Monday, March 14, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

I recently read Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, the first of her Neopolitan novels, and was completely caught up in the story of two friends (Elena and Lila) growing up in a poor Naples neighborhood in the 1950's and 60's. The first book ended at the point of Lila’s wedding, with an indication that the marriage would not be a happy one. Despite my huge TBR pile, including a slew of Netgalley books waiting in my queue, I was desperate to get back to Naples for book 2.

The Story of a New Name picks up where My Brilliant Friend left off. Elena continues to narrate the story of their intertwined lives. The two young women share an intense bond, but their friendship is fraught with obstacles. They are jealous of one another and behave, at times, in ways that are incredibly petty and yet entirely understandable. They are physically separated for much of the time in this book, so while Elena is able to analyze her own actions and emotional state in depth, she has to infer what is going on with Lila, piecing together the story from gossip that she hears, from the brief contacts they have, and from a collection of journals that Lila kept and then asked Elena to hide from her husband. Of course, Elena reads them though she was asked not to. She interprets them for the reader rather than showing them in Lila’s own words.

This novel, like the first, is filled with the events of daily life of women who are struggling to make a place for themselves in a difficult world. Earth-shaking historical and political events are occurring around them, and at times they are cognizant of them, but mostly they are wrapped up in their own dramas, things that impact them more directly. Weaving through the tangles of the neighborhood relationships, we see how confined Lila’s life is despite her perceived power. And we watch Elena branching out as she moves on with her schooling, yet recognize how powerful the draw of the old neighborhood is even for her.

The Story of a New Name is a little slower paced than book one, but these exquisite books should be savored. I’m eager to begin book 3, but I know I’ll be sad when I get to the end.

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