The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

(Forgive me cleaning out my 2019 book reviews, half of which I had written and never posted.)

Read for the June theme (friendship) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child on Goodreads 

This was the perfect beach reading for me. I don’t mind an action-slow read when there is a lot of juicy character development. While I only read one of these at the beach, if I’d had a month there, it would have been amazing to digest them all wrapped up in a blanket on a breezy balcony, watching the ocean.

I’m not sure I entirely like either of the two main characters, who we accompany on about sixty years of life throughout the four novels, but they’re so compelling and interesting that their likeability isn’t much of a factor. Each of them are sympathetic at times, and others, illogical and annoying. They feel like real people.

I’m writing about all four novels together as I am not sure that these books are truly separate in feel or topics, as they are laid out. It’s a 2000-some-page odyssey that I can’t imagine not taking all together, their lives, together and apart, build on the foundations of their childhood, their adolescence, etc. and the books mirror that. It’s an epic, for sure. I’ve said before, I so love sitting with characters and an atmosphere, being truly drawn into a world. There is so much that feels so real. Even choices I wouldn’t make and reactions I would never have all feel justified in the world of these books.

Given that this is a translated series, I was pleasantly surprised by the writing quality. It’s always hard to know what’s not coming through a translation, but I liked what’s there. The writing isn’t florid, for SURE. I wouldn’t mind a little more style, but I also wasn’t bored by it. There was only one thing that stuck out to me: 

In the English translation, it’s very obvious how differently dialogue would function in the original Italian, as the author constantly mentions that switching from local dialect to more classical Italian is weighted with so much context. In English, yes, we have accents that have good and bad connotations, and broken or heavily accented English, which can be looked down upon, spoken with insecure tongues. That is the closest comparison for me that is analogous to the constant code switching these characters perform when with certain others. From my own Italian family stories, I have heard that sometimes dialect could vary so much that it would be almost impossible to communicate with someone from a different city. That’s more than what happens with American slang, accents, even varying vocabularies. So I’m wondering what “she said in dialect” connotes. I can’t know what I’m not reading between the lines or how it would have appeared in the original novels. 

Also, a blind spot that came up for me was that I have very little knowledge (read: no knowledge) about Italian politics. I don’t think it’s necessary to know anything to enjoy the story, but it is surprisingly a big factor in the lives of the two women followed in these novels. Maybe surprising is not the right word, though it was that for me due to my lack of knowledge. 

Recommend? If you are looking for a world to settle into without a goal or expecting any certain resolutions, or even arcs, go for it. 
To Watch: For SURE, I am watching the HBO Miniseries.


The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

(Forgive me cleaning out my 2019 book reviews, half of which I had written and never posted.)

Read for the May theme (set in a country you’ve never been to) of the 2019 ONTD Reading Challenge | The Little Stranger on Goodreads 

Moving on from my dismal March books, plodding through April just because I felt worn out from March, the May selection that I made for the ONTD book club was such a nice change of pace. It seems crazy to say that about a 466 page book, but I moved through it way more quickly than some of the previous books, which were half the size. 

I really loved settling into the world of the book and the characters with whom the narrator becomes somewhat obsessed. If I had known at the time I picked this book up that it was by the author of Fingersmith – another really excellent and long book, I might have predicted that I would enjoy the winding path of the story. I thought for sure it was gone one way or I would be sympathetic to certain characters and then wind up on the side of another.

Recommend? I don’t want to give anything away, but I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys atmospheric novels that really create a world around you that feels lived in and familiar, even if you’ve never encountered such a place or a time. If you love puzzling through mysteries and aren’t looking for a page-turner with clear and simple resolutions, this is definitely one you should pick up.

To Read: One down, the rest of Sarah Waters catalog to go. (2 out of 5 done, if we’re keeping score.)