I spent the last week of June and part of July engulfed in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Tetralogy and I have to admit it was one of the best months of my life, reading-wise.
The Ferrante phenomenon needs no introduction, but I somehow put off embracing it. Maybe it was because the over 1,400 pages require a big commitment. However, once I did start reading, I was mesmerized and couldn’t put the books down. For over two weeks, I felt like I lived in Napoli and I became so close to the characters that they became almost like a family. With every chapter, I felt a little bit of sorrow because I didn’t want the book to end. When I finally finished all four books, I felt like an orphan. I then learned that an HBO series was in the making and that consoled me a bit.
Even though it might sound like I got way too involved in this, the way Ferrante writes makes you want the story to go on forever. I have rarely encountered such a powerful way of creating entire lives and worlds out of nowhere. The story of Elena (Lenu) and Rafaella (Lila) is the most powerful rendition of female friendship I have ever read. It’s actually impossible to describe the book in a way that can do it justice. One has to read it to notice the nuances, the depth, and the intricacies of a relationship that spans half a century.
The setting of the novel is Napoli, and the city is almost like a character itself. When I finished the novel, I felt like I had just come back from an extended trip to Italy, which is remarkable, as few books can make you feel that way. I won’t give out any plot clues here, as this is not actually a review of the book, but more of a review of how going through the mammoth novels made me feel.
Ferrante touches cords in a way that I have yet to encounter in contemporary fiction. Even though the narrator is Lenu, the character that shines most is her brilliant friend, Lila, a remarkable woman that is so well-portrayed readers may be convinced she actually exists in flesh and bone. A complicated, multi-faceted human being, Lila is the embodiment of every intelligent woman who hasn’t fulfilled her true potential because of external factors.
She has a larger-than-life personality and while she’s a loyal friend, she brings an element of toxicity into every relationship that is ultimately destructive. Such complex characters are rare to find in fiction, but Ferrante writes so powerfully and convincing that Lila mesmerizes readers while the pages fly, only to linger in their mind when well after they reach the end.
As I said, finishing the books left me in a state of loss and now I find it very difficult to find something as good to read. I can only hope the future HBO series does a good job at capturing the essence of the novels so I can relive this masterful story once again.