Books I Love

My Brilliant Friend January 18 2015, 0 Comments

"The women in my stories are all echoes of real women who, because of their suffering or their combativeness, have very much influenced my imagination: my mother, a childhood girlfriend, acquaintances whose stories I know. In general I combine their experiences with my own and Delia, Amalia, Olga, Leda, Nina, Elena, Lenù are born out of that mix. But the echo that you noticed maybe derives from an oscillation inside the characters that I’ve always worked on. My women are strong, educated, self-aware and aware of their rights, just, but at the same time subject to unexpected breakdowns, to subservience of every kind, to mean feelings. I’ve also experienced this oscillation. I know it well, and that also affects the way I write."
Elena Ferrante - The New York Times

"Ferrante’s Naples books are essentially about knowledge—its possibilities and its limits. Intellectual knowledge, sexual knowledge, political knowledge. What kind of knowledge does it take to get by in this world? How do we attain that knowledge? How does our knowledge change us and wound us and empower us, often at the same time? What things do we want to know and what would we prefer to leave unknown? What can we control? Who has power over our lives?"
Rachel Donadio - The New York Review of Books

"Life has actions in it. In reading a novel, it’s profound to experience the self-in-other in memory or contemplation, but it’s sometimes just as profound to experience the self-in-other during moments of decision. In Ferrante, we have both — they’re told in the first person, but they’re the story of more than a single person, of many equally weighted people. The plotting of their stories is so skillful, indeed so unplotted, in the sense that life is unplotted, in the sense that we don’t know the future, that as readers we suddenly exist both in other actions and in their actors’ consciousness of them. Not the latter alone."
Charles Finch - The Millions

There are so many layers at work in this astonishing novel that I don't even know where to begin... As soon as you start reading Elena Ferrante, you know you are in the hands of an extraordinary writer whose mind, heart and natural abilities have inextricably fused in the greatest of fires. The writing takes over your days and nights, seeps into your veins like crack. Straight into your bloodstream.

Very much like Karl Ove Knausgaard, she is able to play with the clearest, most fluid language to evoke simultaneously the multitude of details of everyday life and the ever shifting patterns of the mind. The words sizzle with grace, candor, terror and light.

The birth of a friendship between two little Neapolitan girls born in 1944 becomes the conduit for a ruthless and intoxicating exploration of what it means to become yourself. What is innate and what is acquired? What part of life is random luck and predestination? What part of character is emulation and what part is natural gift? How does the will to power play out if you are born poor in an uneducated and violent environment? How much does the past affect our present lives and can you escape it?

I read this breathtaking book over the course of three days, almost in a trance, and it seems that I have no choice to echo what Charles Finch wrote at the end of his piece on his year of reading in 2014 for The Millions:

"What I do know is that before 2014, I thought Philip Roth was the greatest novelist alive. Now, for me, he’s second."

That says it all.