20 August 2018

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante - Book Series Review

In the past few months I read Elena Ferrante's Neapolitain Novels, a book series that's been on my reading list forever. It took a long time to get through all the books, which is why it took me a while to get back into book reviews, but it was so worth it. If I hadn't known Ferrante's books had been written these days, I would have thought they'd be classics. Even if I normally prefer individual books, I absolutely loved this series. It was so unique and powerful in its own way that I almost don't feel like it can be compared to other contemporary books.

The books are about the love-hate relationship between the friends-enemies Elena and Lila and the relationships among the other people living in a poor neighbourhood near Naples, in Southern Italy, from the 1950s till today. The saga is divided in four books that look at the childhood, teenage years, adulthood and old age of the two protagonists.

I did appreciate the complexity of the relationship between Elena and Lila, though that being the leitmotiv in all books I soon grew used to it and found it a little intense at times. Though in the first book this topic came to me as a refreshing one that few books look at, describing their contrasts almost became a routine as the story unfolded. 

Yet, my favourite thing about all books was the portrayal of a community to describe a town and its (mostly bad) features. In all books, Ferrante describes a neighbourhood she hates but that she depends on by depicting each person's social relationships and professional network - whether legal or not. Ferrante's style reminded me of some works by Giovanni Verga, an 1800s Italian author whose novels are set in Sicily and where he depicts communities such as the poorer classes. Though some might think this is quite a strong statement I found this to be very true despite the differences in time and space. 

The Neapolitan Novels also provide a general though accurate account of Italian history from the 50s until today from the political and social points of view. The historical phenomena that the author outlines include the protests of 1968, political corruption, mafia in Southern Italy, the years of lead and the political scene with migrations from the 90s to these days. I especially enjoyed the account of the 1968 student movements where Ferrante describes women's reaction to the new ideologies spreading from the rest of Europe. 

The linguistic debate between the Italian language and Neapolitan dialect is also really interesting, and I enjoyed listening to a radio interview about it that one of my tutors took part in. Throughout the books and especially at the beginning, Ferrante talks of the choice of each character to speak in Italian or in dialect. This tends to define whether characters have an education and the protagonist's opinion on them. 

I recommend this book to everyone, but especially to women, just because it's very a womanly book, both in its physical and psychological descriptions. Linguistically the books are very difficult to read so I would probably recommend them to advanced students of Italian or native speakers.

Have you read this saga and what did you think?

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