Critical Assessment

“Ferrante has said that she likes to write narratives ‘where the writing is clear, honest, and where the facts—the facts of ordinary life—are extraordinarily gripping when read.’ Her prose has indeed a bare lucidity, and is often aphoristic and continent, in Ann Goldstein’s elegant, burnished English. But what is thrilling about her earlier novels is that, in sympathetically following her characters’ extremities, Ferrante’s own writing has no limits, is willing to take every thought forward to its most radical conclusion and backward to its most radical birthing. This is most obvious in the fearless way in which her female narrators think about children and motherhood. . . .

“Before the writer is an adult, she is a child. Before she makes a family, she inherits one; and in order to find her true language she may need to escape the demands and prohibitions of this first, given community. That is one of the themes that connect Ferrante’s latest novel, ‘My Brilliant Friend,’ with her earlier work. At first sight, her new book, published in Italy in 2011, seems very different from its anguished, slender predecessors. It’s a large, captivating, amiably peopled bildungsroman . . . . There is a kind of joy in the book not easily found in the earlier work. The city of Elena’s childhood is a poor, violent place (the same city is found in Ferrante’s first novel, ‘Troubling Love’). But deprivation gives details a snatched richness. A trip to the sea, a new friend, a whole day spent with your father (‘We spent the entire day together, the only one in our lives, I don’t remember any others,’ Elena says at one point), a brief holiday, the chance to take some books out of a library, the encouragement of a respected teacher, a sketched design for a beautiful pair of shoes, a wedding, the promise of getting your article published in a local journal, a conversation with a boy whose intellect is deeper and more liberal than your own—these ordinary-seeming occurrences take on an unexpected luminosity against a background of poverty, ignorance, violence, and parental threat.”

James Wood,”Women on the Verge: The Fiction of Elena Ferrante”  The New Yorker, January 21, 2013.

 imagesFirst Excerpt

“Thus she returned to the theme of ‘before,’ but in a different way than she had at first. She said that we didn’t know anything, either as children or now, that we were therefore not in a position to understand anything, that everything in the neighborhood, every stone or piece of wood, everything, anything you could name, was already there before us, but we had grown up without realizing it, without ever even thinking about it. Not just us. Her father pretended that there had been nothing before. Her mother did the same, my mother, my father, even Rino. And yet Stefano’s grocery store before had been the carpenter shop of Alfredo Peluso, Pasquale’s father. And yet Don Achille’s money had been made before. And the Solaras’ money as well. She had tested this out on her father and mother. They didn’t know anything, they wouldn’t talk about anything. Not Fascism, not the king. No injustice, no oppression, no exploitation. They hated Don Achille and were afraid of the Solaras. But they overlooked it and went to spend their money both at Don Achille’s son’s and at the Solaras’, and sent us, too. And they voted for the Fascists, for the monarchists, as the Solaras wanted them to. And they thought that what had happened before was past and, in order to live quietly, they placed a stone on top of it, and so, without knowing it, they continued it.”

Second Excerpt

“Lila was able to speak through writing; unlike me when I wrote, unlike Sarratore in his articles and poems, unlike even many writers I had read and was reading, she expressed herself in sentences that were well constructed, and without error, even though she had stopped going to school, but–further–she left no trace of effort, you weren’t aware of the artifice of the written word. I read and I saw her, I heard her. The voice set in the writing overwhelmed me, enthralled me even more than when we talked face to face: it was completely cleansed of the dross of speech, of the confusion of the oral; it had the vivid orderliness that I imagined would belong to conversation if one were so fortunate as to be born from the head of Zeus and not from the Grecos, the Cerullos.”