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by Gina Frangello

Pub Date: July 9th, 2024
ISBN: 9781632461629
Publisher: Ig Publishing

What is it about the Neapolitan Novels that accounts for their tremendous appeal?

Novelist and memoirist Frangello, author of Blow Your House Down, chronicles the ways in which we can explore Ferrante’s epic—and how her own reading of the work has changed over time. Viewing the novels, initially, through an autobiographical lens, Frangello relates the parallels between her own life and that of Elena (“Lenu”) Greco, the series’ narrator. Eventually, she realizes that she was sometimes a “Lila,” too, as she reflects on the course of her early life in an Italian American enclave in Chicago and the course of her own friendships with other girls. Approaching the work from several different angles, Frangello dissects the elements of envy and carnal awareness in Lenu and Lila’s intense friendship and ponders the singular, hyperrealist way in which Ferrante focuses on Lila’s character. In a discussion of gender and the violence (sexual and otherwise) visited upon women whose “honor” (and protection against its violation) exists only as a derivative of the primary honor possessed by the men in their lives, the author also examines the role of class in the misogyny the young women endure. Intriguingly, Frangello devotes a substantial portion of her analysis to the myriad theories swirling around the enigmatic Ferrante’s identity and the question of authorship of the Neapolitan saga. The author addresses the theory that Ferrante’s works might actually be a sort of performance art project by married Italian authors Anita Raja and Domenico Starnone, and she believes that ordinary readers don’t need to parse that out for themselves and can leave that question to the critics and scholars. The author’s conversational tone and frequent references to episodes in her own life—illuminated by her reading of Lenu and Lila’s odyssey—create an approachable, informed literary critique.

Good fodder for further Ferrante debates.