I was eagerly awaiting this conclusion to the Neapolitan quartet, and it turned out to be all that I’d hoped. Now that it’s finished, I can wholeheartedly recommend the series to anyone, especially to women but also to men.
Two things you should know right away. First, please don’t be put off by the covers. Yes, they look like they belong on the grocery store’s discount rack with lowbrow chick lit. Fortunately, the contents are nothing like that! They are excellent literary books with a lot of depth and no sentimentality or easy answers. Now that they’re gaining recognition in the U.S., hopefully there will be a reissue someday soon. Second, this series is really one novel in four volumes, so if you haven’t already read the first three, don’t start here. You’re looking for My Brilliant Friend. The quality is consistent throughout, so you’ll soon know whether this is something you’d like.
But Ferrante isn’t resting on her laurels here; there’s a lot in this book. It’s about friendship, of course: Elena returns to Naples and she and Lila resume their close relationship, even raising their children together, leading to unexpected drama and tragedy. It’s also about romantic relationships, and about the changes in family relationships as we age, and about loss. It’s about motherhood, and since this is Ferrante, both women are far from perfect mothers (but who is perfect at being a working single mother? Elena in particular is constantly required to choose, as she’s asked to travel the country promoting her books). It’s about what it means to succeed in life. It’s about escaping the place and the social class to which one is born, and whether that’s even possible. It’s about an Italy that’s constantly changing – a vibrant, violent, dangerous place, steeped in history yet teeming with new ideas.
As always, the book rushes along through short chapters that delve deeply into the characters’ lives and interactions. The writing is urgent and electric, not quite like anything else I’ve read. The characters are people, in all their complexity. The author doesn’t make it easy for us by assigning them two or three traits apiece; instead she shows them to us and lets us figure them out for ourselves. You may not always like them, but you’ll remember them.
I’m a little disappointed this series is finished, but looking forward to more from this author (and maybe even re-reading these books someday – something I hardly ever do). If you haven’t yet started this series, you are in for a treat.