of course, Lenù herself). However, reading the closing pages, she writes that Lila's disappearance had actually begun in response to Lenù's having retrieved some of her celebrity as a writer by publishing a novel based on their lives, on very painful experiences they had shared.
Lenù writes, in the closing pages of her huge narrative, that "I was violating an unwritten agreement between Lila and me. . . she wouldn't tolerate it." After writing the first draft, she deliberately chooses not to show her lifelong friend the novella she's written about them, and she makes the decision "out of fear," knowing, as she writes, that "if it were up to her I would never publish a line." Once the book is published, and it revives Lenù's career as a writer, keeping her "from joining the list of writers whom everyone considers dead even when they're still alive," she first considers it "the best I had written." Gradually, though, she comes to hate it, and she blames Lila for that, blames her "refusing in every possible way to see me, to discuss it with me, even to insult me and hit me," so that, finally, Lenù has to "acknowledge that our friendship was over."
The dolls -- their retrieval from their burial in the basement of patriarchy that governed all lives in that hermetic Neapolitan neighbourhood -- reappear at the fourth novel's close, recalling the early incident that bound the two young girls together and became emblematic, in so many ways, of their relationship. I won't tell you how, but their appearance throws doubts -- her own and ours -- onto Lenù's rendition of their story.
And then my daughter texted: Could she and my one-year-old grandson come visit? And as much as I wanted to finish this post, I couldn't bring myself to say "No." And instead of the 10:30 ferry, I got to the 12:30 one, but that was a week ago, and since then I've bought my next home via some stressful offers and counter-offers. All legitimate reasons for not finishing this post, don't you think? But I haven't posted anything here since April 22nd, and although I'm quite sure I only need another hour or two to round out my thoughts about the series, I'm going to publish this as it is and promise one more final post on it. That next post will also include some notes that Dottoressa sent me months ago (sorry to take so long, D, with sharing these), and I would love to think it will be up within the month, but this next little while may be hectic. I appreciate your patience.
Meanwhile, though, if anything I've written here resonates, please comment. Have you finished the series yet? Did you pick a favourite volume? Have you found yourself going back to reread sections and compare what was said in Volume Four with details from earlier in the series? And how important do you think the role of the narrator is to the way the story is told? What does the narration suggest about memory and its filters?
*It's the public library's fault, honestly. Both of Patricia Cornwell's last two titles, the only two I hadn't yet read of her Kay Scarpetta series, were displayed on the Recent Aquisitions shelves, my last two respective visits, practically shouting "Take me Home!" Cornwell's writing has been uneven across the