The finale to Ferrante’s four-part Neapolitan Novels chronicling the lives and complicated friendship between Elena and Lila didn’t disappoint and it’s hard to think of a series equally as rewarding and consistently fantastic. It’s impossible to convey, in a review, what makes Ferrante’s writing so extraordinary. On the surface, if you tried to describe the story, it sounds just like any domestic drama – lives of two women as they mature from girlhood into adulthood, going through various highs and lows, grappling with motherhood, making ends meet, becoming successful, growing old. But their experiences and everyday lives are just so incredibly well-drawn, with such degree of richness, texture and psychological insight, in prose that’s so crystal and powerful.
Surprisingly, I got through the third entry in Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels much quicker than the first two – maybe because of greater familiarity with her style. In this novel, Elena/Lenú and Lila, the two girls we first met as young children in My Brilliant Friend, are now grown women entering their third decade. At the conclusion of the previous book, Lila left her husband and ended up in poverty, working at a sausage factory and enduring miserable conditions and sexual harassment, whereas Lenú left Naples for Florence, got engaged to a young professor from a distinguished academic family, and became an accidental published author. You don’t need a crystal ball to predict that their respective fortunes will seesaw throughout the book, as will their difficult relationship, which persists despite the two young women losing contact for years and Lenú admitting, at one point, that true heart-to-heart intimacy is no longer possible between them.
The second entry in Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels is just as good as the first one, if not better. It continues to chart the stories of Elena and Lila, the two young girls from Naples, as they enter adulthood, and the course of their relationship which is far too complicated to be referred to as friendship.
This is the first volume in the Italian writer’s Neapolitan Novels series, and if the next three books are as good as this one I should make it to the end of the quadrilogy in no time at all.