Elena Ferrante is an absolute marvel. This was utterly ravishing. How does she do it? Structurally her novels could hardly be more conservative, her subject matter – the fraught friendship of two women – has been done to death. And yet you’re constantly left with the feeling that no one has ever done what she does before. Or at least no one has done it with such searing insight and freshness.
Only a handful of writers can undress and get to the heart of women as lucidly and thrillingly as Ferrante. The first hundred pages especially were quite simply a dazzling display of a writer removing all the paint and powder from a woman’s face mask and showing us the naked truths beneath. Ferrante is like a kind of dream psychoanalysis. She dispels all the fog, unravels all the knots of a woman’s deepest feeling and elucidates in simple language the fount, the hidden motive. She always knows the secret as to why her women are doing what they do.
She also has this extraordinary talent for easing into her narrative and explaining difficult subjects without sacrificing a single beat of the fabulous driving momentum of her story. There are no divergences in this novel; every line is intrinsic to understanding Elena and Lila’s struggles to achieve identity and autonomy. For example, the domestic violence in this novel is all the more powerfully disturbing for the lack of emphasis she gives it, as if it’s no more extraordinary than a trip to the shops. It makes the domestic violence in, for example, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing seem written up and theatrical. In fact the ease with which she feeds hugely complex and pivotal experience into her narrative makes most other contemporary novelists seem a bit written up and theatrical. There’s a fleet-footed breeziness to Ferrante’s storytelling which is quite simply bewitching in its ease of assurance.
I put off reading this for ages because for some reason I thought it might be a disappointment after My Brilliant Friend. On the contrary it’s even better.