The Neapolitan Novels: what’s all the fuss about?
I’m into the third of the quadrilogy by this mysterious writer, and finding it repetitive, clichéd, and, to be honest, boring. It seems to me standard chick-lit dressed up with some social history. Apart from being set mostly in Naples from the fifties to the present time, these novels differ little from standard soap opera fare. I admit to feeling disappointed with the endless detailed descriptions of Lenu’s and Lila’s every mood, move and thought. The plot moves slowly, ever so slowly, which to me is rarely a problem as long as the novel brings to life characters with whom I can identify and care about. I’m afraid this is not the case here.
I’ve listened to a talk by a Professor of Italian Literature, who praised the book for its scope and honesty. I asked her about the translation: was it true to the text? Yes, she assured me, Ann Goldstein is a consummate narrator, mirroring the author’s original Italian as closely as possible. So one can’t blame the translator for the slow pace, romantic clichés, and unnecessarily complicated cast list.
Ferrante (not his/her real name) writes under a psoudonym ‘to protect her family’s privacy and ward off her inner censor’. (London Review of Books, 8 January 2015). In one of the author’s rare statements, she/he says that personal publicity would defeat the aim of hr novels, which unlike today’s fraught attempts to market new writing, need only speak for themselves. There is no interest in ‘war and skirmishes for visibility in the marketplace of culture.’
So what is it that has the world of commercial fiction buzzing? Is it the mystery of anonymity? A conspiracy of anti-publicity? There’s a certain amount of shock material, not all of it successful (LRB). The sex scenes lack subtlety, and therefore seem less erotic than some modern literary fiction. Some of the writing seems pedestrian, with endless ‘telling’ and explanation. For example ‘she felt embarrassment and a sense of danger.’ (The Story of a New Name, the second in the trilogy).
What are your thoughts on the Ferrante novels? I’d be interested in other opinions.