Review of “The Story of a New Name (The Neapolitan Novels, #2),” by Elena Ferrante

It’s been a good while since I’ve been so equally in love with and horrified by a novel. At times the dynamic and cyclical nature of Elena and Lila’s relationship will start to feel predictable; I know at times when Elena explores a “revelation” in her and Lila’s friendship, I would start to roll my eyes (this again?). I urge the reader in the face of this reaction to both resist it and remember what this series is about.

The reviewer on the cover of my copy (John Freeman, from “The Australian”) claims that these novels are as “if Jane Austen got angry.” Just because both authors have intelligent female heroines at the centers of their novels does not make them comparable. Elena Ferrante’s novels are deeply violent and portray poverty as a tar pit in which one sticks a toe, is trapped forever, and gives birth to her children amidst the muck. Austen’s heroines see poverty from behind a bulletproof window and cannot access it. Further, Ferrante’s novels are not about heteronormative romantic relationships, as are Austen’s. To view them as such is a mistake. They are about a love affair that takes place in the form of female friendship. They are homoerotic while rejecting homonormativity. 

At the end of each chapter, the narrator strikes a minor chord with her closing sentences; she creates a tone that jars the reader and leaves her with relief at the fact that there is subsequent chapter to harmonize it. That is, until the final chapter leaves the reader with that minor chord ringing in her ears. This book is about romantic love tinged with beatings and abuse, lasting friendships steeped in competition and suffering, female bodies destroyed by male ones and eroded by poverty. It is not Jane Austen; it is Elena Ferrante.

Ferrante, Elena, and Ann Goldstein. The Story of a New Name, Neapolitan Novels #2. Europa Editions, 2017.

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