Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Life After the Elena Ferrante Books

I have avoided reviewing the Neapolitan books by Elena Ferrante because how does one write about three of the most perfect books in the world? There has already been so much written about this series and their reclusive author. The internet is awash with praise and glowing reviews. And yes dear reader, believe the hype, all the accolades are deserved.

In case you're one of the few people who hasn't heard of Elena Ferrante, she has three published novels so far in her Neapolitan series: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. The fourth and last in the series, The Story of the Lost Child, will be released on September 1st. The books cover the complicated friendship between two Italian women from childhood onwards for a number of decades. I know this isn't exactly the kind of blurb that will make you run out and buy the book. But believe me, the story of these two friends, their friendship's twist and turns, their love lives, the colorful cast of characters that make up their families, friends and neighborhood....ah, all of  it...was just ...Glorious!

This blog post isn't going to review the Ferrante books in detail because others have done a much better job than I can ever do. This is a post about life after Elena Ferrante and how she has opened reading pathways for me.

The Neapolitan series swept me off my feet last November and December that to be honest my reading life plummeted afterwards. There was simply no book that I could pick up that matched the feeling I had while reading Ferrante's books. I raced through summer thrillers that gave me some brief satisfaction but ultimately still left me wanting. What seemed to work for me was actually getting out of my comfort zone: going back to the classics, reading non-fiction and short stories and most importantly delving into translated fiction. Yes, its been a strange and slow reading year so far but also very rewarding. I know for a fact my reading wouldn't have taken these directions without Ferrante.

I got immense reading pleasure in discovering new writers particularly a married Argentinian couple I'd never heard of before, Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo. They are my current literary crushes. Both were friends and contemporaries of Jose Luis Borges and are published by NYRB. The Invention of Morel by Casares was brilliant and I'm still reading the haunting short stories Thus Were Their Faces by Ocampo. These books have nothing in common at all with Ferrante's novels other than being translated fiction. But this is what I mean when I say that Elena Ferrante led me to them somehow and they in turn will lead me to others. Ferrante, through her publisher, Europa Editions, also led me to Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng which I reviewed in my previous post. I had never heard of the author but I simply had to read it. Its risqué plot didn't turn me off because Elena Ferrante has taught me that yes, we might not always agree with the protagonists in the books we read but we also can't judge their choices. Everyone is fighting their own battles after all. 

Ferrante has not only opened up my mind but she's opened up my reading life to include books I never bothered to check out before or never even knew about. Just when I thought I'd read everything I want to read in my life, in comes Ferrante and a bunch of other writers who've existed all along but where out of my radar. Now isn't all this just wonderful?

If you have read Ferrante, then I would love to hear about the books that impressed you afterwards.

Update: I've just finished the fourth and final book of the Neapolitan saga, The Story of the Lost Child. It's as brilliant as the previous ones but sadder and more harrowing. The girls are now middle-aged and elderly women and through the course of this final book will be dealt a few but still very harsh blows in life. Like real life Ferrante leaves some questions unanswered. There are some things we will never know unless she writes another sequel. It's not my favorite among the four books but in spite of that it's still an important part of this incredibly wonderful and moving series that I will surely reread again. 

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