I am fascinated by this book. Because Elena Ferrante does not disappoint when digging into the physic of her characters. They are normal people, like any neighbour we could have, to whom we say hello in the morning, without really thinking about their lives. That is only the beginning, as the stories start recounting their apparent normal lives. In this case, it was from Giovanna’s perspective, an only child, who lived with her likely normal parents, attending a normal school, with her normal friends, in a normal neighbourhood.
All the layers of the characters are peeled from their surface, getting deeper into their passions and the treasons that occur deep inside. Not even Giovanna could have perceived the moment her life stopped when she realized her parents’ marriage was not what it seemed, and still this let in an ugly truth that she was desperately trying to understand. When the door opened with all its secrets Giovanna couldn’t handle it. Her questions led her into a quest to find other members of the family whom she did not know anything about, with the hope to explain herself the origins of her true story. It was when she contacted her aunt Vittoria that Giovanna opened herself to an unfamiliar past, and a lot of the answers to her own behaviour and her father’s. Relationships became complicated. There are characters in this novel with an A+ background, academics, smart people, but with a such weak emotional stability that always put them in trouble; while others come from poor backgrounds, form the periphery of Naples, always experiencing inequalities. Their lives are full of conflict, strong emotions, expectations. They are all substantive and well developed characters.
It is the conjunction of these well-constructed characters that gives all the flavour to the story. This great author has an enormous repertoire of good novels —I also devoured the four books of the trilogy of My Brilliant Friend, with also very rich characters—, sometimes chocking, yes, because they do not hide all the social problems of Naple’s society, and yet we could say those are the problems of Italy, and the problems of the world. Poverty, inequalities, lack of opportunities and the endemic misogynism that is everywhere.
A lot of critics examine Elena Ferrante’s novels from the feminist perspective. They reflect misogynism, to say the least. Looking through the eyes of Ferrante’s women, there is definitely an internal struggle of each of them to leave their oppressive circumstances. In the Lying Life of Adults, Giovanna fights, internally, to not become her mother. In My Brilliant Friend, Elena and Lina, both with an exceptional intelligence, resist the currents of their culture, but both succumbed in destructive relationships. That misogynism is absolute, strong, made of iron.
It is also true that Ferrante has made several interviews exposing the inequalities that female writers have to face in the face to whomever are publishing them, or even reading their novels. The author commented, that despite a big part of novel writers are women, the public in general has a bias that considers books written by women as romantic novels, with a lower level of those written by men —and this bias is also applied by literary teachers and critics—. Despite her anonymity, Elena Ferrante still has a lot to tell.