Top positive review
Beautiful, Evocative, and Devastating
Reviewed in the United States on August 18, 2018
How do I write about my reading of The Neapolitan books and their completion in “The Story of the Lost Child” with unemotional clarity? I have been obsessed with these books ever since I began them some months ago yet in the final book, almost daily, I had to stop, put it aside, and steel myself to read the next chapter because I was so emotionally invested in the story and so distraught. Each new page brought a new experience of emotional disaster. These stories, in four volumes, about the life of two little girls who form a friendship while living in a poor neighborhood in 1950’s Naples Italy, to their matricuation as women in the time of now, are not happy stories. Yet, I think, Elena Ferrante is the best living writer on Earth today.
I finished the book on an evening when my wife was away visiting her parents. I wish I wouldn’t have. You need someone to cuddle with, to recover with, after you finish this story. I spent the night and into the morning questioning everything about my life and how I’ve lived it. I questioned my family, my education, my work, my children, my relationships, my motivations, my past, and my future. But mostly I questioned my friendships and the state of them and their failures. I am a 61 years old male, essentially the same age as Lenu, the narrator of the story. Certainly if I’d read these books at age 30 I would read them with a completely different perspective then when I read them now. But now is when I read them and, like the author telling the story of her life, with the good and very directly the bad, I can’t help but form a related assessment of my own life. It’s a very scary thing to do.
The cover and end plates of the book with recommendations from authors and critics describe these books very well. In my own words they are devastating, demanding, direct, unrelenting, fascinating, horrific, emotional, unsympathetic, visceral, lucid, loving, hateful, explosive, and all consuming. What they are clearly not is fiction. These stories seem incredibly real and that’s because every analysis says that for the most part these are real experiences.
I have read Game of Thrones and watched the television series and enjoyed them immensely. They are a horrific and highly memorable fantasy. The Neapolitan series is every bit as fraught with danger, duplicity, and deviousness as Game of Thrones except that they are not fantasy and that makes them, at times, almost unbearable. When I read the first two books I thought to myself that the only entertainment franchise who could put this on the screen is HBO. So I looked it up. HBO is bringing the series to television. From my assessment it will be the next “Game of Thrones” style global phenomenon.
I highly recommend these stories. They contain sentences and descriptions of life that many times made me stop and consider whether that sentence, which I had just read, wasn’t one of the most beautiful and evocative sentences ever written. That kind of experience is extremely pleasurable to me, but give yourself time to recover. The life and relationship of Lila and Lenu is not a kind one.
Note: Although I have the physical books for reference I “read” all of these books in audio format from Audible. The narrator, Hillary Huber, is so incredibly good that, in my mind, she will forever be the voice of Lila and Lenu.